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The Deficit Problem
Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Hunters had a frightening shake-up last year. Around this time last year, cuts proposed to the Federal budget seemed to rip into conservation more than other programs. Many of us were shocked the way you are when an 18-wheeler abruptly cuts you off at highway speed. It felt that way because that is essentially what was happening: we were, in fact, being pushed around by forces much bigger than we are.

Some of us flew into a road rage, but most of the sporting community and many others who share our interest in conservation buckled down. We looked into what was really going on, organized ourselves, and we recovered. Now it’s time to strap in for this year’s challenge. The need to cut Federal spending remains and the pressure on all budgets continues. Sportsmen need to be aware, informed, and active.

Here’s what is going on: huge trends in Federal spending from decades ago are squeezing conservation programs out of the Federal budget. Also, the political blame game is making it harder for agreement on real solutions by forcing Congress to "just say no" or "just say yes" on everything from unique special interests to big complex issues.

Sportsmen last year pushed the other way – beyond our own interests to the common overall interest in conservation and beyond conservation problems to the problems confronting the whole country. Boone and Crockett and more than 1,000 other groups joined together in this campaign.

It is called America’s Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation. The coalition represents tens of millions of citizens with diverse political backgrounds who have united in support of conservation, recreation and preservation programs. The group is led by John Nau, Chairman Emeritus of the Civil War Trust, and Bill Meadows, the CEO of the Wilderness Society. The national groups and many regional and state groups are making our case to members of Congress, Congressional leaders, and the White House.

We started with a clear picture of the problem: every dollar collected by the Federal government is now spent automatically as required by the laws for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other mandatory benefits-programs such as farm subsidies. To spend money on anything else, the government must borrow that money. That is why we run a $1.4 trillion deficit.

Annual spending bills in Congress determine if conservation and all other discretionary spending of borrowed money is funded or not. Cutting spending in the year-by-year programs is easier for Congress than raising taxes (a major challenge) or changing the laws that automatically pay out all current taxes (a seeming impossibility). And the impasse is getting worse because the automatic spending is automatically increasing. Benefits programs grow automatically to keep up with new retirees and rising costs.

To hold conservation funding steady in the face of a $1.4 trillion deficit, we had to help with the automatic spending problem. We also had to show how conservation programs help create jobs and economic activity.

The America’s Voices campaign organized letters to members of Congress from around the country and meetings in Washington between CEOs and the leadership of the House and Senate, and White House staff.

We acknowledged the unanimous predictions of large deficits for years to come, and the public concern shown in a June 2011 poll that 81% of those polled were somewhat or very worried that the federal deficit would harm their children’s or grandchildren’s future.

And, of course, we said the other thing that will harm the future for children and grandchildren is a collapse in conservation.

Finally, we made our pitch that conservation programs are part of the strategy for growing the economy. Outdoor sports in the United States are a nearly $821 billion piece of the economy, supporting 6.4 million jobs and paying $99 billion in federal and state taxes. The value of sales of gear and trips alone -- $325 billion -- is larger than power generation and supply ($283 billion), legal services ($253 billion), and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing ($162 billion).

It worked. We held conservation programs steady. We need to run the same play this year.

It is tempting to think that, because conservation is a tiny bit of the budget, it should simply not be cut to balance the books. But the important thing is not how small we are: it is how large the automatic programs are. Growth in entitlement programs will not steer around conservation any more than elk avoid ants or tankers avoid Carolina skiffs. Entitlement programs have the right of way, and national defense is also imperative.

Controlling the deficit will be hard - not even last year's "Super Committee" could do it - but sportsmen can speak up for that while sustaining conservation. The message is that hunting and conservation funding creates jobs and grows the economy. We must use our voices to contact our members of Congress and the groups we belong to. Many members of Congress are sportsmen working together in the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. Many sportsmen groups work together through the American Wildlife Conservation Partnership. We are an effective team.

This is the way forward. Blind rage will put us in a ditch. With stakes this high, we have got to go with brains instead of hot blood.

Greg Schildwachter
B&C Professional Member

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