Friday, July 17, 2009

Obstructionist Lawmakers Harm Animals and the Economy

Michael Markarian: Animals & Politics

Obstructionist Lawmakers Harm Animals and the Economy

Posted: 17 Jul 2009 03:09 PM PDT

The U.S. House of Representatives this morning passed H.R. 1018, the Restore Our American Mustangs Act, by a vote of 239-185. This legislation championed by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) seeks to put a stop to the commercial slaughter of wild horses, and to encourage more humane and fiscally responsible management of mustangs on the range through fertility control and adoption. It would save millions of tax dollars each year, and would create a better framework than the current system, which relies on costly round-ups and the keeping of captive horses in federal holding pens where they essentially live on the government dole.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Restoring
Our American Mustangs Act today by a vote of 239-185.

But the debate on the House floor this morning underscored that there is a small cabal of out-of-touch lawmakers who take every opportunity to belittle and bemoan animal welfare issues, no matter how moderate and sensible. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the worst offender, and he spoke against the bill today along with Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who said she’s a big animal lover but has a record that reflects quite the opposite stance. Boehner and King are the House’s worst two members on animal welfare and they routinely defend the nation’s worst forms of animal abuse, including horse slaughter and animal fighting. Boehner today called the wild horse protection bill “an insult” to the American people, and said we should spend our time on national priorities other than mustangs.

It was déjà vu from this February when the House approved a public safety and animal welfare bill by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to ban the trade in primates as pets, after a pet chimpanzee viciously attacked a Connecticut woman and left her severely disfigured. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) mocked that bill on the House floor, and said the work of Congress is too important to spend time on “monkey bites.” Tell that to Charla Nash, whose face and hands were bitten off. We provided similar warnings on keeping large constricting snakes, and now sure enough, there was a two-year-old girl killed in her home two weeks ago after a pet Burmese python escaped from its enclosure. You can be sure Boehner and King will oppose legislation introduced by Representative Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) to crack down on the trade in pythons as exotic pets, no matter the human toll.

A similar scene is now playing out on the opposite coast in California, where California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is using YouTube and Twitter to mock an animal cruelty bill. S.B. 135, introduced by Senate Majority Leader and Food & Agriculture Committee Chairman Dean Florez (D-Shafter), would ban the tail docking of dairy cows. The policy of stopping this painful and unnecessary mutilation is backed by animal welfare groups, veterinarians, and even the California Farm Bureau, and it passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin. But Schwarzenegger dismisses the discussion of “cow’s tails” while there’s a budget crisis in the state.

We all know there’s a budget crisis, and government priorities like creating jobs and fixing the economy. But legislators should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. While they sort out the big subjects, and allow themselves to get locked into partisan battles day after day instead of solving these big problems, they can’t ignore the quotidian responsibilities of lawmaking. Animal welfare is just one of the many issues that is important to mainstream Americans, and our elected officials can spend just a little bit of time moving the ball forward for these creatures, as they can do for other important but lower-profile issues. It’s not an either-or proposition between animals and jobs, and they can’t just expect to pass one bill each week and spend the rest of the time tanning or playing the back nine.

If they were truly concerned about the economy, self-described fiscal conservatives like Boehner, Bishop, and King should have been the first to line up today in support of the mustang legislation. The current program is a fiscal disaster, with the Bureau of Land Management stuck on a treadmill spending millions of tax dollars essentially running captive horse shelters. The Rahall bill maps out a better pathway, and will save American taxpayers at least $6 million each year just by keeping the population numbers in check through fertility control on the range, as an alternative to costly round-ups and long-term horse care.

Saving horses and saving tax dollars shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Thirty-three Republicans voted in favor of the bill today, including many fiscal conservatives like Representatives Dan Burton (R-Ind.), John Campbell (R-Calif.), and Thad McCotter (R-Mich.), and we thank them for their support of a more humane and more fiscally responsible policy. Other Republicans, like Representatives Whitfield and Elton Gallegly (R-Calif), are stalwart animal advocates. But the obstinate ones just don’t see the big picture, and they will gladly stand in the way of any modest animal welfare reform—even if it means they must continue fleecing the American taxpayers to do it and allowing cruelty to occur without intervention.

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