USA Today: Federal shutdown dodged, but lobbying battles rage on

This article originally appeared in USA Today on page A4 on March 7, 2011.

Federal shutdown dodged, but lobbying battles rage on
By Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Congress and the White House have temporarily averted a government shutdown, but big lobbying battles loom over dozens of major cuts House Republicans approved last month.

Planned Parenthood, public radio stations and scores of other interests are scrambling to make their cases heard on Capitol Hill, hiring new lobbyists, mailing petitions, buying TV ads and, in one case, deploying PBS’ Arthur the Aardvark cartoon character to Congress to rescue the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from budget cutters.

A focus of the lobbying free-for-all: a House-passed bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 that would cut $61 billion in federal spending.

“What was supposed to be a spending bill became a vehicle for every sort of pet effort to limit environmental protection,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who has identified 19 provisions he calls “anti-environment.”

Among environmentalists’ concerns: House decisions to halt the regulation of mercury emissions from cement kilns and to eliminate taxpayer money the Environmental Protection Agency would use to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and factories. In all, the agency’s budget would be cut by a third.

“The EPA has overstepped their authority by imposing the regulation, and it’s hurting American businesses,” said Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who pushed to end the EPA’s oversight of greenhouse gases.

Other high-profile budget fights center on provisions to:

•Eliminate taxpayer money for public broadcasting. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund public radio and television stations, has “outlived its usefulness,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who authored legislation to cut the funding. The corporation is set to receive $430 million this year.

“In this day and age, we have 150 cable channels and the Internet over our cellphones,” Lamborn said. “We no longer need a government source of media. This seems to be a natural place to start the discussion about getting our fiscal house in order.”

Patrick Butler, head of the Association of Public Television Stations, called the measure a “mortal threat” and said it would do little to reduce this year’s $1.6 trillion federal deficit.

“It’s true that there are lots of outlets, but the only people who are taking educational programming very seriously is public broadcasting,” he said.

Butler is overseeing the public broadcasters’ lobbying effort. They have hired two lobbying firms and started, a website named after the number of Americans that the broadcasters say rely on their stations at least once a month. About 300,000 people also have sent notes that support funding in recent weeks, Butler said.

Last month, after House GOP leaders announced plans to eliminate funding for public broadcasting, the Arthur the Aardvark character joined the fight, standing beside several Democratic lawmakers at a Capitol Hill news conference.

•Cut the entire $317 million family planning program, known as Title X, and prohibit sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, which provides medical care, contraception and abortions at more than 800 clinics.

Planned Parenthood receives $330 million annually from Medicaid and the family planning program, spokesman Tait Sye said.

Planned Parenthood officials say no federal funds are used for abortions, but opponents say the federal support frees up money to perform the procedure.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., a strong opponent of abortion, pushed the measure. “He doesn’t believe the nation’s largest abortion provider should be the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X,” Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd said.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said the action endangers family planning and preventive care for more than 5 million women. “Women see this as playing politics with their health,” she said. Her group has spent $200,000 on television ads in Washington to oppose the cuts and collected 600,000 signatures.

A coalition of groups that oppose abortion, including the Susan B. Anthony List and Family Research Council, said it has sent nearly 1.2 million petitions and e-mails to Congress, calling for the elimination of taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

The lobbying frenzy over the budget won’t end soon.

President Obama, who threatened to veto the House-passed bill, and congressional leaders are working to negotiate a new spending bill to keep the government running past midnight March 18. Even if they can reach a deal to fund agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year, another confrontation lies ahead — this one over the fiscal year 2012 budget, which Obama sent to Congress last month.

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