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January 02, 2013

Congress Comes Up Lame on Animal Issues

Numerous news outlets have reported that the 112th Congress was the least productive — as measured by fewest bills passed and signature achievements — since 1947, when such statistics were first kept. Since our Congress has been dysfunctional for so long, that’s really saying something. 

270x240-chained-dog-mi-dogfighting-raid-kmilani
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act
would crack down on dogfighting.

Sadly, this Congress, which cannot extend its lame-duck session beyond noon tomorrow, passed no significant animal welfare legislation, despite a raft of bills with broad bipartisan support. For as long as I have been spending time on Capitol Hill and advocating for The HSUS and its concerns (18 years), that’s the first time that’s happened. The particulars are disturbing:


  • Republican House leaders, bowing to a handful of extremists in the caucus, would not bring up the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, even though it passed the Senate overwhelmingly and had 228 cosponsors in the House. It was primed for passage, but in the end we saw only excuses and obstructionism. The measure has no opposition other than organized animal fighting interests, but it does have more than 300 law enforcement agencies backing it.
  • Congress did not take up a bill to phase out the use of barren battery cages, even though The HSUS and the United Egg Producers championed a solution, in terms of a negotiated agreement, that promises to improve welfare standards for laying hens and that also benefits the industry. 
  • The body took no action to crack down on transports of drugged-up American horses to slaughter in Canada and Mexico, even though 80 percent of Americans want to see the trade end. The HSUS has documented that American horses are injected and fed a wide range of drugs and other substances long prohibited for use in animals slaughtered for human consumption.
  • House Republican leaders chose not to bring up legislation, on the floor, to ban the trade in nine species of large constricting snakes, even though the legislation had passed the House Judiciary Committee. The trade also poses genuine risks to the health of the snakes and to human safety.
  • A handful of senators blocked floor consideration of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, meaning that chimpanzees, most of them not even used in experiments, will continue to languish in laboratories at taxpayer expense.

The one bit of good news is that a so-called “sportsmen’s package,” which seemed headed for passage, fell off the rails after the jarring and sickening tragedy in Newtown, Conn. That bill was a grab bag of items for the gun lobby, including a provision to make it difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the use of toxic lead shot in hunters’ ammunition, and a separate measure to allow American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears they killed in Canada, even though these animals are threatened with extinction and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Congress also punted the Farm bill to the next Congress, even though it was due for action in 2012. Both the 2002 and 2008 Farm bills (the prior two measures) had a significant number of animal welfare provisions attached to them, and we will do our best to attach the egg industry reform bill and the animal fighting legislation to it in 2013. Both the Senate-passed version of the Farm bill and the committee-passed House Farm bill had the animal fighting language attached, thanks to the strong efforts of our champions in both chambers.

We have a great many allies in Congress, but there are also a small number of lawmakers who are hostile to any progress on animal welfare. We need lawmakers to act with the country’s best interests at heart, and the work of the Congress should and must include a strong commitment to make the nation safer for animals and to root out cruelty. We’re deeply disappointed in the collective work of Congress, but hopeful that a new year, and some new faces in both chambers, will prompt lawmakers to pay closer attention to the public’s wishes and to exert its will for the good of the country.

 

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