The Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be subject to major budget cuts next year if legislation being considered by the House Appropriations Committee is enacted. At a markup last week, Democrats and Republicans on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee appeared largely unified in the position that the proposed $24.3 billion in funding for environmental, cultural, and resource management programs was inadequate. These programs were funded at $32 billion just three years ago. The proposed funding is about $4 billion lower than the 2013 enacted level.
“It’s not pretty. We’re not going to try and put lipstick on this,” stated a somber Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID).
The subcommittee’s ranking member, Representative Jim Moran (D-VA), walked out of the mark up after expressing ire at the proposed funding level. The bill “should be an embarrassment to the subcommittee, the full committee and the Congress as a whole,” said Moran.
The Environmental Protection Agency would be subject to a whooping 34 percent cut. Funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service would decline by 27 percent. The Smithsonian Institution would see a 19 percent cut. The bill would cut funding at the National Park Service and United States Geological Survey by nine percent.
Several members, including Chairman Simpson, expressed the view that the drastic reductions are a consequence of the government’s inability to reign in mandatory spending. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and others represent about 60 percent of the federal government’s annual budget. Growth of these programs has squeezed funding for non-discretionary programs, which includes the military, transportation, research, education, and environmental conservation.
“We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” said Simpson. “We’ve got to have a big solution.” The deal would have to be brokered by party leaders, he continued, and include both revenue and entitlement spending cuts.
A major driver of the 19 percent reduction for the Interior and Environment and Related Agencies allocation is the lower funding caps adopted by the House of Representatives for 2014. At $967 billion, the House cap is about $91 billion lower than the budget set by the Senate. The House spending limit is consistent with the level dictated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, whereas Senate Democrats assume that budget sequestration will be eliminated.
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