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What's more important, maintaining azaleas or maintaining WIC for 475,000 women and infants?

WASHINGTON -- If you're an azalea at the National Arboretum, you're in luck -- a Republican on the House Appropriations Committee is looking out for you. If you're a woman, infant or child, however, you're on your own.

Slipped into the FY 2012 agriculture appropriations bill that the House is expected to take up today is an unusual provision on page 13 requiring the National Arboretum to maintain a very specific portion of its azalea collection.

"The Committee directs the National Arboretum to maintain its National Boxwood Collection and the Glenn Dale Hillside portion of the Azalea Collection," reads the bill. "The Committee encourages the National Arboretum to work collaboratively with supporters of the National Arboretum to raise additional funds to ensure the long-term viability of these and other important collections."

"Everyday people across the country leave their homes in search of work, only to return at the end of the day with more worries and less hope," said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), the agriculture subcommittee's ranking member. "At a time that people continue to struggle to make ends meet, Republicans want to cut funding to food programs that are helping put food on the tables of those most in need."

"Governing is about choices. It is clear where the House majority's priorities lie -- and it is not with those of the American people," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a strong WIC advocate, in a statement. "These cuts are unconscionable and will not only hurt families trying to survive, but also hurt our economy."

"We understand that we have an obligation to get our fiscal house in order," added Farr. "And Democrats are ready to work with our friends across the isle to make that happen, but not by discriminately targeting those most in need."

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Azalea upkeep isn't the only unusual measure in the bill:

Animal Welfare Act doesn't Apply to Movie Sets: "APHIS is using vital animal welfare resources to regulate the pets of extras in filmed entertainment. While the Animal Welfare Act's intent is to establish minimally acceptable standards in the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers, the law was not aimed at regulating companion animals used as extras in the background of movies and television productions. The Committee urges the agency to use the Secretary's discretionary authority to seek alternative means of meeting its statutory mandate, including the option of issuing exemptions or master exhibitor licenses to these pet owners." [p. 19]

Extra Money For Wolf Control: "Wildlife Damage Management - The Committee provides $72,500,000 for Wildlife Damage Control, approximately $4 million above the President's request. ... Special emphasis should be placed on those areas such as livestock protection...predator control, and other threats to agriculture industries." [p. 20]

Less Money To Investigate Performance Enhancing Drugs: "The Committee is deeply troubled about the expenditure of scarce appropriated funds investigating alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. The Committee can discern no prudent interest for the FDA to investigate allegations that unapproved drugs may have been used outside the United States." [p. 54]


It's not clear who is responsible for the azalea provision, and the office of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, did not return a request for comment.

National Arboretum Director Colien Hefferan was equally confused when contacted by The Huffington Post on Monday.

"We did not request the specific language in the bill, either through the Arboretum or the Department of Agriculture as a whole," she said. "I presume some stakeholders were eager to ensure that the azalea collection, as well as the boxwood collection, are protected at the Arboretum and probably requested through a congressman, but I don't really know the source. ... To my knowledge, there has not been an unfunded direction to the arboretum that's come in the appropriations bill previously."

Additionally, the Arboretum has already committed to preserving the azalea collection. In fact, there's a message on this issue on the front page of the institution's website.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that the financially strapped Arboretum was considering removing some of the beloved shrubs to deal with budget shortfalls, including the loss of private donations.

After public outcry and a $1 million endowment gift from an anonymous donor, the Arboretum announced in February that it was reversing its decision.

Several current and former members of Congress and staffers sit on the board of the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) and used to work or serve on the Appropriations Committee. They all told The Huffington Post that they were not responsible for the appropriations bill provision and had no idea who was.

"I am prohibited by law from having any contact with the House or Senate for 2 years -- ethics reform trumps the Bill of Rights -- so, no, that was not my request," emailed back former Utah senator Bob Bennett, commenting on the fact that he's not allowed to lobby Congress.

Former Missouri senator Kit Bond's office simply replied, "In response to your question, the answer is 'no.'"

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (D-N.J.) did not respond.

Charles Flickner, a former staff director for the Appropriations Committee, said that as far as he could tell, no one on the FONA board requested the provision and it was likely inserted by staff or members who are simply azalea fans.

"From the email traffic, we're all quite astonished to see it, because I don't think anybody from the [FONA] government affairs committee, which I'm not a part of...requested it," said Flickner. "I do know that the staff, at least in the House, are well familiar with the issue. There are people who know about the arboretum and appreciate it."

Answer Question

Asked by sweet-a-kins at 1:59 PM on Jun. 14, 2011 in Politics & Current Events

Level 34 (67,502 Credits)
Answers (39)
  • While azaleas are being carefully tended to, the bill would cut $832 million from a program that provides food assistance to low-income mothers and children. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the reduction could result in as many as 475,000 people being turned away from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) if food prices continue to rise.


    Comment by sweet-a-kins (original poster) at 1:59 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • I say cut the Azalea cost but I also say cut some of the WIC benefits also. If you can't afford children don't have them.

    Answer by Anonymous at 2:01 PM on Jun. 14, 2011


    I say cut the Azalea cost but I also say cut some of the WIC benefits also. If you can't afford children don't have them.

    many military families rely on WIC and food stamps to supplement their household incomes


    Comment by sweet-a-kins (original poster) at 2:10 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • That's repubs for ya :)

    Answer by calliesmommie at 2:11 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • So, the child gets to starve because of their parents choices? They didn't ask to come into this world, the children are innocent. They should not have to starve because of their stupid parents.

    Poor people don't matter to lots of folks with money, especially republicans. They assume they are poor for their own stupid choices & should not be rewarded for it.

    I think someone should go burn the azaleas down or poison them.

    Answer by samurai_chica at 2:12 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • I say cut the Azalea cost but I also say cut some of the WIC benefits also. If you can't afford children don't have them

    That's right, say something stupid and hide behind the anonymous button. Coward.

    Answer by TARARENEE at 2:16 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • I was on WIC for two months, and yes, I do think there's room to cut spending on it too (as well as the flowers)...not necessarily in the food they provide, but in excess management stuff.

    Just from my own experience, they examined my kids right after they had their own well child check up, and wouldn't skip doing any of the measurements themselves even though I could get our doctor to tell them everything. They also demanded that I took a nutrition course from them, even though I aced a nutrition class in's the government "system" stuff that just doesn't give room for common sense that can go.


    Answer by Anonymous at 2:17 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • Samurai ITA!
    Except for the arson part lol
    People with money, esp people with old family money have no idea what it's like starting out on your own with nothing.

    Answer by Nicoles2LilRams at 2:17 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • Good point sweet...that is true .I have a girlfriend in the air force right now who is on WIC. She could not go without it. she is a single mom, no parents to help...

    Times are tough out there for people. Even those who you'd think might not be. IT saddens me that people may go without, yet the azaleas will be treated like screwed up is that?


    Answer by samurai_chica at 2:18 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

  • The problem is, the people who want to cut it don't need it. If they did, you can bet they wouldn't be looking to cut it to save some flowers.

    Answer by TARARENEE at 2:41 PM on Jun. 14, 2011

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