AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATION 2006 -- (Senate - December 06, 2006)
Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, yesterday the Senate briefly turned to H.R. 5384, the Agriculture Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2007. This bill appropriates about $98 billion in spending, an amount that is approximately $4.9 billion over the administration's budget request, and $4.7 billion more than the House-passed bill. Although we were unable to complete work on H.R. 5384, I want to explain my objections to the passage of this bill in its current form.
I believe that some Federal involvement is necessary to assist low-income families under the food stamp program, and that we should ensure that our farmers stay out of the red, and to this end, many of the programs under the Agriculture Department are worthwhile and I support their funding. I know that many of my colleagues have spoken before the Senate about the economic struggles of America's farmers. But as Congress looks ahead toward legislating a new farm bill in the near future, next year in fact, we once again conform to the practice of diverting taxpayer dollars into an array of special interest pork projects which have not been authorized or requested by the Administration.
Let's take a look at some of the earmarks that are in this bill and accompanying report:
$3.5 million for fruit fly control in Texas, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$400,000 for codling moth research in Kerneysville, WVA, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$200,000 for research into the genetic enhancement of barley in Aberdeen, ID, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$300,000 for grass research in Burns, OR which was not in the administration's budget request.
$750,000 to the Denali Commission to improve solid waste disposal sites in Alaska, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$200,000 for the Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory to study gaseous emissions from agriculture operations, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$100,000 to study crop pollination by bees, Logan, UT, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$600,000 for the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, WI, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$250,000 for shellfish and salmon research, Franklin, ME, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$250,000 for the Great Lakes Aquaculture Center, Coshocton, OH, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$158,000 for cranberry research, Massachusetts.
$1.4 million for potato research (State not listed).
$453,000 for seafood safety research, Massachusetts;
$4.1 million for shrimp aquiculture research in AZ, HI, MA, MS, SC, and TX.
$780,000 for milk safety research at Pennsylvania State University, PA, which was not in the administration's budget request.
$170,000 for blackbird management in the State of Kansas, which was not in the administration's budget request.
It is worth noting what we are already doing to support our Nation's agriculture producers. Last year, Federal farm subsidies grew to more than $23 billion despite near-record farm revenue which reached $76 billion. While some of these farm programs make good fiscal sense, other have become alarmingly wasteful and counterproductive.
For example, The Washington Post recently exposed a USDA program, known as ``direct and counter-cyclical payments,'' that in 2005 paid out $1.3 billion to farmers irrespective of high or low market prices or whether they grew any crops at all. This program was intended to be a temporary subsidy that would prop up farmers during poor market conditions, but the special interests and the farm lobby convinced Congress to keep this unneeded program, which has become perhaps the most abused farm subsidy in existence.
The Washington Post also discovered that in 2002 and 2003, $635 million in drought assistance went to ranchers and dairy farmers whose livestock experienced mild or no drought at all. Thanks to strong lobbying by cattle growers, the Congress modified the payment requirements under the Livestock Compensation Program for 2002-2003, so that ranchers weren't required to prove they suffered any actual losses. So long as a the disaster was declared, the Government simply mailed checks to ranchers dependent only on the number of cattle they owned.
In an offshoot of the USDA's drought relief efforts, the Federal Government paid $34 million to compensate catfish farmers for feed they purchased during the 2002 drought year, even though feed prices were at a 10-year low. Much like the cattle program, catfish farmers were not required to prove they suffered any losses. All they had to do was tell the USDA how much feed they bought that year.
Who is at fault for this egregious waste? The farmer? The Department of Agriculture? In reality, both are the victims of bad policy. Unfortunately, the biggest victim is the taxpayer, and the blame rests with us, the Congress. Our current farm policy is riddled with waste. Yet we compound matters by furthering the out-of-control earmarking of pork.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to insert into the record copies of The Washington Post articles I cited: Farm Program Pays $.13 Billion to People Who Don't Farm (July 2, 2006), No Drought Required For Federal Drought Aid (July 18, 2006), and When Feed Was Cheap, Catfish Farmers Got Help Buying It (July 18, 2006).
It is difficult to overlook the $4.5 billion disaster assistance package that appropriators have attached to this bill. None of this funding under this agricultural title is included in the administration's request, and in fact, was strongly opposed by the administration when similar provision were added to the 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill. My colleagues may recall that the emergency supplemental faced a veto threat because of the billions of dollars in unrequested agriculture handouts appropriators were seeking. Fortunately these agriculture subsidies were removed in conference, and the bill was finally enacted enabling crucial funding to reach our troops overseas.
Let's take a look at some of the provisions in this latest Agriculture disaster package:
$1 billion in crop disaster assistance to compensate farmers for damage that occurred in 2005 due to weather. This also specifically applies to the Mormon cricket infestation in Nevada, and flooding in California, Hawaii and Vermont.
$13 million to help ewe lamb farmers who have suffered populations losses.
$6 million to owners of flooded crop and grazing land in North Dakota.
$6 million to assist a sugarcane transportation cooperative in Hawaii.
$100 million for grants to each State to promote specialty crop production.
$1.7 billion in assistance to dairy farmers who suffered losses in 2005.
This appropriations measure is not expected to receive any further action during this session of Congress. Instead of debating and passing our annual spending bills, our constitutional obligation, we are resorting to passing continuing resolutions to maintain our government functions well into fiscal year 2007. This failure is partially because of our habit of earmarking. When members frantically look for appropriation bills as vehicles for pet projects and unrequested earmarks, the appropriation process becomes a game of ``you vote for my pork, I'll vote for yours.'' This is the sad state of our appropriations process, when we would rather postpone funding for critical programs for our farmers, soldiers, veterans, seniors, and nearly everything until next year if it means our pork isn't included this round.
Again I want to make it clear that I support doing all that we can for the American farmer. Agriculture production is part of the backbone of our great country. However, we do more bad than good by raiding the national treasury, and, in some cases other Agriculture programs, to pay for pet projects that in many cases benefitl1l certain constituency which is not representative of the larger needs of the farming community.