It was certainly good to hear that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a cosponsor of U.S. Senate budget amendment aimed at finally providing some grossly overdue economic disaster assistance to the Northeast groundfishery.
And it’s significant that the amendment will go down on record as Warren’s first true initial legislative action since she took her seat in January.
But a provision for the amendment calls for it to be “deficit neutral,” meaning that any unspecified funding for it has to be drawn by the Budget Committee chairman from another funding source. And that raises dire questions about its viability, given that lawmakers are still wrestling with the federal budget and current sequestration cuts that are already crippling other aspects of the federal government.
Warren and her bipartisan amendment cosponsors would fare better jumping aboard a Senate version of the House proposal filed by Congressman John Tierney, who would not draw from federal tax revenues, would have a built-in dollar amount of perhaps $150 million, and has a greater context, given that it’s a money stream that should have been going to the fishing industry in the first place.
Citing the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennnedy Act, Tierney’s bill would steer 30 percent of all U.S. seafood import tariff revenues that should be set aside for fishery marketing and research — just as that bill requires. The problem, of course, is that Congress hasn’t “required” that in decades. Instead, the money has wrongly been shifted into NOAA’s operating budget, and is right now wrongly targeted to remain there for another year.
Look, not only have the feds documented the fishing disaster confronting Gloucester and the Northeast’s other ports, but most recognize the catch share management system thrust into place by Jane Lubchenco during her embarrassing four-year reign as NOAA chief administrator has helped create the calamity, which promises to get worse through the crippling cod limit cuts coming May 1.
It’s to Warren’s credit that she seems to have put fishery aid at or near the top of her legislative agenda. But if she truly wants to right a long-standing wrong that’s been foisted on this seriously threatened industry, she’ll follow Tierney’s far more practical lead when it comes to securing fishermen the aid they deserve and need — before it’s too late.