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The Planet

The Planet
November 1998 Volume 5, Number 9

Congressional Madness Goes Into Overtime

by John Byrne Barry

Every day another rider attacks the environment. And the message to the president stays the same: Veto!

"They're playing chicken with the president."

That's how Melanie Griffin, director of the Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program, characterized the congressional leaders' game plan as they attempted to forge a budget in the final weeks of this session.

"They're taking every bad idea of the last two years and cramming them onto funding bills that have to pass. But they know Clinton has promised to veto these bills if they contain anti-environmental riders. So they're trying to see what they can get away with."

As The Planet goes to press on Oct. 7, little has been decided. The federal government's new fiscal year began Oct. 1 with only two of 13 spending bills completed. The president and Congress agreed on a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running until Oct. 8 and a second extension is expected.

Faced with the threat of a presidential veto, congressional leaders have withdrawn some of the most controversial riders, but they may show up again in a larger omnibus spending bill. This monster package would be negotiated behind closed doors between key appropriations leaders and the White House, then brought back to Congress for what is likely to be a simple yea or nay vote, making it nearly impossible to strike whatever anti-environmental riders remain.

To strengthen the hand of the White House, the Club has been urging representatives to sign a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by Reps. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), David Bonior (D-Mich.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). The Democratic letter urges the Clinton administration to veto these back-door attacks on the environment. At presstime, there were 157 signers. Not to be outdone, Republican House members also began circulating a similar letter to budget negotiators; it currently contains 30 signatures. Some dangerous measures were killed outright and may actually stay dead - until the next Congress, at any rate. Newt Gingrich forced a vote on fast-track trade authority and lost. The Quincy Library Group logging bill,

S. 1028, very nearly ended up as a rider to the Agriculture Appropriations bill, but was knocked out thanks to the vigilance of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Just to make sure Club activists were keeping busy, Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) was urging floor action on H.R. 4570, a public-lands bill essentially crafted out of nothing but anti-environmental riders. Many popular lands measures were held hostage until the final weeks of Congress, then loaded onto Hansen's 481-page mishmash and rushed through with no hearings or committee consideration. H.R. 4570 would reduce wilderness protections for wildlands in Utah's San Rafael Swell Wilderness, Georgia's Cumberland Island, Oregon's Hell's Canyon and Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park, to name four. It would also undercut the power of the president to declare national monuments.

To take action: Though we don't know which anti-environmental bills will pass or which riders will still be on the appropriations packages when they arrive on the president's desk, the general message won't change. Tell the president: Veto these bills until they come back clean. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111.
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