While July may be hot in Washington, D.C. it gets even hotter inside the Appropriations Committee rooms. July is historically appropriations month. Appropriations work – the actual governing that Congress needs to do – is the core of funding the government.
The House Appropriations Committee is finishing up its Interior bill that would cut spending by$5.5 billion from the current fiscal year.
“I don’t like the fact that we’ve eliminated funding for the Woodrow Wilson Center in this bill. I don’t like the fact that state and tribal wildlife grants are eliminated in this bill,” said Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson. “I don’t like the fact that the LWCF – land and water conservation funding – isn’t in this bill.”
Simpson, seen as a moderate by some in Congress, is amenable and friendly. He relishes a bit of showmanship.
Even though he doesn’t like those cuts, he said something larger gets under his skin: The $17 trillion deficit.
He took out a stack of dollar bills and told the full Appropriations Committee to imagine they were hundreds instead of ones.
“If you stack them on top of one another to get to 17.5 trillion, it would be a stack 10,500 miles high,” he said at the outset of a markup Wednesday morning.
The House version of the bill cuts funding for the EPA by 34%.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers is an old school politician. The cigar-smoking Kentuckian said his committee – tasked with paying for the EPA – needs to rein in the agency, even though that’s reserved for a separate committee.
“These cuts will right-size this overzealous agency. Unfortunately in recent years, enabled by excessive stimulus funding, the EPA has done more harm than good,” he said.
Democrats contend the cuts will harm the nation’s water and air.
The Interior appropriations bill actually increases funding for emergency wild-fire fighting. The government is down to just seven planes to fight fires scattered throughout Alaska and the rest of the country. Committee members said they hope to modernize the radar systems in the fleet.
Over in the Senate, the Interior Appropriations subcommittee has yet to release its bill.
“We’re running out of daylight between now and the end of this fiscal year,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the panel.
Congress will return in September for just nine legislative days before the end of the fiscal year.
There is no hearing scheduled on the Senate version. Murkowski said she hasn’t looked at the House plan in detail, but calls the cuts tough.
“I know they’re pretty dramatic. They’re probably not going to survive over here,” she said Wednesday afternoon.
With so much distance between the two plans, and so little time to do anything, what happens?
Democrat Sam Farr, a liberal House member from California, called the entire exercise a waste of time. He said Congress won’t pass the appropriations bills and will resort to a continuing resolution to keep the government operating.
“So if we want to have this race to the bottom, all that we’re going to guarantee is that we end of up with a CR. That’s no way to govern. That means all the hard work are committees do in going over these budgets and marking them up is thrown out the window, year after year. I’m sick of it,” he lamented.
But to Farr, that’s not half bad, because it means the cuts don’t happen. The continuing resolution will keep the government open at current levels.