AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2004-CONFERENCE REPORT
Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague from Iowa and welcome him back from a very interesting time.
Mr. President, here we go again, another Omnibus appropriations bill, and this one takes the cake. Obviously, the New Years Eve parties didn't end for Congress on January 1. We are on a spending bender and this bill is ample proof of it. I think we have a new phrase in the lexicon of description of the way the Congress does business: Another drunken sailor spending spree embarked on by the Congress of the United States to the detriment of our children and our children's children.
I haven't been around here as long as many others, but I have never seen, nor do I believe history will record, such a rapid transition from a period of surpluses as far as the eye could see, to now commitment on the part of the administration to cut the deficit in half at some time in the future. Multitrillion-dollar surpluses to multitrillion-dollar deficits, and you would think we were still in a period of surpluses. If you look at this legislation, it is a living, breathing argument that this system is broken, the way we do business. Spending is out of control and we are mortgaging the future of our children and our grandchildren, and there is no way that Medicare and Social Security can be viable when we are amassing these kinds of outrageous processes. I say shame on this body, shame on the appropriators, and shame on us because, on Thursday, we will, after a vote of dissatisfaction, now pass this outrageous spending bill.
Americans have heard much about the growing problem of identity theft. We have before us the most costly case of identity theft imaginable. It appears that the big spenders in this body have all but stolen the credit card numbers of every hard-working taxpayer in America and have gone on a limitless spending spree for parochial porkbarrel projects, leaving Americans to pay and pay.
As I will point out later in my statement on such programs as NASA, some of these cuts are dangerous.
Cuts in the International Space Station in the name of porkbarrel spending is endangering the very lives of our astronauts. Policy changes that have to do with fundamental changes in media ownership, in fishing, and in other areas that have been inserted in this bill are absolutely outrageously in violation of Senate rules, I might add.
Please join me as we walk through this shopping mall. On the right, we have $1.8 million for exotic pet disease research in California. On your left, you will find $50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa-$50 million for an indoor rain forest in Iowa? Give me a break. On your left, in front of us, you see $250,000 to build an amphitheater park in Illinois.
It is time we put an end to this theft. I am sorry we have to call it theft but that is how I see the situation.
The sum of these political indulgences is enormous and growing and amounts to the theft of our future and the theft of our economic recovery.
Nearly 1 year ago I stood here and spoke about the 2003 Omnibus appropriations bill. At that time, I said our current economic situation and our vital national security concerns illustrate that we need now more than ever to prioritize our Federal spending. Obviously, it had no effect.
Let me remind my colleagues that we are nearly 4 months into fiscal year 2004 and still without 7 of the 13 annual appropriations bills. This has become an unacceptable practice. Less than a year after passing one monstrosity, we are poised to do it again as if it should now be our standard operating procedure. But far worse than the breadth and timing, we have before us a bill loaded with special interest porkbarrel projects and legislative riders that have no business in this or any other spending bill.
It is no accident that we are dealing with this bill in an election year. In fact, I strongly suggest we change the name of this bill to "The Incumbent Protection Act of 2004." Forget about the Patriots versus the Panthers in the Super Bowl next weekend. We are right in the middle of the Super Bowl of pork. C-SPAN viewers have seats at the 50-yard line. It is Congress versus the American taxpayer, and sadly we already know the outcome of this game. The taxpayer will be the loser.
We have before us today a bill that incorporates 7 of the 13 annual spending measures totalling a whopping $820 billion chocked full of porkbarrel spending and major policy changes.
The Kansas City Star recently reported, "Enough pork is layered into the spending bill that even the Missouri Pork Producers Association is in line for $1 million."
There is over $11 billion unrequested, unauthorized, run-of-the-mill pork projects inserted in the 1,182 pages of this conference report.
Let us talk about some of the interesting provisions: $200,000 for the West Oahu campus of the University of Hawaii to produce the "Primal Quest" film documentary.
I am sure my colleagues will again be surprised at the number of projects that go to the States of the senior members of the Appropriations Committee, Alaska, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Hawaii: $225,000 to the Wheels Museum in New Mexico-a wheels museum in New Mexico; $7.3 million for Hawaiian sea turtles; $6 million for sea lions in Alaska; $450,000 for the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in Ohio; $100,000 to the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines for the development of the World Food Prize; $200,000 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, OH, for the Rockin' the Schools education program.
As a fan of rock and roll, I can certainly see why that Rockin' the Schools education program would be worthy of $200,000; $1 million for the continued threat of the Mormon cricket infestation in the great State of Utah.
Here are interesting ones: $450,000 for an Alaska statehood celebration and $225,000 for an Hawaii statehood celebration. If I were the Senator from Hawaii, I would certainly be angered that I have been shorted $225,000 to celebrate my statehood. Hawaii became a State in the same year. You would think they would want to equalize that. I am sure they will fix it in a later appropriations bill knowing the way, in the case of Alaska and Hawaii, that one hand washes the other; $175,000 to a city in Missouri for the painting of a mural on a flood wall. That must be one heck of a mural; $90,000 for fruit fly research in Montpellier, France.
