Salted away in the massive House budget reconciliation budget is $200 million for a park located in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district, a line item that looked suspiciously like pork to Republicans.
Rep. Bruce Westerman, House Natural Resources Committee ranking member, took a swing at the Presidio allocation as he roasted Democrats for plowing ahead with Thursday’s mark-up on $37.1 billion of the $3.5 trillion package as the nation grapples with a series of disasters.
“Their deficit spending proposals saddle future generations with insurmountable debt in order to give Nancy Pelosi things like a $200 million earmark,” said Mr. Westerman at the marathon hearing.
The item for the Presidio Trust, which manages most of the scenic historic park on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula, made its way into the reconciliation proposal even though the trust’s website says it was “charged with operating the park without taxpayer support.”
Committee Republicans, using the #PelosiPresidioPayout hashtag, took to social media to blast Democrats for including “slush funds for partisan pet projects, including a $200 million taxpayer-funded payout for San Francisco courtesy of @SpeakerPelosi.”
A House Republican committee aide said that the “American taxpayer should not be expected to foot the bill for Speaker Pelosi’s partisan wish lists.”
“While thousands of Gulf Coast residents are without power or water, homes and wildlife across the American West are in the paths of catastrophic wildfires, historic drought is wreaking havoc on farm and ranch lands, and illegal immigrants continue trampling sensitive ecosystems along the southern border, it’s extremely telling that committee Democrats are choosing to prioritize slush funds like the Presidio payout instead of any one of the very real crises our country is facing daily,” said the aide.
The Western Energy Alliance said the “special project is among many that would be funded by increased revenues and fees targeting oil and natural gas produced on public lands,” adding that the Presidio’s funding sources on the property include a golf course, hotels and office rentals.
“The $200 million Presidio pork in the Reconciliation Bill is just a really good reminder of hypocrisy on energy issues,” said the group’s president, Kathleen Sgamma, in an email.
She said that royalties almost exclusively from oil and natural gas development provide $2.8 billion in annual conservation and parks funding, but that “Democrats are pushing a bill that’s so punitive it threatens to kill that revenue source while borrowing from future generations for a park in Speaker Pelosi’s district.”
In response, a Pelosi spokesperson said that the Presidio has a backlog of $400 million in deferred maintenance needs, including replacing and upgrading utilities inherited from the Army, which closed the former military post in 1994.
“To help meet the needs of this incredibly popular national park in this difficult financial moment, the House Natural Resources Committee chose to include a recommendation of $200 million to bolster the Presidio Trust, which can be used to immediately tackle deferred maintenance needs as well as continue the rehabilitation of the remaining historic buildings,” said the spokesperson. “These costs are necessary for the park’s upkeep.”
Mrs. Pelosi worked to pass a law in 1996 that preserved the Presidio, which draws about 10 million visitors a year, as “a magnificent public space for all Americans at the lowest cost possible for the American taxpayer.”
“Sadly, it’s clear Republicans would rather play politics than preserve our national treasures,” said the Pelosi spokesperson in an email.
Committee Republicans say they will seek to cut the $200 million from the reconciliation package, although they had little success Thursday with their amendments, which were repeatedly voted down by Democrats.
Democrats also rejected Mr. Westerman’s proposal to postpone the mark-up session, even though Rep. Garret Graves, Louisiana Republican, struggled to keep an internet connection from his hurricane-ravaged district.
“Mr. Chairman, this isn’t political. Just stop,” said Mr. Graves. “We have people that have died right now, we have people that are trying to live in homes without roofs, homes that have fallen down, and you’re sitting here doing a mark-up to spend however many gazillion dollars you want to spend?”
He said the session was “just really ill-timed, it’s insensitive, it’s not paying attention to the realities on the ground,” as well as “just stupid.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, expressed what he described as “beyond empathy” for Louisiana residents hit by the tragedy while moving ahead with the hearing.
“As we separate the debate that needs to happen over reconciliation, and what those priorities are or should be, we hope that we are making some consequential investments in preventing the worst from happening in the future,” he said.