As members of the 113th Congress are sworn in today, they face inboxes overflowing with business left unfinished by the 112th. Two of the biggest outstanding items — the Sandy relief package and resolution of the budget sequestration extended in the ‘fiscal cliff’ agreement — have serious implications for our nation’s fisheries.
Let’s look first at the Sandy debacle. The frustration expressed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday is shared by fishermen around the country who have suffered harm as a result of natural disasters hitting specific fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend. That’s because the Sandy relief package is the vehicle through which such funding, if it’s to be provided at all, will be appropriated. As FishHQ readers know, the package that passed the Senate in December included $150 million in critical fisheries disaster funding. However, the outgoing House, despite promises from its leadership to the contrary, failed to schedule a vote.
The good news is that Speaker Boehner has now re-committed to getting this done, and has slated House floor time for tomorrow and January 15. But even if a relief package ultimately does pass, there’s no guarantee that fisheries disaster funding will survive. As we noted recently, some have misguidedly attacked fishery disaster funding as ‘pork’, and a concerted effort to strip the funding was mounted in the Senate — and can be expected in the House.
And then there’s sequestration. Yep, you’re right, that was supposed to be settled in any fiscal cliff deal. But the best New Year’s Eve negotiators could do was defer across-the-board spending cuts by two months. As we’ve noted before, if sequestration were to take effect it would spell serious trouble for the information infrastructure upon which modern fisheries management depends. Specifically, it could rip 8.2 percent out of the ‘Operations, Research and Facilities’ (ORF) account of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, imposing further austerity on the ‘wet side’ of NOAA, with both the health of our fisheries and the prevalence of fishing opportunities destined to suffer.
Everyone in Washington has a theory about how the sequestration drama will play out. But amidst all the punditry and political games, it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of what the on-the-water impacts of across-the-board cuts would mean.
On sequestration, and fisheries disaster funding, the 113th Congress has plenty of work to do.