Congressional copout

July 28, 2005

HERE'S HOW it works in Congress: When the chairman of a Senate appropriations subcommittee sneaks something into the law and 259 House members vote to take it out, the senator gets his way.

That's why House and Senate negotiators agreed - despite overwhelming opposition from the House - to leave unchanged a statute championed last year by Montana Sen. Conrad Burns allowing wild horses to be sold for slaughter.

House members should, of course, reject this concession when the broader spending bill comes before them today for final approval. But that's not likely because the issue can't be spotlighted in a separate vote.

The broader message here is that anyone looking for easy answers to a problem more than 30 years in the making is destined to be disappointed. Animal advocates and those who claim to represent them in Congress should dedicate themselves instead to a comprehensive redesign of the federal wild horse program to be sustainable long-term.

It's a matter of numbers. Thanks to conflicting mandates from Congress, the Bureau of Land Management rounds up more wild horses off the public range each year than it can it place through its adoption program.

Prohibiting commercial sales for slaughter, though a worthy objective, won't relieve the budgetary squeeze that results from caring for almost as many horses in holding pastures as remain on the range.

Fewer horses should taken from the wild, adoption efforts must be beefed up, contraception should be more widely used, many more prison horse training programs should be added and far more advantage should be taken of private groups eager to help.

Wild horses are sorely in need of an advocate in the Senate to take on this cause, someone with the passion and the clout to go toe-to-toe with Senator Burns. Instead, his colleagues are quietly hiding behind him.

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