Washington, DC -- The Administration's 2007 budget seems to have been drafted in some distant corner of the universe where radio waves carrying news of last November's election have not yet arrived.
The most spectacular example of this silliness is that, once again, the US Forest Service has proposed to sell off the National Forests in order to pay for many basic conservation and recreation programs. The Administration has also proposed double digit cuts in funding for recreation and wildlife programs and increasing subsidies for commercial timber sales. Specifically, the draft budget includes language that would require the Forest Service to raise $800 million through land sales and use half of the proceeds for payments to states -- money rural states traditionally use to fund schools -- and half for land acquisition and other programs that sound good and are meant to make the sale of our land seem palatable: programs such as "conservation education, access to public lands, habitat improvement and to cover the administrative costs of disposal."
A similar proposal last year went down in flames in the face of strong bipartisan opposition from state and federal lawmakers as well as hunting, fishing, and other recreation and conservation groups. To view the official list of potentially eligible lands for sale by the Forest Service, go here.
This singularly ill-considered proposal is positively tone-deaf. Last week a bipartisan group of senior Western Senators and Representatives made it clear that this idea, if resurrected, would go nowhere:
"It won't have any more support this time than last time," said Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
"Last year's plan went over like a lead balloon," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
"It might be an option in their mind but not in Congress' mind," added Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). "You're not going to find any takers on the idea."
Indeed, so exercised are Republicans against this idea that Sen. Gordon Smith has threatened to filibuster the Continuing Resolution (CR) for fiscal 2007 appropriations if the money needed to pay for rural schools without land sales, which could be up to $400 million, is not included.
"I cannot allow the continuing resolution to proceed from the Senate if a full, one-year extension of the county payments safety net is not included in it," Smith said. "If necessary, I will employ my right to filibuster the continuing resolution."
On the House side, Rep. Greg Walden is delivering 18 speeches on the House floor, one per Oregon county, to educate his colleagues on the merits of the program. Walden said he will vote against the CR if the county payments bill is not included.
It's not a pretty picture, but Americans need to wake up to the fact that if they think they sent the Bush Administration a message in November it hasn't sunk in yet. Unless, of course, the White House really is in a galaxy far, far away -- then the whole mess begins to make some sense.