The Billion Dollar Bill No One Is Talking About

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The House Republican leadership removed from Monday’s suspension calendar a piece of crony legislation that carries a potential billion-dollar price tag after some Conservatives and taxpayer advocates criticized the proposal as fiscally reckless.


But according to Capitol Hill sources the legislation’s sponsor, and a curiously eager leadership team, are angling to once more reassign the bill to the suspension calendar — a break from ordinary process or regular order, reserved for noncontroversial legislation, that bars most amendments and restricts the window for debate for the following week.

The bill, H.R. 308, is as obscure as it is narrow: it would infringe the federally assured rights of a single Indian nation, Tohono O’odham Nation, to expand its gaming activities in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, in which a number of other casinos already exist.

Because it would directly contravene earlier federal legislation, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, and some sixteen federal courts and agency rulings that empowered this tribe to use their reservation lands for “all purposes” of economic development, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $1 billion from a resulting lawsuit.

As was reported last week by the Daily Beast, opponents of the Tohono O’odham’s right to build their own casino have repeatedly failed in federal court and have marshaled a multi-million dollar lobbying team to squeeze Congress in a last-ditch attempt for action.

This is a transparent attempt by moneyed special interests to stifle the free market, and House Republican leadership is complying. Existing casinos don’t want expanded competition and they’re going to use taxpayers as pawns.


One such special interest has invested fully $1.6 million on lobbying so far this year, and spent double that amount in the previous year, according to federal disclosures. It’s no surprise, then, that this legislation would find a vehicle in the House. What is surprising—galling, even—is that Republican leadership would move to fast track it.

As much as a billion dollars of taxpayer resources are at stake and only a handful of very Conservative members of Republican conference have expressed even vague concern. One such member, California [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’M001177′ ], took aim at the bill in a recent “dear colleague” letter in which he strongly criticized it as a special interest pay off at the expense of taxpayers.

McClintock put it bluntly:

“The Gila Bend Act … entitled the Tohono O’odham Nation to acquire non-reservation land … to replace original reservation lands flooded by the Painted Rock Dam. The settlement specifically promised that the Nation could acquire new replacement land that could be used by the Nation for economic development and as a ‘federal reservation for all purposes.’ And now, because the Tohono O’odham Nation has selected a certain kind of economic development, which will provide competition to some special interests in the area, Congress is going to step in and rewrite the deal. … H.R. 308 … targets ONE tribe, and retroactively prohibits a specific casino on their reservation land, that is already under construction, because other, wealthy interests don’t want the competition.”


If passed, this legislation would empower government to pick winners and losers in the free market and give special interests license to run roughshod over a would-be competitor. But why should a taxpayer in Iowa, or Georgia, or anywhere, have to pay because a member of Congress wants to reward and protect his moneyed pals?

Republican leadership had better wake up: this is reckless legislation that will result in an unnecessary wasting of federal resources. There are more pressing matters for the U.S. Congress on which to spend taxpayer resources—better yet, there exists better reasons not to spend taxpayer resources, like the ever-growing federal debt and deficit.



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