Two Western Democrats charged Thursday that Republicans launched a sneak attack on the Endangered Species Act by voting to slash $1.5 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget.
The cut was approved 60-39 as an amendment to a defense spending bill.
Without the money, the agency will not be able to add to the list of endangered species for six months.
The cut is backed by Republicans, who said it would speed up a decision on possible changes in the law.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, the amendment’s sponsor, said it “would provide a timeout from new listings controversy” and prevent further erosion of private property rights.
Democrats accused her of breaking a promise not to bring the issue to a vote before a committee hearing could be held.
“It’s part of the new Republican strategy to gut the act instead of going directly through the reauthorization process,” said Rex Carney, press secretary for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Missi Tessier, Hutchison’s press secretary, said the senator was “using any available vehicle to address her concerns about the Endangered Species Act.”
Hutchison also is sponsor of the so-called Endangered Species Listing Moratorium Act, which is scheduled for a hearing next Thursday. That would prevent the listing of any new endangered or threatened species critical habitat for six months.
Thursday’s amendment accomplishes essentially the same thing by cutting the agency’s budget for enforcing the law.
“An agreement was made not to bring this up until the hearings, and apparently, several members reneged on their good word,” said Susan McCue, a spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
David Fish, spokesman for Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said his boss voted for the amendment to ensure the moratorium’s passage.
“Sometimes, you have to achieve a variety of different means to get to one end, especially in Congress,” Fish said.