Word from Washington Lummis discusses EAJA, budget
Casper – “Our bill is designed to protect those once-in-a-lifetime cases where an individual with little means legitimately brings a claim against a very well funded government, prevails and should retrieve their costs and attorney’s fees,” said Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis in an interview Nov. 10 at the Roundup office.
The bill, known as the Government Litigation and Savings Act, aims to halt abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) by large environmental groups. On Oct. 10, a hearing was held in the Subcommittee on the Courts of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The hearing was interesting. We had some great testimony from the Safari Club International, the Caucus of the House and Senate that deals with sportsman’s issues and also from the Boone and Crockett Club,” said Lummis.
“Sportsmen and women are seeing that certain environmental groups have built litigation shops and are suing the federal government over and over, mostly on procedural matters, like the federal agency missing a deadline, then recovering their costs and using the money to sue again,” explained Lummis. “It’s an ongoing sue, recover, sue cycle. They are bringing suits in an effort to be obstructionist.”
Lummis continued that, even when settlements are reached out of court, some groups recover their attorney fees.
“It has become more egregious over time,” said Lummis. “Some of these settlements have affected the legal rights of parties that aren’t participants to the settlement, such as landowners.”
For example, in efforts to protect endangered species, Lummis explained that the landowners who are affected are never allowed to weigh in on the agreement.
“The proceedings are non-transparent, and it is wrong,” said Lummis. “We believe the amount of taxpayer dollars being paid is exorbitant and only going to a few environmental groups.”
The bill serves to limit the size of the organization that can recover fees under EAJA, as well as the number of claims per year and the rate of attorney fees that can be recovered.
Another provision of the bill serves to reinstate reporting and retrospectively track EAJA payments. A paperwork reduction act in 1994 stopped tracking of EAJA payments, making it very difficult for the government to see where and to whom the funding was going.
Currently, the bill is waiting to be heard in the full committee.
“We hope that the House Judiciary Committee will hear it during this Congress, meaning before 2012. We’re very hopeful that it will pass the House,” said Lummis, who added that Senator John Barrasso has a companion bill in the Senate that also looks promising.
“I support EAJA as it was originally intended,” added Lummis. “It is these abuses that are affecting the rights of parties not in the room that I find objectionable.”
Other efforts by Lummis and the House of Representatives to curb government abuses include reforming the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“ESA authorization expired a long time ago. The landowner community was not willing to reauthorize the ESA without any changes, and certain groups in the environmental community want it reauthorized as is or made tougher,” explained Lummis. “Because they could never agree, it was never reauthorized, but the appropriations committee kept funding it.”
This year, the House Appropriations Committee provided enough funds to process all pending ESA applications, but provided no money to advance new petitions.
“It remains to be seen how that language will fare in conference committee with the Senate, but I fully support the House version of the bill,” added Lummis.
Bills sent to the Senate have frequently run into trouble, and often are not even brought up for discussion in the Senate, according to Lummis.
“We have sent 22 jobs bills to the Senate, and they are all languishing there,” said Lummis. “In the meantime, President Obama is traveling the country calling it a do-nothing Congress that won’t pass his jobs bill.”
“The President’s bill is another stimulus package. We’ve already had a $1 trillion stimulus package that did not stimulate growth, except in certain sectors for a short period of time,” explained Lummis, also highlighting President Bush’s tax rebates, which didn’t work either.
“Both parties made mistakes, and we should move forward,” said Lummis. “We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Lummis noted that jobs bills aren’t alone in their inability to pass the Senate.
“It has been over 900 days since the Senate passed a budget bill,” commented Lummis. “Senator Reed is trying to protect the President’s reelection, as well as his majority in the Senate, and he does it by preventing good legislation that was originated in the Republican House from being brought up for vote.”
Relative to the budget, Lummis noted that she supports Connie Mack’s (R-Fla.) bill, H.R. 1848.
“Mack’s bill would freeze federal spending at this year’s levels and cut all federal spending one percent a year for the next seven years,” explained Lummis. “If we pass this bill, the deficit goes away.”
Sen. Mike Enzi is carrying an identical bill in the Senate.
“The great thing about Mack’s and Enzi’s one percent bill is that we can anticipate the cuts in advance,” said Lummis. “We can plan for it – anyone can plan for it.”
In an effort to cut spending, every office in the U.S. House cut their budgets by five percent this year and 6.4 percent next year.
“We borrow 42 cents of every dollar we spend in the federal government,” says Lummis. “If we eliminated the entire discretionary part of the government – the global war on terror, the entire Department of Defense, Homeland Security, commerce, energy, the White House, the entire judiciary system, the entire U.S. Congress and every single federal agency – we would still have to borrow money.”
“We’ve got to reign in these mandatory spending programs,” added Lummis, mentioning Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, school lunches and food stamps. “They are eating our lunch.”
“I think the American people are ahead of Congress. I think the American people are ready to pull in their belts, and they are ready to make tough decisions. It’s Congress that is not stepping up to the plate,” said Lummis. “The people are ready to cowboy up.”
As for the upcoming Farm Bill, Lummis said there are rumors floating around Washington, D.C., but so far they remain unsubstantiated.
“Rumors say the Democrat and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Ag Committees are considering approaching the super committee with Farm Bill reauthorization components out of concern that the Farm Bill will get caught up in 2012 election year politics and have trouble navigating through Congress,” explained Lummis. “I don’t know whether that rumor has any legs or not.”
Lummis also mentioned that Frank Lucas and Colin Peterson, current Republican chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, have laid extensive ground work for the 2012 Farm Bill through a number of field hearings across the country.
“They laid the groundwork early on, specifically so there wouldn’t be a lapse and people who are reliant on certain farm programs wouldn’t have to worry if the money will be there when planting and stocking season rolls around,” said Lummis.
Farm Bill reauthorization remains one of the pressing topics for agriculture legislation.
“By the end of this year, we should know whether the super committee’s work has been accepted or rejected and whether the 2012 budget bills have passed,” said Lummis. “We will work right up until Christmas this year.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.