Shining a Light on Dark Corners of the Budget Process
I don’t know any other way to stop the ugly, destructive, sneaky, greedy, immoral, undemocratic goings-on in the dark corners of the congressional budget process, except to keep shining bright lights on them.
This is time of year when it is decided how your and my tax dollars get spent, supposedly for our public welfare, but far too often for the private welfare of a few powerful people and corporations who are not only raiding the public treasury, but, worse, eating into the nation’s environmental and natural wealth.
To help shine a light, I’d like to pass on the kind of information I get over email from Washington, email that gets increasingly frantic at this budget-deadline time. The rest of this column consists of quotes from a bulletin I got on September 29 from the GREENLines email service. My comments and edits are in [brackets].
“The Senate took another step toward a budget showdown with the President by passing yet another appropriations bill riddled with anti-environmental riders. Senator McCain was finally in town long enough to vote for cloture on Senator Hutchison’s oil royalty rider and the Senate took full advantage to hand big oil companies a $5.6 million dollar windfall.” [McCain, one of the few Republicans who makes a point of calling for cleaned-up campaign funding, is nevertheless willing to help oil companies avoid paying a tax on oil pumped from public lands and seas.]
“The environmental community is solidly united in opposition to all the anti-environmental riders on the various appropriations bills. [The enviros have finally learned to stop fighting particular “riders” — giveaways and handouts that would never pass full congressional votes — and are now opposing the whole sneaky process of sticking riders onto big money bills at the last minute.] Most [riders] have come from the Republican side of the aisle, with the support and encouragement of the congressional leadership. Democrats, particularly in the House, have been far from united in fighting these riders. Many Democrats seem to be split, opposing some and favoring others.”
“In the Senate, Richard Durbin (D-IL) has taken the lead in drafting a letter to the President calling for veto of the Interior Appropriations bill if the riders are not removed. A strong stand by the President is absolutely essential if efforts to have the riders stripped in conference are to succeed.”
“On the House side [I’m omitting here a long list of representatives being targeted] attention is being focused on Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) for leadership in the conference negotiations. He is reportedly interested in removing Senator Craig’s mining rider, but less interested in removing other riders [that] might get timber sales in the Pacific Northwest moving. Intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying has reportedly convinced Representative Dicks to take a stand against all the riders.”
[Here is a short excerpt from the long list of riders still in play.] “One … would allow the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to bypass sensitive species survey requirements before making management decisions on timber sales.”
“Another … allows the renewal of grazing permits without environmental review. The grazing industry and their Senate allies now have a dangerously lopsided proposal that will lead to excessive grazing and prevent public participation in the sound management of public rangelands.”
“Of the several mining riders, one would allow mining companies to dump toxic mining waste across unlimited acres of public lands by permanently overriding the 1872 Mining Law’s five-acre millsite limitation. Still another would prevent the Interior Department from stopping lead mining in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri; mining that threatens two National and Scenic Waterways.”
“An amendment put in on behalf of Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D) … would block the Federal Aviation Administration and National Park Service from issuing further restrictions on commercial tourist flights over the Grand Canyon. Another amendment would provide over $11.6 million to prepare additional timber sales in the Tongass National Forest.”
“Senator Reid inserted a rider that would give over 2,500 acres of public lands to the city of Mesquite, Nevada, free of charge. The city is apparently contemplating expanding an airport corridor. Development of this land could affect endangered fish and birds that live in the near-by Virgin River.”
[It goes on and on, for pages. Clearly it’s impossible to shoot down larcenous riders one by one; new ones just keep springing up. The whole process of rider-attachment has to stop. Here is what the GREEN network says to do about that.]
“KEEP UP THE PRESSURE! Call your Senators and Representative (202-224-3121) and ask them to sign on to letters supporting a presidential veto if the riders are not removed. If a conference report contains riders, urge them to send it back to committee for reconsideration. Stress that ALL riders must be removed, not just the ones that might affect their constituents. Let them know what you think about using the appropriations process to pass anti-environmental legislation. Any attack on our environmental laws should be done in full public view with full public discussion.”
“Above all, it is time to step up pressure on the President. Call the White House Chief of Staff John Podesta (1-202-456-6798) and urge the President to take a strong stand against all anti-environmental riders. President Clinton must send a clear message to Congress that he will veto this appropriations bill if any of the riders remain!”