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Floor Statement- District of Columbia Appropriations Act

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I regret that I was unable to be here for the vote but I thank the conferees for their hard work on the conference report that provides federal funding for the District of Columbia, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education. I am very disappointed that this report includes wasteful, locality-specific, pork-barrel projects, legislative riders, and budget gimmicks such as `forward funding' and a 1-percent cut in government spending across-the-board. Therefore, I cannot support this bill.

This legislation is intended to provide funding directly benefiting American families and senior citizens while assisting our most important resource, our children. It provides funding to help states and local communities educate our children. It also provides the funds to support our scientists in finding treatments for illness. This report also provides funds for ensuring our nation's most vulnerable--our children, seniors and disabled have access to quality health care. Furthermore, it provides the monetary support for important programs assisting older Americans including Meals on Wheels and senior day care programs.

I am pleased that this legislation took an important step towards ensuring that our nation's schools have the flexibility to determine how to meet the unique educational needs of their students instead of Washington bureaucrats mandating a `one size fits all' policy. Second, this bill provides a significant increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which is critical in our ongoing battle against disease.

These are just some of the important provisions in this conference report. There are many additional items which are as pertinent to our nation's well-being which makes it all the more frustrating that this bill is still laden with earmarks, legislative riders and unjustifiable budget gimmicks.

First, this legislation contains $388 million in total pork-barrel spending ($335 million in earmarks and set-asides for the Departments of Health and Human Services, and Education). Some of the more egregious violations of the appropriate budgetary review process include:

$2.5 million for Alaska Works in Fairbanks, Alaska for construction job training;

$1.5 million for the University of Missouri-St. Louis for their Regional Center for Education and Work;

$104 million for the construction and renovation of specific health care and other facilities including: Brookfield Zoo/Loyola University School of Medicine, University of Montana Institute for Environmental and Health Sciences and Edward Health Services, Naperville, Illinois; and

$3,000,000 to continue the Diabetes Lower Extremity Amputation Prevention (LEAP) programs at the University of South Alabama.

While these projects may have good reason to be deserving of funding, it is appalling that these funds are specifically earmarked and not subject to the appropriate competitive grant process. I am confident that there are many organizations which need financial assistance and yet, are not fortunate enough to have an advocate in the appropriations process to ensure that their funding is earmarked in this legislation. This is wrong and does a disservice to all Americans who deserve fair access to job training and quality health care.

Some of the legislative riders include $3.5 million in this report to implement the Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Interventions for Newborns and Infants with Hearing Loss Act. This legislative initiative was inserted into the Senate and House appropriation bill without hearings or debate on this proposal by either chamber. I applaud the intentions of this measure and share my colleagues' support for helping ensure that all hospitals, not just the current 20%, provide screening in order to produce early diagnosis and intervention for our children to ensure that they have an equal start in life and learning. However, the manner in which it was included in this measure bypasses the appropriate legislative procedure. Instead, this measure should have been given full consideration by the Senate as a free-standing initiative or as an amendment to appropriate legislation.

Furthermore, I am also opposed to the use of budget gimmicks in this report. First, the report has opted to use the newly popular budget gimmick of `forward funding,' used to postpone spending until the next fiscal year to avoid counting costs in the current fiscal year. What this means is that $10 billion in funding for job training, health research, and education grants to states is pushed into next year--a budgetary sleight of hand that merely delays the inevitable accounting for these tax dollars. What a sham.

Finally, now that the surplus has been spent for pork-barrel spending instead of shoring up Social Security and Medicare, paying down the debt, and providing tax relief, the appropriators have opted to include a 1-percent cut in government spending across-the-board to keep Congress from touching Social Security. Why not just cut the pork-barrel spending in the first place to avoid resorting to such gimmicks?

Mr. President, because of the egregious amount of pork-barrel spending in this bill, the addition of legislative riders, and the 1-percent across-the-board spending cut, I must oppose its passage. I regret doing so because of the many important and worthy programs included in the conference agreement, but I cannot endorse the continued waste of taxpayer dollars on special interest programs, nor can I acquiesce in bypassing the normal authorizing process for legislative initiatives. If an Omnibus appropriations bill is required in order to complete the appropriations process for fiscal year 2000, I hope that the Congress finds the courage to remove the many earmarks, the budget gimmicks, and the legislative riders contained in this report, the bill, and all others so that we can provide the much needed financial support for job training, education, health care, research and senior programs and avoid a congressional sequester.

The full list of the objectionable provisions is on my Senate website.

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