By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released the GOP budget yesterday morning. In all the coverage about the massive shortcomings of the budget, many may have missed the proposal to sell off millions of acres of the public lands that belong to all of us.
Tea Party favorite Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is credited with adding the language, which says:
Sales of Unneeded Federal Assets: In the last year alone, Republicans put forth proposals to sell unneeded federal property. Representative Jason Chaffetz has proposed to sell millions of acres of unneeded federal land. Likewise, Representative Jeff Denham’s bill to authorize the sale of billions of dollars worth of federal assets would save the government money, collect corresponding revenue, and remove economic distortions by reducing public ownership. Such sales could also potentially be encouraged by reducing appropriations to various agencies. If done correctly, taxpayers could recoup billions of dollars from selling unused government property.
This is likely referring to Chaffetz’s bill, H.R. 1126, the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011.” The radical proposal would force the government to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to the highest bidder, without specifying how American taxpayers would receive a fair compensation for them.
Selling off public lands—including national parks—has recently been high on various Republicans’ wish lists.
Last month, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) told a town hall audience that “we don’t need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks.” The Gainesville Sun, the local newspaper in Stearns’ district quoted a George Washington University law professor by saying:
…Stearns had offered “a remarkable proposal since national parks are the most successful program in the government with rising demands of citizens visiting parks and sites. One would think we would be expanding the parks not cutting off one of the most popular government programs.”
Republican presidential candidates have also called for a fire sale of America’s special places. Rick Santorum told an audience in Idaho that we need to get public land “back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector.” Ron Paul called for public lands to be turned over to the states. And Mitt Romney told Nevadans that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands.
A government witness at a hearing on Chaffetz’s proposal last fall noted that the sale of these lands would be “unlikely to generate revenue.” On the other hand, public lands managed by the Interior Department stimulated $363 billion in economic activity in 2010.
While the Republican budget calls for selling public lands with unclear consequences, it also preserves a decade’s worth of tax breaks to Big Oil companies, which total approximately $40 billion. At the same time, the five largest oil companies made record profits of $137 billion in 2011.
With proposals like selling off selling off America’s public lands, ending Medicare as we know it, and protecting Big Oil, it’s clear that this budget is not designed to benefit the middle class. As the Center for American Progress wrote yesterday: the budget “asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent…”