Last-Minute Action in Congress
November elections are only a few months away and members of Congress have already left Capitol Hill to hit the campaign trail in their home states. Early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) with a 62-30 vote, after the House passed the measure last week, which will keep the government up and running through March 27. Lawmakers will have sufficient time after the election to focus on passing a longer-term budget measure. The CR gives agencies a 0.6 percent across-the-board funding increase, which equates to $8 billion more than fiscal year 2012.
Some areas actually received additional increases, like wildfire suppression programs. An additional $800 million was directed toward wildfire suppression for the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, which were not sufficiently funded in fiscal year 2012. As part of the Fire Suppression Funding Solutions Partner Caucus that submitted a letter to Congress requesting supplemental wildfire funding, American Forests is pleased to see this additional funding.
This effort also allowed lawmakers to make pushes for their own campaigning capital. For example, Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) Sportsmen bill to boost hunting and angling opportunities on public lands passed a procedural vote in the Senate, making it a top priority when Congress returns. The bill also adds a conservation element for wetlands. A Senate subcommittee also announced a draft environmental spending measure. The bill funds the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA at $29.7 billion for fiscal year 2013; a 1.7 percent increase over current spending levels.
Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee leadership hope the draft serves as a guideline for Congress, when it returns from recess, for finalizing a fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill. The EPA would see significant boosts under the bill. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund in particular, which helps improve drinking and wastewater systems, would receive a $291 million increase over the president’s requested levels.
The measure also supports important programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would receive a 17 percent increase over current levels. Overall funding levels in the Interior Department — which oversees the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management — would remain around the same level. American Forests supports Congressional efforts that work to fund important federal programs for clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat restoration, and conservation work.