Time for Congress to stop offering false choices

As I was sitting at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the National Park Service budget on Wednesday, the same thought kept running through my mind: funding the federal government in two weeks stints is no way to run a country.  We’ve now had six short term budget bills since last September.

Each of these short term budget measures has given Republican leaders a chance to decimate investments in all things green. We’ve been having a lot of conversations inside The Wilderness Society lately about false choices and the ongoing assaults on our natural resources represent another threat. We don’t have to choose one or the other – we can be fiscally responsible AND protect the air we breathe, water we drink and lands we love. A coalition of conservation and environmental organizations provided a blueprint for the right way to go when it released its annual “Green Budget” report to Congress earlier this month.

If congressional leadership is looking for wise budget cuts to make, the Green Budget report points to billions of savings that could be achieved by eliminating a variety of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. The House missed that opportunity when it passed a 2011 budget extension which refused to stop oil companies using royalty-free leases from getting new government leases. The House also chose not to eliminate subsidies to the five largest oil companies.

Our report goes on to note a number of critical investments we must make to achieve a stronger, healthier economy AND a stronger, healthier nation.

I hope Congress ends its oil-like addiction to “continuing resolutions” that keep government doors open from paycheck to paycheck. The negative consequences of that habit are too numerous to list here, but imagine what your life would be like – assuming you are lucky enough to have a stable job – if you didn’t know what income you would have in two weeks. You might be forced into selling your house, postponing medical appointments for your children and more. That sort on uncertainty is no way to live, yet Congress doesn’t learn.

Sadly, there’s even more at stake in current budget negotiations for two weeks or even what’s left of the fiscal year. The reckless spending cuts proposed by Republican leadership set a dangerous baseline for determining future budgets for the environment and public health. What’s the false choice here? Those same leaders forget that budgets for conservation, parks, natural resources and many other necessities are only now beginning to recover from eight years of starvation. To starve them again would be like giving a bear just waking from an eight-year hibernation a single salmon and telling him it has to last for a few more years.

No way to run a country indeed.

Photo courtesy Jack Kerivan