Well, time may still be running out to pass the Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) in this Congress, but the bill moved one step closer to the desk of the president on Tuesday afternoon.
After several hours of debate, the House passed a massive wildlife funding bill, which would help states, tribes and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) conserve species most in need of conservation. States and tribes have identified these species and have already established conservation actions to assist them in wildlife action plans, but have never had enough money to fully fund these projects.
“Right now, the United States is facing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis,” said Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI), RAWA’s House sponsor. “Without significant change in the way we fund conservation, more animals and wildlife that we hold dear to our hearts will be in danger of extinction. The America’s Wildlife Recovery Act is landmark legislation that takes long-needed steps to address this crisis by using innovative collaboration on the ground that will protect our nation’s environmental heritage.”
The bill has broad support from the conservation community, including the American Wildlife Conservation Partners, and has been a priority for decades. Species-specific groups especially see the need to develop capacities to improve wildlife habitat across the board.
“Providing state and tribal agencies with much-needed funding and authority to focus on at-risk species in their own way allows them to balance their management activities with multiple priorities,” said Becky Humphries, co-executive director of the National Turkey Federation. Wild. “With a steady decline in hunting participation over the last few decades, the traditional source of funding for conservation is not adequate to meet the current need. This bill would help bring conservation funding to the 21St. century.”
Joel Pederson, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation, also knows a thing or two about the importance of increasing conservation dollars.
“Securing increased funding for the state’s fish and wildlife conservation efforts has been a top priority for the conservation community for decades, and the Mule Deer Foundation is proud to be part of the coalition of thousands of organizations supporting the Recovery Act. of the United States Wildlife,” Pedersen said. . “Today’s vote by the US House of Representatives to approve RAWA is a critical step toward final enactment of dedicated funding to help proactively address the conservation needs of our nation’s wildlife species. We know that increased investment in wildlife conservation will help ensure that species in decline are addressed long before they need to be classified as threatened or endangered.”
However, RAWA got caught in some headwinds on Tuesday and only cleared the House with a vote of 231-190.
As a hunter, fisherman, trapper, or conservationist, the passage of this bill through one house of Congress is something to celebrate. It will revolutionize this country’s ability to conserve wildlife. However, it is also important to understand what happened and why.
While RAWA is happily bipartisan in concept, it’s hard to ignore that the bill’s final passage was pretty divided. Only 16 Republicans voted for the bill and two Democrats voted against it. And there is a reason for that.
The bill that passed the House of Representatives yesterday will spend a little over $14 billion over the next decade with no tangible source of funding. If this bill becomes law as currently drafted, this funding will not be subject to the annual appropriations process and will continue in perpetuity unless or until Congress takes action to repeal it. The Congressional Budget Office, which is responsible for tracking government spending, tells us that these expenses will show up in red on federal balance sheets.
In short, the House of Representatives voted to approve a very good investment in wildlife, but voted to pay it off with debt rather than identify a source of revenue. Sixteen Republicans agreed with that, but 188 disagreed (or opposed the bill for another reason). Notable Democratic opposition to this bill came from the House’s top funder, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who likely voted against RAWA because it includes mandatory spending, removing power (and money) from the House’s jurisdiction. appropriations committee.
It’s important to understand that Congress votes to fund things without a “payment” all the time, under bipartisan leadership. However, with the midterm elections approaching and inflation rates at record highs, all funding bills are under heightened scrutiny.
The Senate can still change the bill in various ways and find a way to pay for this expense, but that’s what the House passed on Tuesday.
How did we get here?
There was a lot of voting on Tuesday. For those who don’t keep C-SPAN running in their office or on the radio in the truck, it probably left you scratching your head and wondering how anyone keeps track of what’s going on. In the House, our Representatives must vote if they are going to vote on anything. It’s complicated, at least a little silly, very political, and even more buried in lore.
Formally, the voting process in the House of Representatives begins with a rule: a defined set of procedures for how much debate can be had on the bill, which amendments can be voted on, and how the text of the legislation will be read. All of this is decided by the powerful House Rules Committee.
Last week, the Rules Committee published the bill and made a request for amendments, as they usually do at the beginning of each week. But instead of adopting the version of RAWA that the House Natural Resources Committee approved, the Rules Committee made a politically savvy move and amended the bill to align with the version of RAWA that the House Committee approved. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. They were thinking about the next hurdle facing this bill, a vote in the Senate, and wanted to bring the legislation in line with what that chamber has been debating. However, this change really frustrated House Republicans who oppose the nearly $200 million per year Endangered Species Recovery and Habitat Conservation Legacy Fund that the Senate bill would create for the FWS.
The Rules Committee also “made in order” several amendments that were added to the bill on the House floor, including some to make nonprofit entities eligible for some of the funding, ensuring that administrative costs are not exceed certain thresholds. , and allow some of this money to be spent on invasive species. Many of these amendments made the bill better public policy, but none resolved the spending issues at the heart of this debate.
Records of these votes can be found on the House Clerk website.
Where do we go now?
Now that RAWA has passed the House, it will go to the Senate, where one of three things could happen to keep RAWA moving. The Senate can take up and pass the version of the bill approved by the House; the Senate can amend the bill and return it to the House; Or, the Senate could pass its own version of the bill and convene a conference committee of members from both chambers.
There is still time to find a way to pay this bill. However, the ball is now in the court of the Senate.
Some people in the government affairs community like to say that “almost anything can happen under the rules of the US Senate, but it usually doesn’t.” Many experts are confident that something will happen with RAWA at the end of the Congress, but it is difficult to say for sure what it will be.
“America’s bipartisan Wildlife Recovery Act is about to become law,” said Collin O’Mara, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation in a press release. “We urge the Senate to harness the leadership of Senators Martin Heinrich, Roy Blunt, Thom Tillis, and Tom Carper and accept this landmark conservation bill as soon as possible. Inaction is the ally of extinction, and now is the time to act.”
If you’d like to weigh in, use this handy checklist to call your two senators and tell them you support swiftly passing a fully funded America’s Wildlife Recovery Act.