Sen. Mark Udall says Republicans blocking committee hearings |

Sen. Mark Udall says Republicans blocking committee hearings

Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) – Sen. Mark Udall says Republican senators have been using “arcane rules” to block committee hearings in Congress, since the Democrats passed the healthcare reform bill Sunday.

The Colorado Democrat told reporters Wednesday that senators have used rules to block the hearings by requiring unanimous consent for a hearing to take place after 2 p.m. or more than two hours after Senate comes into session.

Udall had planned to hold a hearing Tuesday on his bill, the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act of 2009, designed to manage the bark beetle epidemic killing western pine trees. The hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources was canceled.

When he introduced the bill in November, Udall called the insect infestation one of the West’s “biggest natural disasters.”

“These partisan games just create one more hurdle for us to get help,” Udall said Wednesday, saying the threat of fire is a “public safety emergency.”

Udall said there are still opportunities to hold the hearing before summer, but time is wasting. He said the forest service is already preparing its summer bark beetle plan. Udall said hikers and workers are in danger of falling trees, and the potential for fire is looming.

Udall said they are “literally playing with fire.”

Udall said another hearing in front of the Committee on Armed Services that brought admirals from as far away as Korea was also postponed. He said U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona had tried to continue the proceedings, but was overruled.

Udall said U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina repeatedly objected to the Armed Services Committee hearing, “on behalf of unnamed colleague.” Senate rules do not require Burr to reveal the name of that colleague.

Calls to Sen. Burr’s and Sen. McCain’s offices were not immediately returned.

Udall said two other hearings, including a Veterans Affairs committee hearing on the homelessness of military veterans, had to end because the clock ran out.

Sen. Claire McCaskill said Wednesday that Republicans have sunk to a new low after the tactical maneuver forced her to cancel a subcommittee hearing on police training in Afghanistan.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McCaskill said the maneuver is a “new low of obstructionism” and “taking game playing to a whole new level.”

U.S. Sen. James Risch, a Republican from Idaho, co-sponsored the bill. His state has been affected by the beetle infestations, as have the western states of Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and South Dakota.

“I have a good working relationship with Senator Udall. I was pleased to cosponsor legislation on this important issue and will continue to work closely with him on it going forward,” Risch said. “As far as delay tactics go, it’s difficult to believe that the party in control of everything in Congress can blame the party that’s not.”

Colorado state Sen. Dan Gibbs – whose district has been greatly affected by bark beetles – had traveled from Colorado to Washington to testify at the hearing. He was sent home without testifying. A call to Gibbs’ office was not immediately returned.

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture and mining lands reclamation organizations were also slotted to testify.

Funds for managing the dead and dying trees would focus on thinning tree stands near homes, roads, power lines, campsites and key water sources.

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