Lummis: reform is key to federal budget futureWritten by Christy Martinez
Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis also joined the group, beginning her address to the group of 50 women with a discussion on the authorization of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“The Endangered Species Act’s authorization expired more than 20 years ago, and it has not been reauthorized because the interest groups can’t agree on how to reform it, so Congress has continued to fund it,” stated Lummis.
ESA funding scaled back
Lummis is a member of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and she said that in 2011 the subcommittee started to scale down the ESA so the parties would be forced to reasonable compromises.
“And that’s what we’ve started to do,” she said. “In the last appropriations bill we authorized no new money for the listing of new species – the only money that can be used is to take care of the enormous backlog, with regard to petitions for listing that have already been filed,” she explained, adding that those petitions alone have the Fish and Wildlife Service “tied up in knots.”
“One petition that’s been filed has over 200 species proposed for listing within it, so the Fish and Wildlife Service has to go through and study all those proposed listings, as well as more than 200 individual listing petitions. We want them to clear up that backlog, but it’s also time for us to begin to reform some of these laws, the authorization for which has lapsed,” said Lummis.
‘Reasonable reforms’ sought for BLM.
In addition to the ESA, Lummis said the laws that authorize the BLM have also lapsed.
“There’s an opportunity to start talking about some of these things,” she said, noting that Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), who is the chairman of the Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, is working with the Western Caucus to put together a half dozen of the most reasonable reforms to several programs, including the ESA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA).
“He’s working to get those reforms advanced, for possible filing later this year,” said Lummis. “Then we can start to get people to react to some proposed changes. We’re prepared to make changes, in the event of a friendly Congress and a White House that would be amenable to seeing reasonable reforms.”
Lummis said Representative Bishop is also trying to communicate to people in the eastern states that it costs them $8 billion to administer the BLM, and that there may be a better way to manage that public land.
“Is there a better way, especially for schools, to provide funding in areas where federal lands predominate, because they’re a non-tax paying owner,” said Lummis. “Those lands aren’t in oil and gas or timber or agriculture.”
Lummis said Bishop’s interest in BLM management came when he was a member of the Utah House of Representatives, and when he learned the consequences for education funding of having federal lands that don’t pay taxes.
“The eastern states don’t realize that some of the money used to administer BLM lands has to be given to the states to help compensate for monies they don’t collect in taxes to help pay for their education systems,” said Lummis, noting that Bishop is a teacher. “I’m delighted that Rob is helping explain to Easterners the importance of taking another look at these issues.”
‘Staggering deficit’ in
“The federal budget overall is in a terrible mess,” said Lummis. “To let you know how bad it really is, we only raise enough money in taxes to pay for our entitlement programs, meaning all the mandatory spending, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunches and food stamps. All the rest of the government – the White House, defense, the state department, ag department, energy, commerce, the legislative branch and the judicial branch operate on borrowed money.”
“We borrow that money from people in the U.S., from China, Saudi Arabia and Japan, and we do it every single year,” she stated. “It’s a staggering deficit, coupled with a staggering debt. The debt now exceeds the whole nation’s Gross Domestic Product – we passed that number about a month ago.”
Lummis said she’s seen one plan that will eliminate the debt and deficit, and do it without paying more taxes – the Paul Ryan budget.
“It reforms Medicare to save it. It reforms Social Security to save it,” said Lummis. “Now we are paying out more in benefits than we take in, because 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. We absolutely must make changes to save these programs, and we know how to do it.”
“Nobody in this country knows more about taking what you have and making it work for your family than those in the ag industry,” she noted. “Whether you have less than you did last year, or more, which is the case in livestock agriculture right now with some unbelievable market conditions.”
“We’re in a rare time when ag prices are exceptionally high, and you all will invest in your operations and equipment and in your families and their future. That’s what ag people do, and that’s what our country needs to do,” said Lummis.
Ag subcommittee tackles farm bill in 2012
In addition to the Interior and Environment Subcommittee, Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis is also a member of the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
“This year we have an interesting scenario with regard to agriculture,” she said. “We’re approaching the reauthorization of the five-year farm bill.”
The development process for the new farm bill began when the chairmen of the Agriculture Committees in both the House and Senate, as well as the ranking members, submitted a proposal to the Congressional supercommittee in November that would have cut the budget for direct payments for farm programs by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years.
“What that would involve is scaling down direct payments to those crops that still receive them, and also a consolidation of the multiple programs for conservation within the USDA’s budget down to five, including the Conservation Reserve Program, working ranch programs like the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Programs and other consolidations to garner some economies,” explained Lummis.
However, she said where that will go, she doesn’t know.
“The supercommittee did not produce a report, and the ag committees will use their ideas to build on during the course of this year to come up with a five-year farm bill,” she noted.
Lummis said that, in late January, there was a rumor in Congress that the ag committees may not be able to produce a new farm bill this year, but she said she doesn’t find that rumor credible at this point.
“It’s just too soon to tell, but those are the things we’ll work on this year with the ag authorizing committee as a member of the ag appropriations subcommittee,” she said.
Lummis said that producers should let her know about farm bill programs that they find extremely useful and well delivered, and they should also talk to her about programs that they find wasteful.