Jul 19 2011

The (Nonsensical) Politics of Fisheries Funding

Fisherman Larry Collins stands next to his boat the Autumn Gale at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. SOURCE: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez

By Michael Conathan

All eyes in Washington are focused up these days. They’re peering cautiously at that ever-encroaching debt ceiling and the economic ruin pundits and politicians are forecasting if we allow ourselves to bump into it. Meanwhile, spending-phobia has gripped the less headline-grabbing, more mundane aspects of congressional operations as well. So we’re going to spend a bit of time today in one of Capitol Hill’s metaphorical windowless rooms crunching numbers to find out what Congress is doing to fund (or not fund) fisheries management.

Let’s start with a quick note about the congressional appropriations process. Per the Constitution, Congress holds the “power of the purse.” The president asks for money by submitting a budget but the legislature dictates how much will actually be spent.

Like all pieces of legislation—recall your “Schoolhouse Rock”—spending (also known as appropriations) bills originate in committee. In this case, that’s the Appropriations Committee, which passes them on, accompanied by an explanatory report, for consideration of the full body. Ultimately, both House and Senate must pass identical versions of legislation that are then sent to the president to be signed into law. The bill that contains funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and thus for fisheries management, is the Commerce, Justice, and Science, or CJS, Appropriations Act.

House appropriators talked a good game this year in the CJS bill’s report, stating “healthy levels of investment in scientific research are the key to long-term economic growth.” One would think that in these days of anemic job growth9.2 percent unemployment, and an angry electorate, if Congress held “the key to long-term economic growth,” they might use that key to unlock America’s potential. Instead, line-in-the-sand politics rose up and trumped common sense. In short, the “cut spending now” mantra seems to have all but obliterated the more reasoned and storied catchphrase of entrepreneurs everywhere: “You have to spend money to make money.”

Read the rest of the story here.

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