Return of the CARA Monster

May 3, 2004

By Tom DeWeese

It seems that some elected officials will stoop to any low to force their schemes on the rest of us. A case in point is Congressman Don Young (R –AK).

For the past five years Don Young has been trying to push through a bill that would establish a massive funding process to lock away millions of acres of private lands across the nation. Property rights advocates have fought a courageous and thus far semi-successful battle to stop those efforts. But Young keeps pushing.

First, in 1999 Young introduced the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA). Opposition to the bill grew quickly as the details of the program became known. The original CARA bill would have established a permanent $1.4 billion annual trust fund that would guarantee huge amounts of money for land acquisition and condemnation of private property in the name of protecting the environment.

Three times Rep. Young and his allies, Rep. Billy Tauzan (R-La) and Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), tried to push, bully or sneak CARA passed their respective houses of Congress. By the end of 1999, Young and Murkowski failed to even get their own committees to support the bill. Almost half of the Republicans on the House Resources Committee (which Young chaired) refused their support.

That didn’t stop Young, who once was a spokesman for private property rights as he stood against radical environmentalists. By March 2000 in the new 107th Congress Young reintroduced CARA. The spending and pork in the bill had soared to $3 billion annually or ($45 billion over it’s proposed 15 year life) in an attempt to play on the greed of other House members. Republican House leadership, uneasy with such a huge spending bill, vowed not to support CARA unless a majority of Republicans co-sponsored it. Young got his majority in May 2000 and CARA finally passed the House.

Just as the fight shifted to the Senate, Young’s own state Republican Party of Alaska announced its opposition to the bill. Month by month property rights activists fought in the trenches of every possible hearing, secret meeting or arm-twisting session in the Senate to stop the bill from passing that body.

The battle got intense and even dirty as CARA supporters tried to save the controversial and unpopular bill. Supporters knew an honest, straight-up vote would surely fail. So, as the congressional session came down to the wire before adjournment, they tried a last minute effort to hide it in an appropriations bill where it would automatically pass without debate or vote. The effort failed and CARA was stopped a second time.

A last minute compromise over a lessor bill, dubbed “CARA Lite” was passed instead. While “CARA Lite” appropriated $12 billion over sixyears for land grabs, it did not contain the most dangerous part of CARA – the permanent trust fund.Not satisfied with that victory, in the early congressional session of 2001, Young again introduced the original CARA. Again CARA passed the House Resources Committee and headed back down the road to passage. Again it failed.

However, in a dramatic, sneaky midnight play, just hours before Congress adjourned for the Christmas holiday, Young again managed a behind closed doors compromise to pass the American Wildlife Enhancement Act. Named “Son of CARA” by opponents, the bill provided another $600 million in federal funds to pack more private property under federal control. But again, the “Son of CARA” did not have the permanent trust fund provision.

Congressman Young is determined to get that trust fund. So now he’s back with yet another version of CARA. Once again Young has teamed up with California Democrat George Miller to introduce the Get Outdoors Act (HR4100). Apparently Young felt his act was getting old, so he’s changed the name.

He’s also changed his reasons as to why America needs to lock away millions of acres of its landscape. The reason used to be the worn out and misleading excuse of conservation and protection of the environment, but a clever guy like Young can read the papers like the rest of us. And he knows that Americans are now less interested in the environment and are more concerned with health care; specifically OBESITY!

Believe it or not, Young and Miller are trying to convince Congress that locking away millions of acres of land will provide space for fat people to “get outdoors” (get it) and solve the obesity problem.

As the bill was introduced at a news conference, Miller and Young came armed with stacks of statistics on obesity to make their case. “Obesity is a public health crisis of the first order, ” said Miller, “And the Get Outdoors Act is a sensible way to help mitigate that public health crisis.” Young and Miller comically try to justify this massive spending bill by saying, “The $3.125 billion annual spending resulting from the Get Outdoors Act is about 3% of the annual healthcare costs associated with obesity related illness.”

What they didn’t mention was the fact that the government already controls millions of open space, which if obesity must be addressed in this manner, could already be used without grabbing even more. They didn’t mention it because their premise is absolutely stupid.

