MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Montana’s congressional delegation on Monday criticized President Bush’s $2.9 trillion budget blueprint for not proposing enough money for rural programs, veterans health care, Amtrak service and other Montana priorities. Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Congress would work to fix the proposal. “It’s our job to make sure Congress understands the needs of rural America,” he said. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said the country is not paying enough to its veterans. “We made a promise to the veterans of this country, and we break that promise by making them beg for money to pay for health care each and every year,” Tester said in a statement. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., criticized low funding for Amtrak but praised an increase in the National Park Service budget. Rehberg and Baucus also criticized a plan to sell up to 300,000 acres of national forests and other public land to help pay for rural schools and roads. Budget items of Montana interest: INCREASES:
Proposes the largest-ever funding increase for the National Park Service in preparation for the park system’s 100th birthday in 2016. Bush allots $2.4 billion for the National Park Service for 2008, $230 million more than he requested last year. This would include money for 3,000 new seasonal employees and increase money for park maintenance _ two areas that advocates say have suffered for years. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, Yellowstone National Park would receive almost $34 million in the 2008 budget year, an almost 10 percent increase. Glacier National Park would receive almost $14 million, a 15 percent increase.
Recommends an additional $16 milLion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to strengthen law enforcement and counter growing methamphetamine production and use in Indian communities. Would also provide an additional $15 million to improve Indian student achievement.
Raises spending on veterans medical care from $29.3 billion to $34.2 billion. About $3 billion would go to mental health care as veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report increased symptoms of stress or other mental disorders. CUTS:
Would give Amtrak an $800 million subsidy, $500 million less than the federal government spent on the passenger railroad in 2006.
Rural health outreach and flexibility grants would be eliminated. Both grant programs are designed to encourage greater access to health care in rural areas.
The total allocation for the Bureau of Indian Affairs would be equal to last year’s request, at $2.2 billion. That is about one percent lower than was enacted in the 2006 budget year. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said the president’s budget “debilitates the basic needs of sovereign Indian nations and stunts the creation of opportunities in Indian Country by failing to allocate sufficient funding for adequate health care, safe drinking water, functioning sewer systems, secure roads and other infrastructure repairs.”
As part of its budget, the administration asks that Congress repeal a provision passed in 2005 as part of a broad energy bill that prohibits new fees for oil and gas permits on federal land. The administration estimates such fees could generate $20 million a year.
Proposes higher health care enrollment fees for veterans whose incomes are above certain levels and who have no illnesses or injuries that resulted from their military service. For the same veterans, seeks to increase copayments on prescription drugs. Congress has previously rejected similar proposals.