Given the closeness of our relationship with the French, I can certainly understand why we would want to send $90,000 over there to help get rid of that fruit fly in Montpellier.
But back to home, $225,000 to Traverse City, MI, for the restoration of an opera house. Opera lovers rejoice; $250,000 for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. Alaska is known for a lot of things, but being the hotbed or the birthplace of aviation is not one that I knew of, although over the years I have grown to be more and more aware of the critical needs of Alaska for Federal funds for every conceivable purpose; $200,000 to the town of Guadalupe, AR, for the construction and renovation of a shopping center. I will have to go out there and see it. It is not too far from my home; $325,000 to the city of Salinas, CA, for the construction of a swimming pool.
Some of my colleagues may have read about this kind of interesting thing. It appears that a Member of the other body had some pangs of conscience because he dropped a frog into the swimming pool, or something like that. But whatever, the city of Salinas will have a new swimming pool.
And $100,000 to the city of Macon, GA, for the renovation of the Coca-Cola building. I can certainly see why the Coca-Cola people couldn't arrange for that. They are an impoverished corporation, as we all know; $100,000 to the city of Atlanta for the renovation of Paschal's restaurant and motel. I am sure there is great historical significance associated with Paschal's restaurant and motel down there in the impoverished part of Atlanta; $900,000 to an economic development association in Idaho to continue the implementation of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration plan; $175,000 to the city of Detroit for the design and construction of a zoo. The city of Detroit certainly wouldn't want to have to pick up any of that tab; $238,000 to the National Wild Turkey Federation. I wasn't sure whether this was the animal or the beverage. But either way, $238,000 to the Wild Turkey Federation will, I am sure, be wisely spent, and perhaps that would reduce the cost per bottle; $200,000 for the city of North Pole, AK, for recreational improvements.
I know it has been a bad Christmas season for some, but you would think the elves and others might not need $200,000 for North Pole, AK. But one never knows, does one? The condition of the elves and Mrs. Claus are generally updated only around Christmastime. But it has come a little late this year. I will have to ask my staff to find out the total population of North Pole, AK, although counting nonpersons, I am sure, would enlarge the census there. There is $100,000 for restoration of the Jefferson County Courthouse clock tower in Washington State. That was under the category of economic development. I imagine everyone knowing what time it is would probably encourage efficiency there.
There is $220,000 to the Blueberry Hill Farm in Maine. They are getting their thrill on Blueberry Hill. I almost did not use that one, it is so schmaltzy.
While many of these projects may sound comical, they illustrate a badly broken system in need of serious and comprehensive reform. The HUD portion of this bill contains an account that is perhaps the best evidence that this process is completely broken and out of control. The appropriators included $278 million in this bill for so-called "economic development initiatives." Every single dime of that $278 million was served up as pork. There were 40 pages of report language. The appropriators dished out 902 earmarks for everything from theater renovations in Jenkintown, PA, to quarry updates in Nome, Alaska.
Excuse me, North Pole, Alaska. The population in 2000 was 1,570, so $200,000 is a tidy Christmas present.
Back to the 902 earmarks, from everything from theater preservation to quarry updates in Nome, Alaska. Again, somehow Alaska comes back and back and back and back throughout. I wonder how the people in Alaska feel about being put on welfare.
Sadly, the EDI account in the HUD appropriations bill has become nothing more than a slush fund for the appropriators, completely eliminating any competitive or merit-based determination by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The only word that comes to mind to describe this practice is "shameful."
At the same time, I will comment about some language in the statement of managers language accompanying this conference report that offers a more appropriate approach. Many of the accounts throughout the Department of Justice portion of this bill contain language that allows Federal officials, Governors, and other State and local representatives some discretion in awarding the appropriated funds. While the statement of managers names specific entities in connection with the Department of Justice grant, it also states that funding should be awarded if they are warranted after a proper review. Unfortunately, that kind of language is missing throughout the rest of this legislation. I hope the agency officials charged with reviewing these proposals will employ a modicum of fiscal restraint in some projects mentioned, such as $2 million for the First Tee Program, which teaches young people how to play golf. I know the Presiding Officer is an avid golf fan and has been to many parts of the world in order to enjoy the game of golf, but I don't think even he would think it is justified in this period of multitrillion dollar deficits to spend $2 million for the First Tee Program.
As inappropriate as the earmarks are, I am perhaps more dismayed at the inclusion of some major policy changes in the bill. Every member of this Chamber knows it is a violation of Senate rule XVI to legislate on an appropriations bill, the most often violated rule I know of in the Senate. Moreover, every Member knows it is a violation of rule XXVIII to add new provisions in conference that have not been included in either House or Senate bill sent to conference. Sadly, every Member knows this omnibus violates those rules. The inclusion of special interest legislative riders on a must-pass spending measure is not only a corruption of the proper process, it is irresponsible and an affront to good government.
