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Written by Dennis Sun

      As I write this column on the day that Congress has passed the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Bill and sent it on the President for his signature, I’m totally floored by how large it was and what all it entailed. One wonders if anyone in Congress has read this whole piece of legislation.

Some say this bill is a great Christmas present to our President. Others say agriculture and conservatives received a lot of what they wanted. But man, it is a big bill – something for everyone. Some believe the $1.1 trillion spending package shows Washington, D.C. at its worst. They say lawmakers were asked to sign off on the 2,200-page bill with an additional 1,000 pages of explanatory materials at the 11th hour without having had sufficient time to analyze its contents. Critics say it is full of provisions negotiated behind closed doors.

The part I have a problem with is that, in this bill, fiscal year 2016 base discretionary spending is $50 billion higher than the original Budget Control Act of 2011. Discretionary dollars are the funds that government agencies spend as they wish, and that can be dangerous.

But you know, politics and drafting bills is about winning some, losing some, negotiating and compromising on issues. That is what most are saying about this bill. However, the bill doesn’t stay within a budget or lower the budget, and I guess that is why the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, our own Senator Mike Enzi, voted against it.

Some of the issues that ranchers in the West won on include language that would prohibit funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing rules to place the Greater sage grouse on the endangered species list and language in the bill that directs BLM and Forest Service to make vacant grazing allotments available to permittees in the case of drought or fire. There are also provisions to increase funding for both the BLM and Forest Service range management programs, $4.2 billion for wildfire funding and additional funding for compensation to ranchers who experience livestock losses due to wolf depredation. The bill includes $452 million for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and language that directs the Forest Service and BLM to address the conflict between domestic and Bighorn sheep herds by using relevant and accurate data and completing risk analyses. I just imagine that our Public Lands Council staff and executive committee had a hand in these issues. That is what we donate the dollars for them to do.

Issues that didn’t make the cut were those addressing waters of the U.S., delisting of wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states and the exploding feral horse issue. On the bad side, Congress voted to prohibit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from spending dollars to fund horsemeat inspections.

One of the biggest issues that Republicans wanted was to lift the crude oil export ban, but the Democrats were totally against it. To get that part passed, Republicans did some trading.

While most government agencies got a boost, Environmental Protection Agency funds were frozen with no hike. Congress included in the bill a rider to block the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) from eliminating Saturday mail service. A line from last year’s Omnibus Bill was also included to “encourage” USPS not to move forward with the second phase of its distribution plant consolidation plan, which it has since postponed.

Wow, there is a Santa Claus.