by Ben Adler
House Republicans' pointless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act are getting all the media attention lately. But more quietly, the GOP has also been passing a slew of troubling bills that would threaten critical infrastructure, hurt the environment, and reduce quality of life in communities across the country. They offer a preview of what we could be in store for if Republicans win more power this fall.
And some even have a chance of becoming law before then. Because the Republican attacks are in the form of bills to fund the government, Democrats who control the Senate and White House could have a hard time stripping all the harmful measures out of them.
“Republicans don’t control the Senate or White House, so they can’t repeal laws, but they can gut them by killing the funding,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, told Lean Forward.
First, House Republicans went after the Environmental Protection Agency with an axe so large it makes a medieval beheading look restrained. The bill, approved by the Appropriations committee, cuts the agency's budget by $1.4 billion from last year—a whopping 17 percent.
But that's just for starters. House GOPers are also trying to thwart the EPA’s ability to enforce current law by limiting its administrative power. They attached a host of unrelated measures to the bill that would strip the government of its ability to do everything from preventing damaging mining or grazing on federal lands to protecting some endangered species.
“The most anti-environment House in American history is rolling back environmental safeguards that people want, like clean air and clean water,” said Alex Taurel, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters. “It helps only their campaign contributors, like big oil companies.” Nadler called many of the provisions on land use “a give-away to cattlemen.”
Elsewhere, Republicans avoid the political risks of identifying specific items to be cut by instead focusing on larger, nondescript-sounding programs. “Congress doesn’t want to say we’ll cut resources for children’s cancer or elderly people with asthma, so they give lower figures for very big items such as the Office of Research and Development,” Scott Slesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council explained to Lean Forward.
But the effect is much the same: The cuts would indeed reduce the EPA’s ability to study the effect of various pollutants in causing asthma and cancer.
It goes on: Republicans are also cutting the EPA's budget for monitoring compliance with environmental regulations—threatening the agency's ability to properly fulfill its core function. And they're going after federal help for clean water and sewage treatment—a move that doesn't just threaten public health, but also means fewer good paying jobs building and maintaining clean-water infrastructure.
Even the sort of mom-and-apple-pie programs in the Interior Department that Republicans used to make exceptions for would be decimated. The National Park Service, for instance, would get $135 million less than last year, which environmentalists say could lead to deterioration in park quality and shorter open hours, due to ranger layoffs.
It's not just environmental issues. In funding the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Republicans failed to increase money for Section 8 vouchers, which help provide affordable housing to struggling Americans, to keep pace with fast-rising rents. That would mean there wouldn't be enough money to fund all the vouchers already in use, much less expand the program, housing advocates say.
Funds for public housing are on the chopping block as well. “It’s less than is necessary and required to maintain the existing program,” notes Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “This comes on top of cuts last year,” she adds.
It may be hard for Republicans to pass many of these measures while Democrats control the Senate and the White House, though some could end up surviving. But if Republicans win control of Congress and the White House in November, it would be a very different story. And that’s what really scares environmentalists.
“They are showing what could happen if the guys who have been running the House have enough votes in the Senate to get this stuff through,” said Slesinger.
Taurel agreed. “With a President Romney,” he said, “a lot of this stuff would probably become law.”
Ben Adler is a contributing writer for The Nation and federal policy correspondent for Next American City.