I turn first of all to Section 629, the Commerce-State-Justice division of the omnibus. The provision would undo the Federal Communications Commissions June 2 decision to incrementally raise the national television broadcast station ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent. Instead, the provision would set the ownership cap at 39 percent. I strongly object to the inclusion of this provision for both procedural and substantive reasons. Procedurally, this is a blatant attempt by the appropriators to usurp the jurisdiction of the authorizers. I have not supported the use of the appropriations process to legislate policy and I will not do so today. Substantively, this provision is objectionable because while purporting to address public concerns about excessive media consolidation, it really only addresses the concerns of special interests. It is no coincidence, my friends, that the 39 percent is the exact ownership percentage of Viacom and CBS. Why did they pick 39 percent? So that these two major conglomerates would be grandfathered in, purportedly, in order to reduce the media ownership, which was voted 55-40 in the Senate. The fact is now they are endorsing Viacom and CBS's 39 percent ownership, grandfathering them in because they should have been at 35 percent. Remarkable.
I am not sure where the line should be drawn. We have spent hours and hours and hours in the Commerce Committee in hearings on this issue. I have never seen such an uprising of American public opinion on an issue that surprised me as much as this issue of media concentration. Hundreds of thousands of people contacted the FCC on this issue. A vote was forced in the Senate which rolled back-the first time in my memory-a decision of the Federal Communications Commission. I had very mixed emotions about it. But when I saw a clear channel radio go from 140 stations to 1,240 stations and there is a toxic spill in Minot, ND, and there is not a single person in any of those stations to warn the local people, I am worried about media concentration.
So what did the appropriators do? They pandered to a special interest, Viacom and CBS, and grandfathered them in. That is what this is all about. Do you think they addressed the major concern that most have, which is cross ownership? When Gannett owns the Arizona Republic and Channel 12, it is OK. What happens when Gannett owns Channel 12 and Channel 10 and Channel 5? That is what concerns people.
So the appropriators, in a blatant bow to Viacom and CBS, insert a 39 percent rule. I again give credit where it is due, the power of the National Association of Broadcasters, which is not included in the provision, as the ultimate proof of their influence. Why is it that other concerns that have been raised and were voted on in the Senate were not included in the appropriations bill? It is because the National Association of Broadcasters did not want it in.
As I mentioned, this is not the first attempt by Congress to undo the FCC's new media ownership rules. Last September, the Senate voted 55-40 in support of Senator Dorgan's congressional disapproval resolution which sought to declare all of the FCC's new media ownership rules "null and void." The omnibus spending bill is not the appropriate legislative vehicle to undo the commission's broadcast ownership cap.
If the Congress wishes to take action on the issue of media ownership, it ought to do so in the committee of jurisdiction. The issue of media ownership is far broader than the limited scope of this provision. As William Safire wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, itself a large owner of several media outlets: The effect of the media's march to amalgamation on America's freedom of voice [is a] far-reaching political decision [that] should be made by Congress and the White House, after extensive hearings and fair coverage by too-shy broadcasters, no-local-news cable networks, and conflicted newspapers.
I can spend a lot of time later on this year on this whole issue of what is happening with localism, with the station owner in Baltimore where the person goes on the set with an overcoat on and says, It is really cold here in Minnesota today. These are serious issues.
What did the appropriators do? They decided to do something for the National Association of Broadcasters. We had multiple hearings in examining media ownership and several committee members introduced S. 1046, the Preservation of Localism Program Diversity and Competition in Television Broadcast Service Act of 2002, and that is what we should be debating.
As the Senator from North Dakota, Mr. Dorgan, has said many times, we now have many voices and one ventriloquist.
Now, if we could have a little straight talk here today, while the NAB is unhappy with only part of the FCC's new rules, there is no valid public policy reason why both of the FCC rules should not be considered together. In fact, if only one rule could be addressed, as I said before, the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership rule is the one that should be addressed.
In an October hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, the entire panel of academics and analysts agreed that the FCC's new newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule would have a significantly greater impact on media ownership concentration than the new 45-percent national television broadcast ownership cap.
One of the panelists, Dr. Mark Cooper, provided the example of Tallahassee, FL, where the top TV station has a 70-percent market share and the daily newspaper has 60 percent penetration. If they merge, they would employ almost two-thirds of all local journalists in that community.
A September article in Business Week recognized this and stated:
The 45% cap has become a rallying symbol, but the regulations that would truly reorder America's media landscape and affect local communities have flown under the radar. These would allow companies to snap up not only two or three local TV stations in a market but also a newspaper and up to eight radio stations. If the courts and Congress are worried about the dangers of media consolidation, they'll have to resist calling it a day after dispensing with the network cap and go after the rules with real bite.
In opposition to the National Association of Broadcasters selective advocacy, all four television networks have quit their membership in NAB. In a resignation letter submitted last year, ABC/Disney wrote:
Almost two years ago, the other major broadcast networks resigned from the NAB. The issue was the patently hypocritical NAB position favoring deregulation of newspaper cross-ownership and duopoly while simultaneously advocating continued regulation of the national station cap. The NAB and the public policy process in Washington should not be abused to advance the business interests of one broadcaster over another.
