Wildfire Money Neutralizes Partisan Politics

By Tom Bacon

There's one sure way to unite congressional delegations from Idaho, Oregon and Washington, regardless of party affiliation. Warn them that money to fight wildfires is about to run out. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, a liberal Democrat, was so shaken when he emerged from a White House briefing on wildfire season funding that he urged support for a bill written by an Idaho conservative Republican, Mike Simpson.

DeFazio said that Forest Service money to fight wildfires will be exhausted by the end of the month. The cost of fire fighting is expected to hit more than one-point-six billion dollars this summer, about 600-million dollars more than than budgeted.

Simpson's bill would jack up budget authority to about 2-point-7 billion dollars by ignoring sequestration and balanced budget limits.

It's wildly popular in the House. Simpson amassed 103 co-sponsors, including virtually every Idaho, Oregon and Washington State representative. And a companion bill in the Senate has solid backing from both Idaho Republicans and both Oregon Democrats. Oddly, neither Washington senator - both Democrats - has signed onto the measure.

DeFazio's push for funding came as the wildfire season seemed to hit its stride. Five major wildfires in IDaho and Washington were quickly using up resources - firefighters, equipment and money.

In the past dozen years, more than 3-billion dollars was shifted -robbed from other federal accounts such as fire prevention and forest health - to pay for wildfire costs.

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