President Clinton wants to close the Spokane Bureau of Mines office, revamp the Northwest’s largest electricity producer, spend more money on saving salmon and keep farm programs at current levels.
But Washington members of Congress who serve on budget committees say the odds are against Clinton getting things exactly as he wants.
The spending plan has some Republicans fuming over the proposed closure of the Bureau of Mines office.
Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane contended the proposal is retribution for Eastern Washington’s defeat of former House Speaker Tom Foley.
“It appears to be so blasted political it’s outrageous,” said Nethercutt, noting that the seven offices to be closed all are in GOP congressional districts.
The office employs 220 and has a budget of about $10 million.
It should be closed only if it offers functions that are duplicated at another office that is as accessible to the region’s hard-rock miners, the congressman said.
“This is not a pork-barrel argument,” said Nethercutt, who campaigned against federal pork. “We’re in the middle of a hard-rock area, and (the office) has been there for a reason - research and safety.”
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said the closure is “a very real possibility” but added he is suspicious of political motives for the proposed closing of seven of the bureau’s regional offices.
He predicted a tough committee hearing on the bureau’s budget.
On the other hand, Clinton’s plan to restructure the Bonneville Power Administration received high marks from Gorton and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Turning the BPA into a wholly owned government corporation would allow the agency to avoid costly federal regulations for purchasing and hiring, Gorton said.
The change should allow BPA to continue providing low-cost electricity to the region and should stave off calls to sell the power marketing agency, Murray said.Clinton wants to sell four other smaller power agencies under next year’s budget.
BPA would get more money to protect salmon under the president’s budget, which would turn over programs now run by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Murray said she is worried that could ruin a successful program, and Gorton said he suspects the money might not cover all the costs.
“We don’t need another addition to the BPA bill,” Gorton said.
Nethercutt was even more critical of spending on salmon recovery, saying he wants to see scientific proof the money’s not being wasted.
“It appears to me to be more spending on the fish recovery problem without any real tangible assurance the fish problem will be solved,” he said. He added he will ask the administration to spend less and to put a cap on the program.
Farm subsidies would remain at current levels under the Clinton budget, but Gorton said such a status quo proposal is meaningless.
Congress must write a farm bill this year, and no one knows if it will be very close or very different from the current law.
Nethercutt, who serves on the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, said Congress is looking for ways to move government out of agriculture. It may cut back on subsidies in exchange for relaxing regulations.
That could require a major rewriting of the farm budget, he said.
For the first time, a Clinton budget goes before a Republican Congress, and members of both parties were skeptical of its survival.
“It’s just numbers at this point,” Murray said. “It’s probably not the budget I’m going to be voting on.”
Gorton said he would resist the chance to pronounce the budget “dead on arrival,” which a majority of Democrats did when Republican presidents presented their budgets.
“There may be some items in it that are worthwhile,” he said.
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