The ABC/Disney suggestion is exactly what is going on here. This provision is not about public policy; it is about advancing the interests of the National Association of Broadcasters.
To summarize, stand-alone legislation like S. 1046, that was reported out of the authorizing committee, is the correct vehicle to address these difficult and complex issues involving media ownership. Attaching a rider to selectively address concerns of special nonpublic interests is not the way to make good policy.
Let me state from the outset I take a back street to no one in my support of second amendment rights. I have supported nearly every law that protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners since first coming to Washington. But there is a special interest rider included in this Omnibus appropriations bill that is absolutely appalling. The House sponsor of this provision has argued that it benefits gun owners, but the only gun owners it seems to help are those who have broken the law.
This rider has three major provisions, all of them unnecessary for gun owners, and none of them helpful for law enforcement.
First, it requires that background check approval records be destroyed within 24 hours instead of the current policy of 90 days. Proponents argue that keeping these records for 90 days constitutes a national firearms registry. I want to be very clear, I oppose Federal registration of firearms.
I also want to be equally clear that our current policy of keeping these records for 90 days does not constitute in any way, shape, or form a national registry. It is a phony issue.
The 90-days retention allows the NICS system to correct mistakes that occur when they accidentally approve someone who should have been denied a gun in the first place. This happens about 500 times a year, according to the General Accounting Office. Nearly all these false approvals are because of missing domestic violence records. So as far as I can tell, this provision benefits no one except those who should have been denied a firearm but were not.
The second provision prevents ATF from conducting an inventory audit of licensed gun stores. This means that ATF auditors will have no way of knowing if a gun store is missing firearms, a sure sign that they are selling guns illegally without the proper background checks.
In Tacoma, WA, ATF auditors recovered 233 firearms missing from Bull's Eye Shooters Supply store. One of those weapons was used by the accused DC area snipers. Why are we putting special language in a must-pass Federal spending bill to protect a store such as Bull's Eye? Consider the potential consequences.
A third provision prohibits the public release of crime gun trace information. This information is not top secret data that jeopardizes our national security or hinders law enforcement. We cannot have a government that operates in secret and refuses to release information that shows where criminals have obtained a gun.
This provision has no support from the law enforcement community, and was even opposed by Chairman Young and Subcommittee Chairman WOLF. Yet here it is today included in this terrible bill. This language is an embarrassment to law-abiding gun owners and a slap in the face to law enforcement.
Now, it is going to get a little esoteric here for a second, but it is very important. Because what we have done in this bill has basically changed the entire fishing industry and the way they do business, again, to protect certain entities in the State of Alaska.
One of the policy riders is language that authorizes the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries rationalization plan, which would divide 90 percent of that crab market among just a small group of processors. Under the provision, fishermen could only sell this crab to those few processors and, in turn, only those processors would sell to consumers.
We are creating a cartel, a Government-mandated cartel. And who is going to pay for that, at the end, in the form of higher prices? Those who eat this crab all over America, including my State.
This legislative language has not been considered by the authorizing committee nor requested by the administration. This provision raises serious antitrust concerns. Again, it would require-not simply allow but require-the crab fishermen to sell 90 percent of their crab harvest to predetermined processing companies. This precedent-setting action would vitiate antitrust laws, limit competition in the seafood sector, and ultimately hurt fishermen and consumers. Fishermen around the Nation have expressed strong opposition to this provision, as have at least a dozen newspaper editorial boards.
Before I go any further, I wish to clarify the difference between "fishing quotas" and "processing quotas." Fishing quotas are allocation tools that allow fishermen to catch a certain portion of the overall allowable harvest. Fishermen can determine when and under what conditions to fish with such quotas, and fishing quotas have been widely recognized to benefit fishermen, the environment, and consumers.
In contrast, processing quotas would allocate buying rights for the crab catch among a handful of processing companies so that each would be guaranteed to receive a certain percent of the overall harvest. Regardless of how efficient these processors are or what kind of price they are offering, they would have a guaranteed market share. I thought that kind of thing went away with the Berlin Wall. Under this plan, it would be illegal for fishermen to take their crab to other processors.
This language would have far-reaching consequences. Yet it was included in this must-pass bill without ever having been considered or debated by the committee of jurisdiction, the Commerce Committee.
Fishermen throughout the Nation object to the crab plan's individual processing quotas, IPQs, because the precedent-setting nature of this action could lead to IPQs in the processing sector of other fisheries. Indeed, crab boat owners and crew from all over the country-even from Arizona-have voiced their opposition to this proposal.
"Crab cartels," the Anchorage Daily News-even the Anchorage Daily News. "Stevens pushes plan that gives processors too much market power."
The Los Angeles Times: "Toss This Stinker in the Sea."
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The quota plan would guarantee shares not just to boat owners, as has been done successfully with other species, but also to fish processors on the land. That has nothing to do with safety. As the U.S. Department of Justice recognizes, it raises significant anti-trust concerns.
Crab Cartels are Bad News for Maine Lobster Industry.
