Senate budget plan wants more money for firefighting

Sens. Udall and Bennet support chamber’s blueprint

WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a budget blueprint early Saturday morning that included an amendment to increase the federal firefighting budget by $100 million in 2014.

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, voted in favor of the budget, which, according to The Washington Post, calls for $1 trillion in new taxes during the next 10 years and modest cuts in estimated government spending.

The House of Representatives passed its own budget Thursday. The House blueprint seeks to balance the budget by 2023 through an anti-tax spending plan, the Post reported, and calls for a massive decrease in the size of government.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, voted for the House budget.

This is the first budget the Senate has approved in four years. Neither chamber’s budget is binding, and both were largely passed along party lines. Both sides now need to come together to hammer out an agreement.

The Senate was in session Friday into early Saturday morning, passing the budget just before 5 a.m. after hours of votes on amendments. More than 500 amendments were filed, but only about 100 were voted on.

Udall and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., sponsored the firefighting amendment, which passed unanimously by voice vote Friday afternoon. Bennet was a co-sponsor.

The amendment is deficit-neutral because it would force the Senate Appropriations Committee to prioritize this funding and reduce spending elsewhere in the budget, said Bennet’s and Udall’s offices. It also calls for modernization of the aging air-tanker fleet, which currently is more than 50 years old.

“We need to reduce the federal budget deficit; we all agree that’s important,” Udall said on the Senate floor Friday. “But if we don’t invest in firefighting efforts and mitigation, that will levy an unacceptably steep and entirely avoidable cost upon Colorado and our entire country.”

Udall and Bennet also filed an amendment to improve wildfire preparedness, and Bennet introduced an amendment to promote states’ clean-energy efforts. Neither amendments were brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Spokesmen for Udall and Bennet praised the budget’s passage, particularly the votes for the firefighting amendment.

“Sen. Bennet is glad we passed a budget resolution but still hopes Republicans and Democrats come together on a bipartisan comprehensive plan to reduce the debt that we can pass into law,” Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said in an email. “He is also glad the Senate acknowledged that the federal budget should reflect our ability to quickly respond to and extinguish wildfires that persistently threaten our forests year in and year out.”

Udall spokesman Mike Saccone, in an email, said: “Sen. Udall certainly is glad the U.S. Senate came together and passed a budget for the 2014 fiscal year, including his bipartisan, commonsense amendment to ensure that the U.S. Forest Service has the resources it needs to fight wildfires and protect Colorado communities.”

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Email