Republican Senate candidate Deb Fischer says one way to end the controversy around a federal grazing program is to sell large chunks of public land.
Fischer argues that the sale of federal land could help offset the nation's budget deficit. She also said it would end criticism from some quarters that the federal grazing program amounts to a taxpayer giveaway to a handful of ranchers, including Fischer and her family.
“This is another option, another idea,” said Fischer on Thursday.
Fischer's idea was opposed by Democrat Bob Kerrey, who says the solution to the controversy is to raise federal grazing fees, while continuing to allow public land to be used for fishing, hunting and hiking.
“We don't call it public land for nothing. I don't think there is any case to sell. Treat it like school land and get the rental price up,” said Kerrey.
The federal grazing program has been a contentious issue in Nebraska's U.S. Senate race, which pits Fischer, a state senator, against Kerrey, a former Nebraska governor.
Kerrey and others have criticized Fischer, saying she is a fiscal conservative until it comes to cutting federal programs that support her and her family.
Fischer and her husband, Bruce, are ranchers in north-central Nebraska. They are enrolled in a federal grazing program that allows ranchers to run cattle on U.S. Forest Service land at rates far below market value.
Fischer argues that her family pays what the federal government asks and that they have followed the law. She also argues that ranchers in the program have to follow strict government regulations not imposed on ranchers who rent private land.
Fischer's proposal to sell federal land comes as other Republicans have stepped forward and called for the sale of federal land to help pay off the nation's debt, including former GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Herman Cain.
Last year, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona joined two other Republican senators in proposing the sale of 3.3 million acres of federal land in 10 Western states, including Nebraska. The measure did not pass.
One argument is that the sale would reduce the nation's costs to oversee the land. A 2005 federal report showed the government collects $21 million in grazing fees for federal land that costs about $144 million a year to manage.
“The sale would generate revenue for the government and it would cut back on bureaucracy,” said Fischer.
Fischer also stressed that her “suggestion” to sell federal land was her attempt to come up with “options” that might resolve the controversy surrounding the federal grazing program. She said she did not have a “specific plan” that listed land she would propose to sell.
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