The new 112th Congress roared into town with the addition of 112 new members, 100 of whom are Republicans. As could be expected, Republicans were especially excited that they were the majority party in the House and that they gained six seats in the Senate.
Since swearing in day, two issues have dampened spirits. First, there was the awful shooting in Tucson, resulting in the death of 6 citizens and the wounding of 18 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. This tragic incident has caused many Hill offices to reevaluate, from a security standpoint, how to hold constituent meetings in their Districts and States. The security concern is not only for the Member holding the meeting but also for those citizens in attendance. There are no easy answers on this, but it is an added worry.
The other "cloud" hanging over the new Congress is the issue of the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office has just released its estimate of the federal deficit for FY2012 and it comes in at a whopping $1.5 trillion. Despite the President's proposed budget cuts as well as those suggested by some Republicans, those cuts don't go far enough in putting a major dent in the projected deficit.
FY 2011, FY2012 and Rethinking Government
The President is scheduled to release his FY 12 budget by mid-February. The speculation is that many agencies will be faced with budget cuts. But even before the Congress turns its attention to the 2012 fiscal year, it must first decide what to do with the unfinished business of FY 2011. Currently the federal government is funded by a continuing resolution through March 4th. Some Republicans are calling for $100 billion in cuts to discretionary, non-security programs, but five months into the fiscal year, it is almost impossible to cram $100 billion in cuts into the remaining 7 months.
Even once the FY 11 dilemma is resolved, FY 2012 is going to require some serious soul searching about the role of government. Playing musical chairs with government agencies is going to be an idea that will gain traction as future budget savings are harder to identify. The old ways of managing will not provide the necessary savings. The issues we care about - recreational access to public lands, how our public lands are managed and by whom - will eventually become issues that Congress and the Executive Branch will have to grapple with. Keeping the old lines of agency jurisdictions that go back for over a hundred years might not be a valid reason for maintaining the status quo. This being the case, the roles of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture will likely go under the microscope for reevaluation.
Federal land agencies along with other federal agencies will have their budgets reduced. A 5% cut for some of the land agencies is being bandied about but we will have to wait until the release of the President's FY12 budget to know for sure. Determining which programs to cut and which ones to spare will become a political battle that will be waged in the Congress. How recreation is treated as a funding issue will be of concern to us. If our struggle with the crafting of a new Forest Service Planning Rule these past eighteen months is any indication of what we face, we will have our work cut out for us.
* Recreational Trails Program
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has announced that his committee will begin a process of crafting a new multi-year surface transportation bill. In mid-February, he hopes to begin a series of field hearings or listening sessions outside of Washington to gather citizen input on what should be included in the bill. ARRA will let you know when and where these sessions are being held so you can attend and talk about the merits of continuing the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
* America's Great Outdoors Initiative
Remember the AGO program that was announced with great fanfare back in April, 2010, at a White House Conference? Remember that President Obama ordered that the recommendations from this initiative were to be delivered on his desk by November 15, 2010? Well, we hear through the grapevine that the AGO report is now complete; and that warring factions within the Administration were finally able to come to closure on the recommendations. Public release of the AGO findings are now scheduled for mid-February. Stay tuned...
* Forest Service Planning Rule
Late February appears to be the target when the Forest Service will be releasing its draft Planning Rule. Once it is officially published in the Federal Register, we will all have 60 days to file our comments on the draft. We are being told that "recreation" will receive its due and we certainly hope that will be the case. We reserve judgment until we actually read the draft. It's encouraging to know that the Congress will be closely reviewing the draft as well.
* Salazar's Wild Lands Policy
Secretary Salazar's new "wild lands policy" is drawing fire from many western members of Congress. Forty-eight House members and eight Senators wrote to the Secretary on January 28th requesting that he withdraw his Secretarial Order 3310. ARRA supports this idea terminating the "wild lands policy." Read the Hill letter to Secretary Salazar in full on the ARRA website
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access