Welcome to the Jungle: Hunting and Wildlife Bill Expected on Senate Floor

Sen. Jon Tester's sportsman package becomes focal point of Senate as farm bill and fiscal cliff loom.

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As Congress counts down its final days in Washington before hitting the campaign trail, the Senate this week is expected to focus attention on a hunting and wildlife bill that was once a bipartisan amendment to June's farm bill.

The sportsman package introduced Monday combines more than 20 pieces of separate legislation, addressing everything from nutria to polar bears, while also seeking to expand hunting and fishing access. [At Fiscal Cliff, Senate-House Chasm Over Whether Deal is Doable.]

The bill, sponsored by Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, would ease restrictions for public land access, increase the amount of money states receive to maintain shooting ranges and allow bow hunters to carry their weapon through national parks.

The bill also revises restrictions on 41 hunters who killed polar bears in Canada—when it was still legal—and gives them permission to bring their trophies back to the United States. The legislation reauthorizes existing conservation programs for elephants, tigers, turtles, great apes and rhinoceros.

"When I talk to hunters and anglers, their biggest concern is access to public lands," Tester said in a statement. "This legislation combines some bills from Republicans, some bills from Democrats, and puts them together in a common-sense package that is good for America's outdoor heritage."

Tester's bill could help him gain traction with voters in his contentious re-election bid against Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, but this bill hasn't attracted the same bipartisan support it had when it was introduced as a farm bill amendment, which was co-sponsored by South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune. [On September 11, Republicans Ding Obama on Defense Cuts.]

Thune's office says the South Dakota senator won't be supporting the bill this time around and suggests the timing of Tester's bill looks like election-year politicking.

"There was a legitimate chance that this package could have been included in the Farm Bill that was considered before the Senate earlier this year. However, the timing is now suspect as we are on the eve of an election and the clock is ticking during this work period to prevent America from going over the fiscal cliff," says Thune spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

A Tester spokesperson says this bill is unrelated to the election and has been in the works for more than two years.

Tester isn't the only one in Congress promoting legislation before returning home for the final campaign push.

Embattled Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has been pushing hard for a Veterans Job Corps bill, which would have provided career training programs for veterans and a bit of a campaign cushion when he returned home to Florida. But the legislation failed to break a filibuster in the Senate late Wednesday.

In the House, Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, who faces a competitive race against Democrat Patrick Murphy, has a bill that earned a spot on the floor docket that would require the president to outline a plan of how automatic budget cuts would be implemented in January if Republicans and Democrats cannot come to an agreement of how to manage the country's rising national debt.

The last minute rush to place vulnerable candidates' legislation front and center can be a winning proposition. Illinois Republican Joe Walsh, who is running against Iraq War veteran and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, attracted local attention this week when his bill, which keeps international travelers from having to go through security twice on their way back to the United States, passed with bipartisan support.