Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.
And, in general, it was not good news. First, the numbers:
The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period. The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels. Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022. If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.
And now the policy:
I’ll start with the two bright spots. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule. That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders. The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.
Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.
As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen. See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue. If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block. Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.
The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law. But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.
Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere. But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.