House Budget Resolution Funds Environment, Wildlife and Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, March 23, 2007 (ENS) - Environmentalists today praised the House Budget Committee and its chairman John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, for beginning to reverse years of budget cuts to programs that protect the environment and natural resources.

The House Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2008, passed late last night by the budget panel, would provide a total appropriated level of $31.4 billion for environment and natural resource programs for FY 2008.

Spratt

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
This amount is $2.6 billion over the request of President George W. Bush and $1 billion over the final Fiscal Year 2007 levels.

The Spratt budget resolution would balance the budget by 2012.

In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said the budget resolution passed by his panel today, "with Republican support," would also balance the budget in five years.

"This is a budget that will balance by 2012," said Conrad. "That is a significant turning point for the country after years of running up massive deficits, and adding dramatically to the debt."

"This budget will not only balance in 2012, but will stop the growth of the debt as a share of gross domestic product. Spending as a share of gross domestic product will go down," he said.

"Obviously, we now have to go to conference, and come back and get a conference report adopted, but this is a critically important step," Conrad said.

The Spratt budget accommodates comprehensive energy legislation promoting renewable energy, moving toward energy independence, increases conservation funding, and rejects administration cuts in environmental programs.

It also provides new funding to assist Gulf communities and rebuild housing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Neither Sprattís nor Conrad's version of the budget raises taxes. Instead, they seek to enhance revenues by going after the "tax gap," the difference between taxes owed and taxes collected, and by cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs.

Conrad

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
On the Senate floor today, Conrad gave an example of the type of tax evasion the Democrats intend to go after.

"This is a picture of a sewer system in Europe," Conrad said, showing an image to his colleagues. "What does a sewer system in Europe have to do with the budget of the United States? Unfortunately, a lot because wealthy investors and companies bought this sewer system in Europe, depreciated it on the books in the United States to reduce their tax in America, and then they leased the sewer system back to the European city that built it in the first place. There are hundreds of billions of dollars involved in these tax scams. It is growing, and it is a cancer that has to be stopped."

Conrad claims Republican support, but some Senate Republicans are critical of the resolution. By not extending existing tax policies past 2010, Dems raise taxes by more than $900 billion Ė the largest tax hike ever," said Ranking Member Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican.

"Assumed revenues from closing the tax gap are grossly overstated and are essentially an illusion; used as a "magic offset," Gregg said.

For environmentalists, the House budget resolution is a breath of fresh air.

"Under the leadership of Chairman Spratt, the House Budget Committee has taken an important first step in renewing our nationís commitment to protecting our natural heritage after years of slash and burn budgets by the Bush administration," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen.

Schlickeisen

Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen looks forward to restoration of conservation funding. (Photo courtesy Defenders of Wildlife)
"The funding levels included in the House Budget Resolution represent a significant down payment that will help us to rebuild our deteriorating public land and wildlife agencies," Schlickeisen said.

Spratt said it is under the Republicans that profligate spending has run rampant. "The fiscal outlook we are confronting has deteriorated dramatically over the past six years," said Spratt.

"In 2001, the administration inherited a projected 10 year (2002-2011) budget surplus of $5.6 trillion. Within two years, that surplus was gone and the United States began accumulating a mountain of national debt, adding $2.8 trillion to our federal debt burden since 2001," he said.

"Most of this debt has been purchased by foreign investors, making the U.S. economy more vulnerable to economic and political instability and political pressure from abroad," warned Spratt.

"The President calls for nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts, so in the name of balancing the budget by 2012, he cuts domestic priorities such as health care, education, and the environment," Spratt said.

The House budget blueprint rejects the presidentís cuts to endangered species protection, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, many Farm Bill conservation programs, and other important wildlife, habitat and public lands programs.

The funding provided also would begin to restore the National Wildlife Refuge System, which has been undergoing a restructuring and downsizing in the face of budget shortfalls.

In addition, the resolution includes a deficit-neutral reserve fund that supports an increase of $20 billion over the next five years for reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

"Chairman Spratt has taken the first step toward restoring environmental programs that were essentially on life-support following years of cuts by the Bush administration," said Schlickeisen. "We look forward to working with him, the House and Senate Budget Committees, and Congressional appropriators in the coming years to secure the funding to make them whole again so our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy a vibrant and healthy environment."

For more budget analysis, see Bush Budget Slashes Environment, Funds Nuclear Development.