A good question to ask is how Young and Miller expect to get Americans away from in front their televisions and computers to actually get them out doors? Pass a law?

As Chuck Cushman of the American Land Rights Association points out, “they could buy 15 million really good treadmills for that kind of money and really help folks fighting obesity.” Even better, as Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the House Resources Committee said, “It would cost the American taxpayer less to get a membership at Gold’s Gym and actually work out than acquire millions of acres of land in the name of health.”

But Young and Miller really seem to have their hearts set on confiscation of private property instead. The two representatives were aided in their absurd argument by Alan Front, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land, when he said “Our open space is shrinking and our waist lines are growing.” Cute sound bite, but it makes no sense whatsoever.

What does make sense is that Front and all of the usual land-grabbing suspects were on hand to give support to the Get Outdoors Act (GO). Groups which never cared a whit about obesity before are now backing the bill. They include The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Parks and Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and several others who have been the leaders in pushing for federal land grabs. Now suddenly they are backing a bill about fixing obesity.

What do these land grabbers know that Young and Miller aren’t telling the rest of us? It’s obvious they know that the Get Outdoors Act is really CARA hiding under a paper bag like the old Gong Show’s Unknown Comic, so you and I don’t recognize it. Young says the Get Outdoors Act is not CARA.

Well, let’s just see, shall we? With GO, Rep. Young finally would get his permanent trust fund. Only this time, instead of a measly $45 billion, the ante is increased to $58 billion over 18 years. Establishing the trust fund would mean setting up a permanent entitlement like Social Security. That means it would be funded automatically, no matter what happens to the economy. It wouldn’t be affected by tax cutting policies. It couldn’t be reduced. It would sit outside the federal budget like a big fat blob. Funding the Get Outdoors Act would take precedence over military spending or medical care.

The GO Act claims that funding for the trust fund would come from offshore drilling fees that the government collects from private companies. Young claims that the money is already being collected and so the $45 billion would not result in new taxes for Americans. That kind of accounting is typical of someone who has been on Capitol Hill way too long. True, the money is already being collected – and it’s already being spent to support other programs – which aren’t going to go away just because Don Young has other ideas for the money. To keep funding those programs government will have to raise taxes.

And what will the Get Outdoors Act actually do? It will provide billions of dollars over 18 years to condemn private land and put it into the hands of the government to be turned into wilderness. And don’t forget, every acre of private land that is taken out of productive use reduces the tax roles that will have to be made up by the remaining taxpayers.

It will pour millions of dollars into the coffers of environmental groups that will use the money to promote more land control policies, sue individual land owners and businesses.

The GO Act will encourage the designation of new United Nations Biosphere Reserves and World Heritage Sites, threatening American Sovereignty over our own land. Incredibly, Don Young was the author of the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act that was designed to reign in UN Heritage Sites.

The bill will greatly enhance the chances for more roadless area lockups that have been used to destroy the timber industry and in some cases shut down whole communities. Once roads have been closed property owners have found they have no way to get to their own house.

The Get Outdoors Act will allow environmental groups to actively look for endangered species on private land. It provides $60 million a year to train an army of investigators who will trespass on private land to locate and police endangered species. Once found, the land will become unusable by the private owners, effectively locking it away from private use.

The Get Outdoors act is a disaster to private property owners and to the American economy. Young argues that there are protections for private property. It’s a tired old lie. The “willing sellers provisions are always put into such land grabs and everybody in Congress sits back satisfied that all is well. Only they aren’t there to see the carnage that takes place to produce a “willing seller.” It’s a little like watching a hot dog being made. You don’t want to know.

Green groups armed with federal funds from bills like the GO Act, intimidate and threaten property owners until they can’t take it any more. When they finally give up and sell for 25 cents on the dollar they are called willing sellers. Does anyone see these people trying to sell their land before the greens and feds come marching in. Of course not. They aren’t willing sellers – they are victims.

The Get Outdoors Act is CARA. It is a massive land grab. It is a massive burden to tax payers. Its pretense of caring about obesity and public health is a lie. Issues come and issues go, but Congressmen with hair-brained ideas seem to plague us forever.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.