Bush kills new funds for deer disease

August 14, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by CRAIG GILBERT AND MEG JONES 
President Bush on Tuesday rejected a spending package that included roughly $18 million to combat the lethal disease that threatens elk and deer in Wisconsin and several Western states.

None of the money for the fight against chronic wasting disease -- included in the $5.1 billion rejected by Bush -- was earmarked for Wisconsin, but the state was expected to apply for and receive a portion of it.

Several congressional Democrats from Wisconsin decried Bush's decision, with Sen. Herb Kohl calling it "illogical" and U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin terming it "deeply disturbing."

The move is also awkward for Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, who has asked the federal government for millions in aid to deal with the outbreak that threatens the state's massive annual deer hunt.

Bush is scheduled to appear at a $500 a person campaign fund-raiser for McCallum today in Milwaukee; the president will also speak at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. McCallum said in a statement that he plans to talk to the president today about the deadly disease that has turned up in 24 white-tailed deer near Mount Horeb.

"While I am disappointed that the efforts of Wisconsin's congressional delegation to secure federal funding for chronic wasting disease won't come to fruition, I understand the president's position and his desire to hold the line on spending," McCallum said.

When asked if the governor was embarrassed by Bush's decision, particularly coming on the day before the president visits Wisconsin, McCallum's spokesman, Tim Roby, said: "No. Not at all.

"It's an opportunity to have a private, one-on-one discussion with the president, who obviously has the authority to make things happen. The president is a friend of Wisconsin."

Move called a 'challenge'

For the Wisconsin departments of agriculture and natural resources, which are mounting the fight against chronic wasting disease, Bush's decision was not welcome news. But state officials said the federal funds had not been budgeted or even counted on and would not affect current research and monitoring.

"This creates an additional challenge. We're still committed to a strategy for this fall deer hunt," said Barbara Zellmer, DNR executive assistant.

Zellmer said the loss of potential funding would not affect the DNR's plan to test 500 deer for chronic wasting disease in practically every county this fall, nor other monitoring and research projects already announced.

At the state agriculture department, officials hadn't budgeted for anything with the federal money in mind because it had not been approved, spokeswoman Lisa Hull said.

"We're obviously looking for any resources that we can to help us fight this disease. There are a lot of ideas and initiatives proposed, but until you can see the money, you don't spend what you don't have," she said.

A White House spokeswoman, Nicolle Devenish, said Tuesday that the president's decision would not hinder efforts by states to deal with the disease.

Although the Bush decision eliminates $15 million in new chronic wasting disease money for the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency could still tap into unused funds previously appropriated for general purposes, Devenish said.

"There's plenty of money available," Devenish said. "These efforts are not going unfunded."

The $15 million to the service would have been distributed directly to states such as Wisconsin that are coping with the disease and would have been used for surveillance, research and other activities. An additional $2 million was to go to the U.S. Agriculture Research Service, and $1 million was earmarked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for research into chronic wasting disease and related diseases.

Wisconsin still will receive $3.5 million in federal money announced in May to fight chronic wasting disease. That will be spent on equipment to dispose of large quantities of deer carcasses, an upgrade of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory so the Madison lab can test white-tailed deer for the fatal brain disease, and on surveillance and diagnostic testing for animal and plant diseases.

Also in May, the state Legislature agreed to spend $4 million on chronic wasting disease, $2 million of that in the next year.

Bush's decision Tuesday is the latest chapter in a battle with Congress over control of spending. While the administration aims to send a message of fiscal discipline, it is also inviting battles over individual projects important to key lawmakers and to politically important states.

Among the items affected are aid to Israel, global AIDS programs, overtime for polie in Washington, D.C., a program to monitor the health of emergency workers at the World Trade Center site in New York, and $400 million in new election equipment for communities. The rejected funds also included more than $100 million for nuclear security, more than $200 million for the U.S. Coast Guard, nearly $500 million for aviation security and nearly $1 billion to the Pentagon.

All those funds were part of a much larger pot that Bush rejected Tuesday. That money was contained in the $28.9 billion supplemental spending bill signed by the president Aug. 2 to meet emergency defense and homeland security needs.

Bush and Congress had skirmished over the size and content of the spending bill. In the end, lawmakers wrote the bill so that the disputed portion, costing $5.1 billion, could not be picked apart by the administration, which backed only about one-fifth of the projects involved. Bush was required to spend all or none of it.

"We'll spend none of it," he announced in opening remarks Tuesday at his economic forum in Waco, Texas. Bush said much of the new spending "had nothing to do with national emergency."

And while he supported some of the new spending -- such as aid in the Middle East -- "we're not going to spend $4 billion we don't need in order to unlock $1 billion we do," he said.

The president said he would make specific requests to Congress to restore appropriations he thinks are necessary.

White House aides said Tuesday they did not know whether the chronic wasting disease funds would fall into that category.

Delegation reacts

House Democrat Tom Barrett of Milwaukee said he was surprised by the decision.

"I've been frustrated by the response from the White House" on chronic wasting disease, said Barrett, who is running for governor. "It took them awhile to recognize this is a serious problem for Wisconsin. I hope this latest action is not an indication he fails to recognize that."

Kohl said in a statement Tuesday, "While there's a great demand for fiscal discipline, it's illogical for the administration to arbitrarily cut a category of spending that is so desperately needed now and that prevents far higher costs later by containing the spread of this terrible disease."

A member of the Senate appropriations committee, Kohl helped secure the funds in the supplemental spending bill.

Baldwin, of Madison, noted Bush's repeated trips to the state -- his seventh is today -- in her comments about the decision. Baldwin's district includes the chronic wasting disease zone where the DNR is attempting to kill every deer, as many as 25,000, in a 374-square-mile area.

"I hoped that in his recent visits to Wisconsin, President Bush would have realized what a crisis CWD is for us," she said in a statement. "Obviously, someone dropped the ball."

But some Democrats refrained from criticizing Bush directly; Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Sen. Russ Feingold voted against the supplemental spending bill in July for the same reason Bush cited -- too much "pork."

Feingold issued a statement Tuesday, saying, "I applaud the fiscally responsible decision the president has made not to give in to the pork barrel spending contained" in the overall bill.

But he added that he hoped the chronic wasting disease funding, which he supports, would be restored in the fall.

The state's GOP lawmakers were silent on the issue Tuesday. While some have been vocal about getting federal aid in this area, all four voted against the supplemental spending bill that contained the $18 million in chronic wasting disease funds.

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