The budget bill passed by Congress this week cuts $38 billion in federal spending, but there's a catch — it also includes several noteworthy policy changes, including taking gray wolves off the endangered species list in five Western states.
The wolves will be removed from the list in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Utah, something many environmental activists oppose.
"I think delisting gray wolves sets a horrible precedent," said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for Friends of the Clearwater, an Idaho-based nonprofit group that advocates for the protection of wildlife.
"Congress now opens the door for every special interest who doesn't like a species somewhere to delist it," Macfarlane said.
This is the first time Congress has directly taken an animal off the endangered species list, a move that undermines the authority of the Endangered Species Act, said Suzanne Stone, the northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization.
The provision, by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), addresses concerns of ranchers worried about wolves attacking their livestock and hunters who say there are too many wolves, which is lowering the number of wild elk and moose available to hunt.
Though Republican attacks on the Obama administration's healthcare plan and on funding for Planned Parenthood were stopped short, the change in the status of gray wolves was one of several other policy goals party members were able to achieve in negotiations:
—Cutting funding for abortions for low-income women in Washington, D.C., and reinstating a school voucher program there.
—Prohibiting the transfer of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the U.S., which forces the government to use military tribunals instead of civilian trials for cases against detainees.
—Cutting funding for the establishment of a Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a program intended to provide data regarding climate change.
The budget agreement has prompted demonstrations across the country, among them a group of more than 30,000 people, including 28 members of Congress, who are fasting in protest of the cuts.
Seven of those lawmakers are from California: Reps. Joe Baca (D-Rialto), Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego), Sam Farr (D-Carmel), Michael M. Honda (D-San Jose), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma).
In Washington, Mayor Vincent Gray was arrested Monday along with 40 other people for blocking traffic in front of the Capitol, where they were protesting the treatment of the city in the budget deal.
"When you live in the district, you suffer the indignity of your city being used like a lab rat," said Lisa Maatz of the American Assn. of University Women at a news conference held by the mayor Thursday. "These are policy experiments and social policy riders that have no hope of passing nationwide."
The District of Columbia has a history of being used as a political pawn for lawmakers, said Michael Bailey, a professor of political science at Georgetown University here. The school vouchers program is a project of particular importance to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
Gray said D.C. residents are being treated as "guinea pigs for the favorite social experiments of important congressional leaders."
"The fundamental issue is the rights of the people who live in this city, the 600,000 who live in the District of Columbia, to be able to make these choices," Gray said. "We ought to be able to make the choice in terms of how our dollars are spent."