Budget bill offers no refuge for poor Americans, wildlife
A provision in a budget bill would open the Arctic wildlife sanctuary to drilling and cut aid for low-income people.
CONGRESSIONAL Republicans, thwarted from removing a ban on oil drilling in the nation's premier wildlife refuge, are refusing a fair up-or-down vote on the issue by attaching it to a budget bill that even without the drilling provision deserves rejection.
Hawaii's delegation should refuse to approve the measure. The Senate began debating the bill Monday, and the House Budget Committee was to consider its version today.
The so-called budget reconciliation bill cuts $35 billion from programs that help poor and moderate-income families. Republicans have linked steep reductions in food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare and student financial aid with the proposal to extract an insignificant amount of oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The reason? Unable to fight opposition to the drilling in a stand-alone measure in the Senate, they reconstituted the issue as a revenue-raising provision and slipped it into the budget bill, which is immune to filibuster.
The 19-million-acre refuge is one of the last unspoiled wilderness areas in the United States. However, neither wildlife nor the nation's most vulnerable citizens have the lobbying clout of the oil industry.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert have made noises about calling on the oil companies to explain their massive profits -- a $29 billion combined windfall in the last quarter alone -- but they are simply posturing.
Both would do better to explain why their Republican majorities have refused federal subsidies for 7 million Americans -- the elderly, disabled and poor children -- who will be unable to pay the 30 to 48 percent increase in heating costs anticipated this winter.
They should also explain why they separated from the reconciliation bill a proposal to extend tax cuts on capital gains and dividend income, cuts whose primary beneficiaries are the 0.2 percent of households with annual incomes of more than $1 million. The tax cuts will deprive the treasury of $70 billion, exactly twice what would be needed to keep food on the table and medicine in the hands of the impoverished.
Meanwhile, by inserting the drilling into the bill, Congress also has deprived the refuge of any safeguards. Because it is cast as revenue development, environmental protections, enforcement and inspection provisions, lease specifications and operation approvals -- all that had been included in previous versions of the bill -- have been stripped away.
The budget reconciliation bill is a sham, a sleight of hand that reconciles nothing.
Senators Inouye and Akaka, who have previously sided with Republicans on the drilling issue, should be ashamed to lend their names to the measure. Congressman Case and Abercrombie should also vote no when the bill reaches the House.