Crab Industry Bakes a Monopoly Pie.
Feeling Crabby? No Need for a Monopoly.
It goes on and on. There is nobody who thinks this is a good idea.
In addition to affecting the price setting process, I am aware of at least one crab fisherman who owns a fishing boat and a "catcher-processor" boat. He objects to this policy rider because it would make it illegal for him to sell his own catch to himself, so that the catch from his fishing boat could be processed on his processing boat.
According to the National Research Council, the General Accounting Office, and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, fishermen's concerns about IPQs are clearly justified. The 1999 NRC publication, Sharing the Fish, found no "compelling reason to establish a separate, complementary processor quota system" to accompany an Individual Fishing Quota program. These findings were echoed by the GAO in its December 2002 report on IFQs, which failed to find the IFQ programs resulted in harmful impacts on processors in the halibut and sablefish fisheries that would warrant creation of an IPQ program.
Furthermore, on August 27, 2003, the Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division wrote a letter to the General Counsel of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, in which he opposed the IPQ provisions of the crab plan, stating "processor quotas are not justified by any such beneficial competitive purpose" and that "The Department urges NOAA to oppose IPQ."
While the fisherman are up in arms, the processors are already counting their chickens, or in this case, crab harvests, and in turn, their profits. That is because the percent of the harvest that they will be able to process in the future is based on how much they have processed in the past under the free market environment. Regardless of future operational efficiency, supply and demand, or any other real-world factors, these processors will be guaranteed their allocation in perpetuity. Consider, for example, one company that recently has processed roughly 20 percent of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab. This provision will assure that company continues to receive 20 percent of future harvests-worth on the order of tens of millions of dollars annually.
For centuries, fishermen have used market forces to negotiate their dockside prices, and this has had the effect of maintaining competition and benefitting consumers. Processor quotas throw an enormous wrench into the free market machinery.
In addition to affecting the price-setting process, the crab IPQ plan also would effectively prevent new processors from entering the industry. If anyone wants to enter the processing sector, they would need to buy the processing rights from the few processors who would have processing quota.
Considering all these facts, the administration has officially stated its opposition to IPQs, as reported in the Sacramento Bee, Kodiak Daily Mirror, Anchorage Daily News, and Seattle Times. The administration's proposed language for amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act clearly specifies that processors could own fishing quota, but does not propose a separate quota system divvying up processor quotas.
Editorial boards from at least 12 major newspapers-the Washington Post, Washington Times, Boston Globe, Oregonian, Anchorage Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Honolulu Advertiser, Daily Astorian, Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Portland Press Herald in Maine, and the Tampa Tribune-have come out against IPQs. Note that these newspapers include the entire west coast-even Alaska and Hawaii.
I ask unanimous consent they be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
[From the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 5, 2003]
TOSS THIS STINKER IN THE SEA
Ted Stevens thinks the Alaskan fishermen and processors he represents shouldn't have to comply with federal rules they don't like. So the powerful Republican, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, attached a rider to the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill to give Alaskan industry a pass.
Stevens insists that Alaskans have done a better job husbanding their fish-teeming waters than have other states. Regardless of whether he is right about the health of the Alaskan crab, salmon and pollock populations, he's wrong to use the appropriations process to grant favors that rewrite federal resource law behind closed doors.
One provision of his rider would freeze all funds to enforce federal laws imposing new limits on crabbing and fishing in sensitive ocean habitat. Another legal barnacle guarantees certain processing companies 90% of the lucrative Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab catch. This unprecedented deal not only would favor some processors and unfairly exclude others, it would hobble fishermen from offering their prized catches to the highest bidders.
This rider is troubling by itself. But it becomes deeply disturbing when combined with the growing market for seafood and the more efficient fishing techniques that threaten ocean species. For example, the red king crab season in Alaska's Bristol Bay this year was the shortest ever. Crabbers captured an entire year's quota in a little more than two days by using 700-pound steel pots baited with chopped herring and set and retrieved by hydraulic launchers and large winches. Yet even as this high-tech harvest intensifies each year, Stevens would order federal regulators to lay off, a move certain to put more pressure on the prized critters' survival.
Stevens' rider also would set destructive precedent. California, Florida or Maine lawmakers could decide they want to suspend federal rules protecting their fish.
Federal fisheries law is and should remain the product of consensus and deliberation, not one senator's backroom maneuvers. that's why Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) promise to "strenuously oppose" Stevens' rider. When the mammoth spending bill that it is hooked to comes before the Senate, other senators too should cast his smelly deal into the deep.
[From the Anchorage Daily News, Sept. 16, 2003]
CRAB CARTELS-STEVENS PUSHES PLAN THAT GIVES PROCESSORS TOO MUCH MARKET POWER
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens is fast-tracking a controversial plan that dictates where Alaska's Bering Sea crab fishermen are allowed to sell all but a tiny part of their catch. He is pressing the legislative process to ram through a scheme that short-circuits market competition.
