Congressman Mike Simpson today expressed his deep concern over the impacts of cuts to the National Park Service's operating budget during a budget hearing with the agency. Simpson, who chairs the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, noted that private funding was required for Yellowstone National Park to open on time this spring, and that gateway communities in Idaho are concerned about impacts to their economies.
Simpson blasted the $22 million reduction to the Park Service's operating accounts--which comes on top of the five percent across-the-board cut under sequestration--included in the Senate continuing resolution. "It's no secret that sequestration is having a detrimental effect on a number of Park Service functions," Simpson said. "It's for this reason that the House actually proposed in its version of the FY13 Continuing Resolution freezing the Park Service operating accounts--in other words, not making additional cuts beyond sequestration. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out as the House would have liked with regard to your budget."
Simpson asked about the maintenance backlog throughout the Park Service, and the pressure that adding new units may create in a constrained budget environment. He pointed out that he sees no end in sight to the current environment of austere federal budgets, and also questioned how the Park Service is "looking outside the box" in order to create a more stable, long term financial footing for itself.
Simpson is a strong advocate for an all-of-the-above approach to our nation's fiscal challenges. As such, he has supported reducing spending in discretionary accounts to find billions in savings over the past few years. However, discretionary accounts only make up about one-third of federal spending. The other two-thirds comes from mandatory programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Even if Congress completely eliminated discretionary spending, without reforms to mandatory spending, the nation would still have a budget deficit.
After the hearing, Simpson said, "Our budget situation requires us to make difficult decisions. It will force us to set careful priorities and do more with the limited resources available. We can either continue trying to offer the same services but be less and less effective at them or we can simply decide not to do certain things any more. I am hopeful that we will not have to completely abandon our national parks, which have rightly been called "America's best idea," because we fail to take major steps to reform our entitlement programs."