This was a vote on a motion to suspend the House rules and pass H.R. 388, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act of 2009. A canid includes any member of the dog family. The purpose of the bill was to assist in the conservation of 15 endangered cat and canid species including the lion, cheetah, and jaguar and African wild dog. The bill established a new Great Cat and Rare Canid Conservation Fund to finance Federal matching grants that support conservation projects to conserve what were classified as highly endangered wildlife species and their shrinking habitats. The legislation was patterned after other wildlife conservation funds authorized by Congress to help conserve and recover endangered populations of rhinoceros, tigers, African and Asian elephants, great apes, and marine turtles.
Rep. Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), who was leading support for the measure, summarized the supporters’ position by saying “great cats and rare canids are no less deserving than these other keystone wildlife species.” She noted that the bill was modeled on a similar measure the House had passed during the previous year, but which had failed to become law.
A motion to suspend the rules and pass a bill is a procedural mechanism that is usually employed to gain approval for measures that the House leadership deems not to be very controversial. There is a limited time period for debate, and amendments cannot be offered. A two thirds vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority.
Rep. Bishop (R-UT), who opposed the measure, first pointed out that he had voted for a similar bill the House previously considered when it targeted “only 12 imperiled big cats and rare dog species”. He noted that the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act of 2009 included several other species, few of which could be considered “keystone”, unlike the African elephant, the tiger, and the rhinoceros. He said he was also troubled about “the inclusion of things like the Iberian lynx, which lives exclusively in Spain and Portugal. . . . These are clearly two countries that are not impoverished European nations. They could easily afford to conserve their own native wildlife.”
Bishop went on to say: “(M)ore importantly, at a time when America has a national debt in excess of $11 trillion, you still have to question whether this legislation is the proper priority for right now. . . is it really appropriate to spend our constituents' hard-earned tax money to conserve an African wild dog, an Ethiopian wolf, or a Borneo bay cat in Asia? We still are taxing too much, spending too much, and borrowing too much. . . If it were to go back to the original bill that came out last year. . . then you would have a decent standard bill which I would firmly support.”
Rep. Inslee (D-WA), the sponsor of the previous year’s legislation, responded to Bishop by first noting that the 15 species covered by the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act of 2009 “are all recognized at risk both under United States considerations and under the international consortiums of . . . the World Conservation Union . . . .” He then listed three reasons that Americans should have an interest in these species even though some of them are not in the United States:”( N)umber one . . . they are enjoying the presence of these species . . . (by) watching them on television . . . Number two, when we preserve these species and when we preserve their habitat, it is in our self-interest because . . . the rain forest in South America is preserved. That is the lungs of the planet. We cannot solve our climate change problems without it. This can, in fact, help Americans through our environmental challenges that we have. And, third, this bill is a great investment because for every dollar we put in, and it's a very small commitment of $5 million . . . . we get $4 from the international community to match and exceed our investment. It is a prudent investment.”
The bill passed by a vote of 290-118. Two hundred and thirty-eight Democrats and fifty-two Republicans voted “aye”. One hundred and seventeen Republicans and one Democrat voted “nay”. As a result, the House passed and sent on to the Senate legislation to assist in the conservation of 15 endangered cat and canid species including the lion, cheetah, and jaguar.