The concept Sen. Stevens is pushing is known as processor quotas. Using a legislative shortcut called a rider, he tacked his measure onto one of the 13 federal spending bills that have to pass each year, instead of pursuing a stand-alone bill that would have to be judged on its own merits in committee and on the Senate floor. A rider is no way for Congress to make such a complicated, far-reaching and hotly disputed decision.
Processor quotas are part of a larger set of fish management changes that address real problems in the Bering Sea. Fishing for crabs today is a free-for-all, a race to see who can catch the most the fastest. As a result, too many boats are chasing too few crabs. They go out in dangerous weather, and crews work dangerously long hours. The boats then rush to deliver their catch, so processing plants have to move huge amounts of product before it spoils.
To cure these problems in some other Alaska fisheries, federal managers now use individual fishing quotas. In that system, the government gives each fisherman the right to take a certain percentage of each year's allowable harvest. Fishermen can go out when it's safe and work at a safe pace without having to worry that others will grab all the fish. Fish plants have more time to process the catch and produce higher-quality products.
These fishing quotas have improved the safety and economic health of other Alaska fisheries. Processors, though have complained that fishermen with quotas now have too much time to shop around and get higher prices for their catch.
Crab processors persuaded the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to try to cure their problem. So when the council decided to give fishermen rights to catch Bering Sea crab, fish plants in the region also got guaranteed rights to process the catch. Fishermen would have to sell 90 percent of their catch to existing processors. This part of the council's plan requires congressional approval, which is where Sen. Stevens and his rider come in.
Processor quotas are a straightforward way for fish plants to limit competition and grab back economic power they might lose if fishermen get a guaranteed share of the catch. Imagine if Congress dared to tell farmers they could sell their grain only to a handful of agribusiness companies. There would be an uproar on the plains. The U.S. Department of Justice opposes fish processor quotas because they are anti-competitive, and indeed they are.
Processor quotas are a government attempt to do the economically impossible. They are a convoluted system that tries to hold everybody harmless as the government revamps management of the crab fisheries. It's inevitable that those changes will create winners and losers, both among fishermen and processors. The government can't micromanage such complex economic consequences and shouldn't even try. The job is just too complicated, the mechanisms too convoluted, the intervention in markets too deep.
Sen. Stevens says he's just doing what the professional managers at the federal fish council want. (They unanimously approved a crab management plan with processor quotas.) The only problem is that the fish council is an industry-dominated process. This complicated, anti-competitive deal was hatched up in an attempt to keep all the players at the table happy. Consumers and free-market advocates don't have a seat on the council.
[From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 3, 2003]
BOAT QUOTAS MAKE CRAB FISHING SAFER
Crab fishing off Alaska can be made safer.
The key to reducing fatalities is a quota system. Allotting shares of the Alaska crab catch to boat operators could end the frenzied, dangerous free-for-all operations, dramatically documented by recent P-I stories and photos.
Unfortunately, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska is trying to ram through a broad new kind of quota system with too little consideration. At the same time, Stevens would halt several efforts to protect Alaskan fish. He would do it by attaching a rider to a vital spending bill. As fellow Republican Sens. John McCain and Olympia Snowe recognize, that's a poor way to make policy.
Attaching riders to spending bills end-runs the lawmaking process. Stevens' proposals need full scrutiny. His rider would reopen a troubled pollock fishery, stop studies of critical North Pacific habitat and prevent new rules against bottom-scraping trawling equipment.
The quota plan would guarantee shares not just to boat owners, as has been done successfully with other species, but also to fish processors on the land. That has nothing to do with safety. As the U.S. Department of Justice recognizes, it raises significant antitrust concerns.
Unless Stevens rewrites his rider, the Senate should block it. In the name of saving lives, too much mischief could be played.
[From the Portland Press Herald, Nov. 3, 2003]
"CRAB CARTELS" ARE BAD NEWS FOR MAINE LOBSTER INDUSTRY
A rider on the commerce appropriations bill has made some Alaska fishermen and environmental groups, well, crabby.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is trying to push through a plan that would essentially create "crab cartels" in Alaska, guaranteeing certain crab processors a quota of the catch. That undermines fair market competition. As the Anchorage Daily News rightly points out, nobody would try to tell farmers that they could only sell their grain to certain agribusinesses.
Crab producers want the plan, obviously, because it guarantees them business but they also say it will get crab to consumers faster.
Such a rider would set a dangerous precedent, shifting oversight of the details of the regulatory process from the regional council and giving it to Congress. The regional council system is flawed, but it does allow for more public input. There's also a danger of this plan eventually affecting other business, such as Maine's lobster industry. Sen. Olympia Snowe is opposed to the rider.
The plan also would end funding for identification and protection of essential fish habitat, making sensitive areas such as coral reefs vulnerable to damage by huge trawlers.
This rider is bad for Alaska and it's bad for the nation as a whole, and it should be removed from the bill.
[From the Seattle Times, Nov. 1, 2003]
FEELING CRABBY? NO NEED FOR A MONOPOLY
Seafood processors, led by Seattle-based Trident Seafoods, have been campaigning for years for exclusive rights to buy crab from the Bering Sea fleet. If these rights come into effect, a newcomer who wanted to buy that crab would have to buy the rights to buy crab from companies already in the business.
