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This was true until the last full week of the month. In the course of six days we experienced an earthquake and a hurricane. Hurricanes and floods we have had before, but an earthquake is something else altogether. The 45 second shaking ended up damaging some mighty historic structures including the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral.
Now if we could only harness all that energy to solve our fiscal problems...
Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction
Congress returns after the Labor Day holiday to a very full agenda, especially with the new fiscal year beginning on October 1st. Issues such as appropriations for FY2012 and the need to reauthorize federal transportation programs will be high on the agenda. All eyes, however, will be on the work of the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This bi-partisan, bi-cameral committee has until November 23rd to identify at least $1.2 trillion in fiscal savings over the next ten years.
The Joint Committee's recommendations will go before both the House and the Senate for expedited consideration. No amendments will be in order and the votes by both chambers must occur no later than Christmas. Failure on part of the Congress to agree to those recommendations will trigger an automatic reduction of $1.2 trillion in defense, Medicare and other spending beginning January 1, 2013.
Congress has effectively ceded all authority and responsibility to twelve colleagues; an unheard of delegation of power. The recommendations coming from the Joint Committee could include tax increases, entitlement cutbacks or other federal spending reductions. In other words, everything is on the table for consideration in reaching that $1.2 trillion figure.
So, what does this mean for Public Lands?
I have been criticized by some for focusing on the debt ceiling debate. Perhaps I could have done a better job of explaining how overall fiscal issues do have an important bearing on our federal land agencies. If a mandatory across the board budget cut is imposed on federal agencies, then choices have to be made. Budgetary constraints mean that agencies set priorities based on fewer resources. If they have to decide on whether to fight wildfires or build new campgrounds and trails, fighting fires will win every day.
Understanding the budget debate and the ramifications of such provides us with useful information on how to deploy our own resources more effectively. In this political environment, one cannot operate in a vacuum.
Come September, we will be lobbying to preserve the Recreational Trails Program, to garner more support for H.R. 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011, and a host of other issues affecting the management of our public lands. And, we will keep a wary eye on the work of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Its work affects our collective future and it deserves our very close attention.
Have a safe Labor Day weekend. We will be back in touch in the coming months as things develop here in Washington.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access