WASHINGTON — Sage grouse and lesser prairie chicken, meet the lame duck.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain confirmed Tuesday that he and other negotiators on the 2017 defense policy bill have deadlocked over protections for the greater sage grouse, and action is unlikely before next month's lame duck session of Congress.
"I think it's pretty obvious that we're going to have to go to lame duck," McCain, R-Ariz., told a small group of reporters. "Sage grouse! It's the major impediment. It's terribly frustrating."
The provision in the House version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, aimed at protecting the birds' endangered status, has emerged as a sticking point beyond the House bill's controversial use of wartime overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding.
The "Big Four" Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders, in their third week of negotiations, will continue to meet, but they are unlikely to finish before Congress recesses next month and returns in mid November, according to McCain.
"There are some other issues, but the major issue, obviously, is sage grouse, which the House people are insisting on including, and the interesting thing is, if it were included, the president would veto, and I'm not sure we could override a veto," McCain said.
The White House included the provision among many others in its May veto threat, as it undermines efforts to remove the two birds from the federal endangered species list and because it is unrelated to defense. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, its population is rebounding.
The chairman also confirmed negotiators had made progress on the two chambers' acquisition-reform proposals, but declined to provide details until after the bill is complete.
"The Big Four" are armed services chairmen McCain, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, as well as the panels' ranking members Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
Reed said last week that lawmakers were unlikely to move forward until after the Nov. 8 election.
Joe Gould is the Congress reporter for Defense News.