In the proposal now under consideration, anyone wishing to enter the crab-processing business would have to get permission from someone already in it.
And that is a monopoly privilege.
Processors say they are asking only for what boat owners will get: an individual quota of crab. But these two quotas are not the same.
For the fishermen, crab is wild and in the public domain. There has to be a quota, either for the whole fleet or each boat. The idea of a quota for each boat allows crab to be harvested slowly, cost-effectively and safely. There is a public interest in doing it that way.
Processors buy crab that is already harvested. There is no public-interest reason to give certain processors what amounts to ration coupons. And nowhere else in U.S. fisheries do such rights exist.
Individual harvest quotas exist in halibut, black cod and elsewhere. But they are never buying quotas.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and head of the Appropriations Committee, is now offering processors quotas to buy. Stevens' effort is a rider to an appropriations bill that is necessary to fund the federal departments of State, Commerce and Justice.
Stevens' rider would also cancel a study by the National Marine Fisheries Service of coral and sponge in the waters off Alaska. The study aims to find out how important these are to marine life, including fish and crab, how coral beds are affected by bottom trawling, and what measures might be taken to protect valuable habitat. * * *
[From the Washington Times, Dec. 13, 2003]
A BITTER PILL FOR CRABBERS
(By Donald R. Leal)
Depletion of the fish in our coastal oceans is a growing environmental concern, and the state of Alaska is poised to help correct the problem. But Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, Republican, won't let it happen without attaching some expensive strings. Mr. Stevens is backing individual fishing quotas (IFQs) for Alaskan crabbers. That's good policy. But he insists on a provision requiring crabbers to sell 90 percent of their catch to a small group of established processors. That's bad policy. To accomplish this, he has attached a rider to an omnibus appropriations bill, which the House and Senate must vote on by Jan. 31.
Alaskan crab fishers participate in one of the most dangerous fisheries in the world. Loss of life is not uncommon. Part of the reason crabbing is so dangerous is that the seasons are incredibly short-only four to six days long in the winter-when winds are high, water is turbulent, and decks are icy.
Regulation has not ended the race that occurs when fishers depend for their livelihood on unowned resources like ocean fish and shellfish. IFQs could solve this problem. IFQs would give crab fishers a right to a specific portion of the total allowable catch set for Alaska crabs each year.
With IFQs, each crabber would know how much he or she is allowed to catch each season. Assured of such a quota, fishers would not be forced into the destructive "race to fish." Fishing management councils could extend the seasons, fishing would be safer, the quality of the seafood would go up (fishers would have time to protect the quality), and fresh crab would reach the consumer more often.
But there's the rub-fresh crab. Mr. Stevens wants to protect the companies that process fish. Under the current regulatory regime, with its short, intense seasons, these processors invested in additional plant capacity such as extra freezer space. If IFQs are implemented and seasons extended, some of this processing and storage capacity will probably not be needed. Also, processors will also have less control over prices, because fishers will be able to choose when they want to fish.
Mr. Stevens is trying to create a package for crab fisheries that holds IFQs hostage to benefits for processors. His rider, which would give crabbers IFQs only if they deliver 90 percent of their catch to a handful of processors, has drawn protests from the Bush administration and Senate colleagues. Even the Justice Department has suggested it would not stand up under antitrust law. Fellow Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona (and Olympia Snowe of Maine have also criticized Mr. Stevens for attaching a precedent-setting policy issue to an appropriations bill.
Processors deserve sympathy because they were steered by flawed government policy to invest in redundant capacity. But forcing crabbers to take their catch to a specific processor will hurt their chances of receiving a competitive price. It could also derail the effort, supported by free marketers and environmental activists alike, to implement IFQs elsewhere. Surely better options-like a stranded capital buyout program or simply including processors in the allocation of the individual fishing quotas-exist for compensating processors.
Alaska's halibut fishery has already shown the benefits of IFQs. In the early 1990s, halibut fishermen were limited to fishing during just three 24-hour fishing openings a year. Catching halibut was dangerous, profits were low, and most of the catch had to be frozen. When IFQs were adopted in 1995, the season was expanded to 245 days. Fishing became more profitable and safer. Fisheries in New Zealand, Iceland, Australia and Canada also show that IFQs improve fish management, reduce danger and improve product quality. Congress should not let the processors' difficulties stand in the way of a solution to a problem that is hurting marine resources around the world. Don't let Sen. Stevens' rider remain.
Mr. MCCAIN. Additionally, the conference report would authorize a similar processor quota program for Gulf of Alaska rockfish. Even though IPQ proponents had previously indicated that IPQs are needed for crab only, they are now proposing authorizing such a program for a different Alaskan fishery.
Further, the conference report also would authorize the North Pacific Council to open an area currently closed to fishing, but open it only to the Aleut Corporation, which would also have the exclusive right to process the fish. This new fishery could be worth more than $10 million, yet the proposal has not undergone the proper congressional authorization and oversight process that we demand for other important policy issues.
