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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Animal Issues Take the Stage in Budget Debate

The House last weekend passed its version of a “Continuing Resolution” (CR) to fund federal government programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2011 (which runs from October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011). The government is now operating on a CR passed in December that funds the government through next Friday. The House bill would cut $61 billion from a variety of programs, and it’s not clear yet how the House and Senate will reach agreement in order to prevent a government shutdown.

And with the consideration of the CR, the first votes on animal issues have taken place in the 112th Congress. With the federal deficit growing, and on the minds of so many lawmakers, we pressed Congress to consider reductions in a number of areas that could help animals while also helping the bottom line and saving taxpayers from footing the bill for indefensible expenditures. I’m pleased to report that some of these proposals were considered on the House floor last week:

  • Wild horses Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., offered amendment #30 to reduce the Bureau of Land Management’s budget by $2 million to send a signal that the agency must reform its enormously wasteful and misguided program of capturing wild horses and burros and holding them in pens, rather than employing a much less costly and more humane option—immunocontraception to control herd size. Rep. Burton’s amendment passed by voice vote following a strong debate that helped shine a spotlight on the problems with BLM’s round-up and removal policy, in which approximately 46,000 horses are currently held in federal pens and the agency spends nearly three-quarters of its program budget just caring for captive horses. Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Ranking Member Jim Moran, D-Va., both voiced support for reforming the BLM’s wild horse program, and we hope this will help spur the agency toward a better pathway.

  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., offered amendment #323 to cap agriculture subsidies at $250,000 and limit huge taxpayer giveaways to Big Agribusiness at a time of record-high commodity prices. Massive factory farms rely on cheap animal feed, which is supported by these excessive subsidies, and some factory farms are themselves direct recipients of subsidies. Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., joined Rep. Blumenauer in speaking passionately on the House floor in favor of reining in Big Ag’s fleecing of American taxpayers, and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., co-signed a letter to colleagues urging support, while others like Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga., opposed the cuts. While Rep. Blumenauer’s amendment did not pass—the vote was 185 in favor, 241 opposed—the floor debate did help call attention to the issue and make clear that these outrageous subsidies should be on the table as Congress tackles deficit reduction. 

Wolves Unfortunately, the underlying CR approved by the House includes a dangerous provision forcing the Secretary of Interior to remove endangered species protections for the Northern Rockies wolf population in Montana and Idaho. If passed into law, this language will establish a dangerous precedent of trumping science with politics and de-listing an endangered species by legislative fiat, something which has never been done throughout more than three decades of the Endangered Species Act. The language also precludes further judicial review on this.

Thankfully, Rep. Moran successfully challenged an amendment that would have gone even further, #194 offered by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., which was ruled out of order on procedural grounds. The Lummis amendment would have also removed protections for wolves in Wyoming, a state that plans to allow the species to be trapped or killed on sight immediately after de-listing. These flawed management plans have been successfully challenged in court numerous times by HSUS and environmental groups, and since the wolf killing advocates cannot get their way in court, they have turned to their politician allies to gut the Endangered Species Act. It’s a partial victory that the Lummis amendment was struck down, but the remaining de-listing provision, if enacted in the final CR, would also lead to unnecessary and reckless killing of wolves. 

Though it’s too soon to say how Congress will resolve the CR, we hope the final legislation will cut the indefensible hand-outs to Big Ag and the expenditures to round up wild horses and warehouse them in holding pens, and exclude language to remove endangered species protections for wolves. And as the House leadership has shown that it is allowing amendments and floor debate on many subjects, we hope this early consideration of wasteful and inhumane programs will set the stage for further action on these issues when Congress considers additional appropriations bills, the Farm Bill, and other legislation during the 112th Congress.

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