U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho
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Recently in Washington

On Wednesday, the House passed H. Res. 630, a resolution requiring each Member, officer, and employee of the House of Representatives to complete a program of training in workplace rights and responsibilities each session of each Congress, by voice vote.  The resolution requires all Members and staff to complete mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training during each session of Congress.

On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 3017, the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017, by a vote of 409-8.  The bill reauthorizes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields Program and makes several improvements to existing law.  The House also passed H.R. 4182, the Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service Act of 2017, by a vote of 213-204.  The bill extends the probationary period for appointments to the competitive service and initial appointments as supervisors and managers to two years after the completion of required training and licensing.

The House also passed H.R. 3905, the Minnesota’s Economic Rights in the Superior National Forest Act, by a vote of 216-204.  The bill requires Congressional approval for mineral withdrawal and monument designation in National Forest System Lands in Minnesota; allows for the renewal of mineral leases in the area and ensures that future leases remain valid and renewed, consistent with current law; and excludes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from the provisions of the bill, and requires environmental review of any leases issued under the bill.

On Friday, the House passed H.R. 1699, the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act of 2017, by a vote of 256-163.  The bill clarifies that a manufactured home sales person is not originating a loan when helping a consumer apply for a mortgage or prepare loan information, unless they are compensated by a creditor, lender or mortgage broker.

Simpson Discusses Fire Borrowing with Forest Service Chief

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson discussed the issue of fire borrowing during a House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Chief of the Forest Service, Tony Tooke last week. Specifically, Simpson emphasized the need to fund wildfires like other natural disasters.

“Solving the issue of fire borrowing has been one of my top legislative priorities in Congress,” said Simpson. “In Idaho and other western states, fire-borrowing has decimated the budgets of land management agencies and caused fire seasons to increase in severity and cost. If we can find a better way to budget for these catastrophic fires, we can improve our lands and our budget outlook.”

Currently, agencies like the Forest Service must borrow from non-fire accounts when fire suppression costs exceed the budget.  “Fire borrowing” was intended to be an extraordinary measure, but as fire seasons have grown more destructive it has become common practice—and has created a devastating cycle that prevents agencies from doing needed hazardous fuels removal or timber harvests; ultimately leading to worse fires. To solve this issue, Congressman Simpson has introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would fund wildfires like other natural disasters.

During the hearing, Congressman Simpson asked Chief Tooke what the consequences would be if they didn’t address the rising costs of wildfire suppression funding.

“I’m hopeful we get this done this year. However, if we don’t address the 10 year average (mechanism used to predict annual wildfire suppression funding) that 55% (share of wildfire funding in Forest Service total budget) will continue to grow.”

Chief Tooke agreed saying, “Yes, according to our projections, even if we have a low to moderate fire years the next few years, the ten year average will grow by $500 million over the next five years.”

In 1995, the Forest Service spent 16% of their budget on wildfire suppression. Fiscal Year 2016 was 56% and it will be more than two-thirds by 2021. This means that the Forest Service spends the majority of its time, funding, and staff resources putting out fires instead of managing public lands.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is supported by 89 bipartisan members of Congress and over 200 organizations.

Floor Schedule

On Monday, the House will meet at 6:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m.

Motion to Go to Conference on H.R. 1, and Democrat Motion to Instruct Conferees

On Tuesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.

Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:

1) H.R. 3731 - Secret Service Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. John Katko / Judiciary Committee)

2) H.R. 3317 - SAFE Act (Sponsored by Rep. Dave Trott / Judiciary Committee)

3) S. 1266 - Enhancing Veteran Care Act (Sponsored by Sen. James M. Inhofe / Veterans Affairs Committee)

4) H.Res. 259 - Expressing concern and condemnation over the political, economic, social, and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis / Foreign Affairs Committee)

5) H.R. 2658 - Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Eliot Engel / Foreign Affairs Committee)

6) H.Con.Res. 90 - Condemning ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya and calling for an end to the attacks in and an immediate restoration of humanitarian access to the state of Rakhine in Burma, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Joseph Crowley / Foreign Affairs Committee)

On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.

On Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.

On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business.

H.R. 38 - Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Richard Hudson / Judiciary Committee)

H.R. 3971 - Community Institution Mortgage Relief Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Claudia Tenney / Financial Services Committee)

H.R. 477 - Small Business Mergers, Acquisitions, Sales, and Brokerage Simplification Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Bill Huizenga / Financial Services Committee)

Consideration of Legislation Making Further Appropriations for FY 2017

Additional Legislative Items are Possible

In the News

Wildfires’ Share of Forest Service Budget Will Grow, Chief Says
By Jeremy Dillon, CQ, Nov. 29, 2017

If wildfires continue on their current trend and Congress does not implement an overhaul to alter how the federal government pays to fight them, almost 67 percent of the U.S. Forest Service's budget will be dedicated on average to suppression efforts by 2021, the service's newly installed chief told House appropriators Wednesday.

That updated estimate is nearly four years sooner that previous federal projections, showing the growing intensity of wildfires as well as the urgency for congressional action to solve the “fire borrowing” problem as the disasters take away more funding from other forest management programs.

“We had a projection that it would be 67 percent by the year 2025, but that was updated because conditions have changed and they didn’t change in our favor,” Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke told the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

That share reached around 55 percent in the past fiscal year, Tooke added. 

Wildfires have scorched the West this year, burning more than 9 million acres of land, including a deadly fire described as one of the worst ever to affect California. The Forest Service has already spent more than $2.9 billion fighting fires this year, and Congress was forced to include an additional $577 million in the disaster supplemental bill it passed in October to help the agency avoid transferring that money from other accounts as it continues suppression efforts.

The White House did not seek additional funding for recovery efforts related to wildfires in its latest disaster supplemental spending request, although lawmakers have said they would push to include some type of relief.

Lawmakers have introduced legislation to alter the wildfire funding process, with a bill (HR 2862) by Rep. Mike Simpson, titled the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act,” as the leading bill under consideration. The bipartisan legislation aims to end the fire-borrowing practice by treating fires as natural disasters, allowing the federal government to tap the same Federal Emergency Management Agency resources reserved for disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes.

“I’m hopeful we get it done this year,” Simpson said. “It seems like we have some type of agreement between leadership of the House and the Senate and so forth that a budget cap adjustment is the right way to go instead of some of the other alternatives that other people have looked at.” Simpson, R-Idaho, is the chairman of the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

That budget cap adjustment is the preferred the alternative of the White House. According to a recent Statement of Administration policy, any wildfire legislation should use “a separate, annual cap adjustment for wildfire suppression operations, which will resolve concerns about the sufficiency of funds for wildfire suppression and avoid unnecessary competition for Stafford Act funds.”

Still pending, Simpson said, is the need to address the 10-year average, the usual way appropriators allocate fire suppression funding. The problem is that as the average grows, more of the overall budget goes to firefighting efforts, away from preventative efforts in its forest management program.

“Fire seasons are longer, the conditions are worse and the costs are going up,” Tooke said. “If the 10-year average continues to rise against.... what has been a flat budget for us, then that affects our other programs, including the ability to manage forests.”

Sens. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have introduced similar legislation (S 1842) to the House bill, which would allow the agency “to use funds from disaster funding to pay to fight remaining wildfires once the agency exceeds its appropriated fire suppression budget for the year,” according to a Wyden release.

“Our communities are battling growing infernos and a broken wildfire budgeting system that shortchanges prevention funding in a destructive cycle that literally adds fuel to fires,” Wyden said in response to the White House’s latest disaster request. “If the White House refuses to offer aid to wildfire-stricken communities, it’s up to Congress to get off the backbench and put an end to fire borrowing, and this senseless cycle, for good.”


Simpson discusses fire borrowing fix with Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke

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