A huge subsidy for ranchers using federal lands could get worse as special-interest legislation continues to chew up millions of dollars. The House passed a bill on October 30 that would lock in below-market rates for grazing on federal lands, after two efforts at “real” reform narrowly failed.
Though the bill, sponsored by Robert Smith (R-OR), nominally increases grazing fees on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, fees will still remain too low and will not come close to covering the costs of the program. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the fee formula proposed in the bill would cover only a little over one quarter of the cost of the federal grazing program. Ranchers would pay only $1.55 of the federal government’s management cost of $5.80 per Animal Unit Month (AUM). Many of the so-called ranchers are wealthy corporations like Getty Oil and Anheuser Bush.
Additionally, the bill changes the definition of an AUM to increase the grazing subsidy. Currently, an AUM is one month’s forage for a cow and calf or five sheep. The bill will change the definition of AUM to allow seven sheep.
Under the bill, a scheme that allows grazing- permit holders to sublease their permits at a higher rate than they pay the government continues. And of course the “ranchers” pocket the profit.
During debate on H.R. 2493, the House narrowly rejected two amendments to reform the program and raise federal grazing fees to levels comparable with those charged by states for grazing on their lands. Representative Scott Klug (R-WI) offered one amendment, defeated 205 to 219, and Representative Bruce Vento (D-MN) offered a similar amendment which lost 208 to 212.
In 1996, fees charged for gazing on federal lands covered only $25 million of the $77 million costs for managing grazing activities.
Line Item Veto Whiplash
On October 30, the Senate voted to restore funding for 38 projects vetoed by President Clinton in the Military Construction bill.