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Candidate Bush may have Told Us a Fish Story

by Joel Connelly, P-I Columnist
In The Northwest, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 15, 2003

Joel Connelly, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Columnist As he stumped the Pacific Northwest, arguing that salmon runs can be restored without removing dams, presidential nominee George W. Bush was moved to declare: "The man and the fish can co-exist."

Three years later, the president would be well-advised to remind himself -- as well as Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels -- of that classic Bushism.

OMB is holding up about $4 million for the Hatchery Reform Project, an ambitious attempt to redesign hatcheries in the Puget Sound area and coastal Washington so they work to recover runs of naturally spawning salmon and restore a sustainable fishery.

Spawned by bipartisan sponsors in Congress -- former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton and Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks -- the program is a joint effort of the state of Washington and Indian tribes.

It is managed by a non-profit group called Long Live the Kings, whose directors include a bevy of prominent Republicans -- ex-Environmental Protection Agency boss William Ruckelshaus, newly elected King County Republican Chairman Patricia Herbold and former Gorton legislative director Gary Smith.

The program has paid for watershed-by-watershed reviews on habitat and its potential to sustain spawning fish. "This has never been done anywhere else in the world," said Barbara Cairns, director of Long Live the Kings.

In its final year, however, the widely lauded program to restore salmon to rivers has run into a pair of Grand Coulee Dam-sized bureaucratic barriers, namely OMB and the White House.

The story has more twists and intricacies than fly-casting, but try to follow along if (like me) you cherish a) wild Northwest salmon and b) elected accountable democratic government in the United States.

Congress failed to enact appropriations bills for the 2003 fiscal year before it adjourned in November.

To keep the government running, lawmakers passed (and President Bush signed) what is called a Continuing Resolution to pay for everything at 2002 levels as enacted by Congress and signed by the president a year earlier.

At Long Live the Kings, director Cairns called up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ask whether a new contract was needed to keep money coming in until Congress at last passed an appropriations bill.

She was told the Hatchery Reform Project was not eligible to get money because it was not included in Bush's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget.

"I told him that was irrelevant," Cairns related in a memo. "The budget proposed by the administration was just that -- a proposal. Congress has the authority to set the budget and the spending for the federal government, doesn't it?"

Apparently, not in this acquisitive administration.

Cairns was told that orders have come down from OMB and the White House not to fund projects unless they are in both the Continuing Resolution and the president's proposed budget. Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn's office has worked the issue but cannot budge the bureaucrats.

"In essence, Bush is arrogating to himself Congress' authority to set the federal budget," said Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation and a supporter of Long Live the Kings.

What does this look like? A king salmon-sized power grab. The Continuing Resolution contains no clause or wording that allows OMB to hold up money to programs approved by Congress. It is as though the president is quietly exercising a line-item veto without providing Congress an opportunity to override.

Curiously, not much squawking has been heard from other worthy programs being pinched for money. The state's congressional offices, preoccupied with finally getting a 2003 appropriations bill, do not seem overly concerned that OMB is poaching on the hatchery program.

If Congress does pass an appropriations bill, Long Live the Kings will get the money (and pass most of it on to the state and tribes for scientific work) and this will be old news. But new House Majority Leader Tom "the Hammer" DeLay of Texas is cracking the whip over the Appropriations Committee.

As a device to hold down spending, DeLay has talked about operating the federal government for the entire year under Continuing Resolutions. If that happens, OMB would be encouraged to "interpret" what gets funded according to the president's wishes.

Why worry about the Hatchery Reform Project with war in the winds? The reasons are multiple.

Our Founders gave to Congress the power of the purse. OMB has no right or business usurping it.

Is this an indication that a federal government under one-party control will see power flow to the executive branch? Conservatives used to be appalled at such a prospect.

As well, the federal government has responsibilities and jobs to help out with beyond waging war and (again) cutting taxes for the rich.

For our region, that means restoring salmon runs destroyed largely by construction of federal dams on Northwest rivers.

In 2000, candidate Bush paid a visit to Haskel Slough near Monroe, getting a tour of salmon-raising channels restored with cooperation from local landowners. He touted innovation, cooperation and public-private partnerships as an alternative to federal dictates.

Now, the Bush administration is dictating that just such a partnership not get money.

Was he just feeding us a fish story that day at Haskel Slough?

Joel Connelly
Candidate Bush may have Told Us a Fish Story
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 15, 2003

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