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Purple Heart, lesser prairie chicken provisions stripped from defense bill

By CHRIS CASTEEL | The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 1, 2015

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Rep. Steve Russell lost his fight, at least for this year, to award the Purple Heart to the six active-duty personnel killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The final version of the defense bill, unveiled Tuesday, does not include the provision, which was strongly opposed by the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Also stripped from the bill was an amendment by Oklahoma Reps. Frank Lucas and Markwayne Mullin to remove the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened species list and the American burying beetle from the endangered list.

Members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks to resolve differences in the bill that sets Defense Department policy for the next year.

The House bill included the Purple Heart and endangered species provisions, but the Senate bill did not include either. Negotiators excluded both from the final version.

Russell, R-Oklahoma City, said Tuesday, "I was disappointed that we could not agree in conference to include the amendment that would award the Purple Heart to the six military victims, who were serving at their duty stations on the day of the Murrah Building bombing.

"We will keep fighting to do the right thing for those who gave their lives in duty to our country."

The Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization of veterans who received the medal, opposed Russell's bill because the six were killed in "an act of pure domestic violence."

"The criteria for award of the Purple Heart medal has been constant and clear," the group said. "It is awarded only to those who are killed or wounded in combat. In recent years the criteria has been extended to accommodate a change in warfare that has brought the battlefield to our own shores in the form of international terrorism."

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said Russell's effort "helped to launch a much-needed review within the Department of Defense of what should qualify a military member to be a recipient of the award."

Inhofe fought to retain the Lucas-Mullin language regarding the lesser prairie chicken and American burying beetle.

But that provision likely would have pushed President Barack Obama even more toward a veto of the legislation. The administration already has threatened a veto because of the increase in funding for the overseas war account. The war account is not subject to budget caps, and Republicans are using it to provide Pentagon funding above what the law would otherwise allow.

Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said he was disappointed his provision didn't survive.

"While I'm encouraged by the recent court ruling to overturn the lesser prairie chicken's 'threatened' listing, I believe Congress must take action one way or another on this issue to provide greater long-term certainty to the farmers, ranchers and even nearby military installations impacted by the species' listing."
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Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., at a House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform hearing on Sept. 29, 2015.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

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