This vote was on a motion that would clear the way for passage of legislation addressing invasive species in the Great Lakes. The motion would allow the legislation to be attached to a separate, unrelated bill that was sure to pass the Senate.
The Senate was on the brink of passing sprawling legislation authorizing federal programs that fund roads, bridges, mass transit, and other transportation-related projects. The Senate and House of Representatives had each passed their own version of the bill, and then appointed representatives from each chamber to negotiate a compromise. During those negotiations, a new provision was added to the transportation bill that was not in either chamber’s original version. The provision would speed up a government study aimed at finding a way to minimize the impact of Asian carp, an invasive species that has moved into the Great Lakes and threatened to damage native ecosystems.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) objected to the provision, noting that it violated a Senate rule that bars new legislation from being added during House-Senate negotiations. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) responded with a motion to waive the rule.
Supporters of Sen. Reid’s motion to override Sen. Coats’ objection argued that the new legislation was a minor change to federal law that would simply allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up the Asian carp study. The invasive fish was a serious threat to the ecological and economic health of the Great Lakes region, they argued, making the study a critical priority for the nation.
“The provision in question simply accelerates a study of invasive species such as the destructive Asian carp, a study essential to protecting the Great Lakes, a resource that is vital to the health, safety, and livelihoods of millions of Americans,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said. “If Asian carp got into the Great Lakes, they would not only pose a very serious threat to the environment but would have a devastating effect on thousands of local jobs and a $7 billion fishing industry. Accelerating this study would put us on a better track to protect one of our nation's greatest treasures and the thousands of jobs that depend on it.”
Sen. Coats argued that provision should not have been added to the bill because it was not vetted through the regular legislative process. When a significant amount of federal spending is at stake, Congress should follow the normal process to ensure the money is truly necessary and not wasted, he said.
“The issue is not just so-called Asian carp,” Sen. Coats said. “The issue is that if this language is allowed to proceed, we will be authorizing over $100 billion of potential spending to address this without any review by the Congress. All we ask for in our agreement was a simple opportunity to review the study by the Corps of Engineers so we can make a decision based on all the facts, which included over $100 billion of authorized spending.”
The Senate agreed to Sen. Reid’s motion to override Sen. Coats’ objections by a vote of 66-28. Voting “yea” were 50 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 28 Republicans. As a result, the Senate overrode Sen. Coats’ objection and moved forward with the federal transportation bill, including a provision to speed up a government study aimed at finding a way to minimize the impact of invasive Asian carp.