House Dems want to force vote on wildfire funding bill

House Democrats have filed a discharge petition in an attempt to push through a bill to allow the Obama administration to dip into contingency funds when wildfire fighting budgets get out of hand.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) announced the petition Friday morning along with other Democrats from western states. If the petition gets 218 signatures, it would allow the House to vote on the bill, even if Republican leaders do not want to bring it to a vote.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she supports the discharge petition on a bill that she said enjoys bipartisan support. She also accused Republicans of holding up President Obama’s separate request for an additional $615 million to fight wildfires, which have grown more severe and damaging in recent years.

“Wildfires are clearly emergencies, and fighting them shouldn’t be subject to Washington’s dysfunction,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The discharge petition led by Congressman Scott Peters demands a vote on bipartisan and long-overdue legislation to designate wildfires as emergency spending.”

“We have here a bipartisan, bicameral proposal which the president of the United States supports,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said of the underlying bill at the Friday press conference.

“When the Forest Service runs out of money or sees that they’re running out of money to fight fires ... they will begin to borrow from accounts that impact any and every area of national lands across the United States,” he said.

DeFazio said that 99 percent of wildfires can be fought with 70 percent of the federal government’s firefighting budget. The bill would let the government dip into contingency funds if the firefighting costs exceed 70 percent of the 10-year average budget in any given year.

“So we’ll say alright, if it serves the routine things we have to do to maintain these resources across the country we’ll pay for that in the regular budgetary process,” he said. But the remaining fires should be treated as emergencies and funding should be treated like other natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Discharge petitions take 7 legislative days before they can be acted upon, so Peters’s would be ripe July 24.

The underlying bill was sponsored by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and has 104 co-sponsors.