Obviously this proposal makes fundamental changes to our fisheries policies. This rockfish and pollock language was not requested by the administration nor the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and it hasn't been reviewed by the authorizing committees. At a minimum, all of these new quota provisions merit thorough review and debate prior to their enactment.
The tacking of fisheries riders onto appropriations bills extends all the way to North Atlantic fisheries as well. Last-minute language was added that would prevent the administration from implementing a groundfish management plan required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Not surprisingly, the administration did not request this change, nor has the authorizing committee of jurisdiction held any hearings on this proposal.
In the northeast, fishery managers must comply with a court-ordered implementation date of May 1, 2004, for putting a groundfish management plan into effect, and the administration is now seeking public comment on and finalizing regulations to do this.
Even before we know what the final plan is, the language would prohibit the administration from spending any money to implement this plan. The legislative rider would authorize funding for only a certain set of management rules-which have already been determined by a court to be out of compliance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
So, under the language in the omnibus, it would be illegal for the administration to comply with Federal fisheries law as set out in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. If this provision is enacted, there is a real risk that the fishery could be ordered closed by a Federal court.
Again, this significant policy change was not considered by or debated in the Commerce Committee. I am more than willing to discuss ways to redesign the fisheries management council process, along with the rest of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, if indeed, it is as flawed as some seem to think it is. This rider, however, is not the appropriate way to make policy.
Section 626 of the omnibus broadly requires the Secretary of Commerce to "negotiate or reevaluate, with the consent of the President, international agreements affecting international ocean policy."
Under 22 U.S.C. Section 2655a, however, international ocean policy issues are currently handled by the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, or OES. Several marine resource conservation laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, grant the Secretary of State the authority to negotiate international agreements on these matters. Clearly, this language conflicts with the Secretary of State's statutory responsibility for carrying out a coherent foreign policy.
When appropriators first proposed such a transfer of responsibility in the FY04 CJS appropriations bill, Secretary Colin Powell explained, "Such a provision would significantly hamper the Department's ability to address important foreign policy issues (e.g., oceans policy, marine pollution, global overfishing) to which the United States can ill afford to give short shrift."
Considering the important role that the United States needs to maintain as a leader in the international community on ocean policy matters, I am dismayed that the appropriators would attempt to transfer these powers between government agencies without any public or expert review and debate. This is clearly a matter that needs the full attention of the Commerce and Foreign Relations Committees, and this has not happened.
A provision in the EPA portion of the VA-HUD section of this bill prohibits all States, with the exception of California, from exercising their existing authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate "non-road" engines to improve air quality. This language will effectively tie the hands of the State air pollution control agencies by preventing them from addressing the 120 million small engines which are a substantial and growing source of smog and soot pollution nationwide.
This provision was originally put in the VA-HUD bill at the request of a single engine manufacturer, Briggs and Stratton. The company suggested that the provision would save jobs. I find this argument very disingenuous due to the fact that, in its September 2003 filing with the SEC, the company stated, "Briggs and Stratton does not believe that the CARB staff proposal will have a material effect on its financial condition or results of operations . . ."
Our colleague from California, Senator FEINSTEIN, made an effective argument against the language on the Senate floor during consideration of the bill, but she was not permitted to offer an amendment to strike the language. Mr. President, what has come out of the conference may be acceptable to California and to Briggs and Stratton, but it is unacceptable to me and should be unacceptable to almost every Member of this body.
If you have not heard from your State air agency yet, you certainly will soon. In the State of Arizona, for example, the potential emissions impact of these unregulated engines is equivalent to 1.4 million additional cars on the roads. This is almost certain to worsen the smog problem in the city of Phoenix, and I am sure it will be the same in many other cities in the Nation. I have no doubts that with worsening smog will come many more cases of asthma and a litany of other health problems. It is simply outrageous that States will be prohibited from exercising their responsibility to protect public health and the environment because one company was able to secure a special deal in a must-pass spending bill.
I also am very concerned that for the NASA funding portions, that the Joint Explanatory Statement to the conference report contains a list of 144 earmarks that total in excess of $300 million. These earmarks are unauthorized and unrequested by the President. Meanwhile, the international space station has been funded at $200 million below the President's request. This action comes despite news reports that have outlined numerous safety problems aboard the international space station.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), which was assigned to determine the causes of last February's tragic accident, described the results of congressional earmarking in its August report. According to the CAIB Report:
Pressure on NASA's budget has come not only from the White House, but also from the Congress. In recent years there has been an increasing tendency for the Congress to add "earmarks"-congressional additions to the NASA budget request that reflect targeted Members' interests. These earmarks come out of already-appropriated funds, reducing the amounts available for the original tasks.
I must question whether we have learned anything from the shuttle accident and the CAIB findings. During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last year, I questioned Admiral Gehman about the effects of the $167 million that was earmarked in fiscal year 2003 appropriations bill. He responded by saying that "$100 million will buy a lot of safety engineers." Maybe we should ask what he thinks should be done with over $300 million worth of earmarks.