BRANDED: House wildlife recovery bill is not the bipartisan solution Americans deserve

By Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04)

House wildlife recovery bill is not the bipartisan solution Americans deserve
By Rep. Bruce Westerman (AR-04)

Last week, the House voted on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), a bill that Members on both sides of the aisle should have been able to wholeheartedly support. Unfortunately, while the bill is well-intentioned, House Democrats went about it the wrong way.
 
Instead of putting forth a bipartisan package that would ensure our states and tribes are well-equipped to lead on species and habitat recovery efforts across the United States, Democrat leadership hijacked RAWA and turned it into legislation that hemorrhages taxpayer dollars with no way to pay for it and no end in sight.
 
The goal of the bill is commendable, and a concept I have strongly championed throughout my time in Congress: empowering American states and tribes to manage fish and wildlife and improve their habitats to avoid future endangered species listings. After all, states and tribes are generally more attuned to what’s happening in their own backyards than the federal government.
 
While the bill provides financial resources to the states and tribes to meet our shared goals, it lacks a way to pay for it, and this spending is not pocket change.
 
The CBO has already estimated that RAWA will lead to more than $12 billion in direct spending over the first 10 years of the program. And I say the first 10 years because that’s what is in the scoring window. In reality, this program and its spending would last forever because there is no sunset for Titles 1 and 2 of the bill. That means $1.4 billion in added federal debt per year, forever.
 
At a time of rampant inflation, now is not the time to add additional mandatory spending – without an offset – and saddle our children and grandchildren with an even greater burden.
 
As ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, I sat at the negotiating table for months with the majority working to find a way to pay for this legislation and insert commonsense provisions that would improve the tools we are passing on to state and local species managers. Unfortunately, after a strong good-faith effort by Republicans, Democrats abruptly bypassed negotiations and brought this bill to the House floor.
 
Congress should not be in the business of creating permanent spending programs without opportunities for oversight and review, but that’s exactly what this version of RAWA does.
 
Additionally, despite the original intent of providing funding for locally led wildlife management, the bill that came to the floor contained an entirely new title that would siphon money from state and tribal wildlife agencies and give it to federal bureaucrats at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We never even had the chance to debate this title because it was dropped in out of thin air.
 
Conservatives understand that states, tribes, local communities, and private landowners can more effectively recover species and conserve habitats than the federal government ever could. We also understand that to truly empower impactful wildlife recovery, we must reduce regulatory barriers for restoration projects and continue to incentivize private and local efforts. We can and must do so in a way that is fiscally responsible.
 
As RAWA moves through the legislative process, I am hopeful Democrats will come back to work together on a lasting solution for America’s wildlife. I remain at the table, and I am ready and willing to negotiate RAWA back into the bipartisan bill it deserves to be.

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