Congress is forcing Team Obama to withhold funding from South

Roger Wicker has a bone to pick with the Obama administration.

The Southeast—the region that the Mississippi Republican senator calls home—has 20 percent of the nation’s people. But when it comes time for the administration to dole out cash for a clean-air program, the Southeast only gets 12 percent of the program’s funding, Wicker said.

And so, when Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy came before Congress to testify Wednesday, Wicker finally got a chance to vent his frustration. “How can EPA continue to develop strict new rules and standards while at the same time limiting access to resources for the states to get their fair share?,” Wicker asked.

Grilling administration witnesses is standard fare for opposition party senators, but this time, Wicker’s interrogation didn’t go as planned.

Asked why the administration is giving EPA the short end of the stick, McCarthy’s answer was simple: Because you are making us do it that way.

The region-by-region distribution of the “State and Tribal Assistance Grants” program is set by a decades-old formula, but language in Congressional budgets has blocked the administration from making any changes. EPA couldn’t change the grants around even if it wanted to, McCarthy said.

“We have been looking to do that over a period of time. Congress has actually provided language in our budget that did not allow us to do that last year,” McCarthy said.

If Congress wants a new distribution, McCarthy said, lawmakers will have to change the way they continually write her agency’s budget. “We’ll see what happens in fiscal year ’15,” she said.

National Journal
3/27/14