Washington Report – Passing the “Cromnibus”
Washington got back to work after the elections, or at least what passes for it in the nation’s capital. The so-called “lame duck” session faced a hard deadline just to keep the government operating, but as usual, the spending deal didn’t get cut until the 11th hour.
Party tensions were thick, as the session represented the dying gasps of Democratic control of the Senate, and Republicans were still simmering with outrage at the president’s executive order on immigration amnesty. Conservatives in both chambers argued against making any kind of funding agreement that would extend into the next session, when Republicans will control the Senate. As a result, it was obvious from the get-go that any spending deal would need to garner support from Democrats just to pass each chamber. And the Democrats weren’t giving away anything for free.
The format of the funding bill would be somewhat unprecedented. Past agreements of this type generally came in two flavors – a “continuing resolution” or simply “CR,” which continues government funding at the same levels, or an “omnibus” bill to combine the 13 separate spending bills that comprise the traditional appropriations process.
In the end, this deal would combine both approaches, so it assumed the newly minted moniker of “cromnibus” as it took shape. Under the pressure of the deadline, and knowing that the bill needed to draw support from both parties, negotiators seemed willing to consider a broad variety of “sweetener” provisions to draw additional support. Your Washington team worked diligently to include pro-hunting provisions in the bill, but the final content of the deal was a swirling mystery until just before voting began.
The fog would quickly clear, revealing a handful of provisions to benefit hunters and sportsmen. First, the bill would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from banning traditional ammunition and fishing tackle as “toxic substances.” Anti-hunting groups are currently suing EPA in an attempt to force this type of regulation, and this threat has now been forestalled.
The second key provision prevented the listing of the Greater and Gunnison sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Regulators had already moved to list the Gunnison sage grouse, and seemed close to listing the Greater species as well. The listing of these species under ESA would have had a broad and lasting impact on enormous amounts of land in the West, where state agencies are already demonstrating progress with conventional management techniques to protect grouse habitat.
The blunt sword that is the ESA would ignore the conservation success that range states are demonstrating, instead applying the one-size-fits-all federal land lockup mentality that is a proven failure in conservation. So the threat of the listing of both species has been forestalled as well.
Finally, the cromnibus bill included another provision to prevent the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers from issuing new Waters of the United States regulations that would have restricted certain agricultural practices and allowed the regulation of farm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act. Despite being rebuffed not once but twice by the U.S. Supreme Court, green groups are bound and determined to apply heavy-handed federal regulation to the smallest and most fleeting bodies of water everywhere in the country. Should they ever appear poised to succeed, farmers and ranchers will naturally take prudent measures to prevent these regulations from applying to their production lands. So the effort to pursue these regulations actually poses an enormous threat to the very type of temporary wetlands that many species of wildlife count on for habitat and breeding grounds. This threat has now been forestalled as well.
I use the word “forestalled” because all spending bills are temporary in nature, lasting only for a certain period of funding. So these provisions are temporary as well, lasting only until the end of the government’s 2015 fiscal year. But they give breathing room to pursue more permanent solutions, and their success in passing as part of the cromnibus bodes well for enacting permanent provisions.
You’d be smart to assume that the news can’t be all good in this kind of last minute legislative sausage-making, and you’d be correct. The cromnibus was accompanied in passage by the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained a handful of land transfers long sought by environmental groups. The single most notable provision will transfer the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service, the federal agency least receptive to hunting as a conservation tool in any of its properties. This unwelcome development came at the last minute, and was an obvious sop to the environmental left. Burying the transfers in the Defense bill tied them to the funding of our nation’s military, another transparent tactic. Given the extremely short deadline for action at this point, opponents of the transfers were left no reasonable option to defeat the transfers.
In the end, the overall funding agreement represented the kind of deal that no one supported wholeheartedly. But that’s precisely the type of outcome needed to pass through chambers that are led by different parties. Next year begins with a clean slate, with unified leadership of both the House and Senate. And that’s when we will finally be able to pursue a sweeping pro-hunting legislative agenda. Your Washington team will be at the forefront of the charge and you, as always, will read about it here.– Patrick O’Malley