How the Great American Outdoors Act is once again proving that public lands and outdoor recreation policy is bringing Republicans and Democrats together.
Washington, DC, is known for many things, but bipartisanship is not one of them. Capitol Hill has become increasingly divided and, as policy and politics have begun to merge with a big election on the horizon, it will only get worse. But one interesting trend that is developing is that Republicans and Democrats are coming together around a once heavily divided policy space: public lands and outdoor recreation.
In 2019, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which was a legislative package of public lands provisions that had been in the works for over a decade. It was lauded as “historic” and “landmark legislation” and passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate. While many close to this policy space hoped its passage would spur some momentum for more bold and bipartisan policy solutions, there was also some concern that this may have been an anomaly and that it would be another decade before such an impactful public lands bill could advance through Congress.
Next month, an equally historic bill is likely to pass the Senate – the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide an innovative solution to address the growing maintenance backlog on public lands and would provide permanent funding ($900 million annually) to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Like the bill that passed last year, the Great American Outdoors Act has defied DC norms and has brought both of sides of the political aisle together around a major policy solution, despite the looming 2020 election.
While the difficulty in pulling this together cannot be understated, there are several important factors that seem unique to the outdoors policy space:
The Great American Outdoors Act will be an impactful and historically significant bill to advance conservation, outdoor recreation, and public lands policy. It will also hopefully provide an important case study on how Washington can work together to advance meaningful solutions regardless of the partisan climate.