PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.R. 7060, RENEWABLE ENERGY AND JOB CREATION TAX ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 25, 2008)
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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Thank you to my colleague from Texas, and I note the chairman, apparently, has had to leave the floor, but perhaps he will be able to hear this somewhere wherever he is.
It is extraordinarily important to the States that are involved, to the 4,400 school districts that are involved, the 600 rural counties that are involved, this is the opportunity that is being lost. This measure, when it came from the other body, passed by the other body, had in it a 4-year reauthorization bipartisan of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.
That funding is used to help school kids go to school in areas where there is a high preponderance of Federal lands, timber lands. That funding is being taken away. It helps pay for search and rescue, fire and police. That funding is being taken away.
You see, I have got counties that up to 70 percent of their land mass is off their tax rolls because it's Federal land. We have 11 national forests in my district alone in the nearly 70,000 square miles of Oregon that I represent.
The mills are closed because of change in policy and litigation. The jobs are lost, the revenues have dried up. Now the Federal Government, in effect, is breaching its nearly century-old commitment, century-old commitment, to share revenues and help.
Now yesterday on this House floor the majority waived twice PAYGO rules on two other tax provisions, waived them. They have waived them before.
If they were going to bring a bill here that has pay-fors in it to pay for the tax extensions, why did they rip out county payments and not, instead, pay for them somehow and put that on the floor? It's a choice they made.
Why didn't they allow us to have at least a vote on the floor on an amendment and let the will of the House be worked, as they promised they would do if they got control of this House, and now seem less inclined to allow?
So there is no opportunity for my side of the aisle, the Republicans, to even offer an amendment, to keep the Federal Government's commitment for the last 100 years to these rural schools and counties and sheriffs' departments, to do the search and rescue, to do the fire work, to do everything they do, educate our kids, among other things. It also denies us the opportunity to reauthorize titles II and III of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which brings together in a collaborative process environmental organizations, forestry and community leaders in all the States.
How can we be better stewards of the lands around us? How do we get out and do the work that, A, produces jobs; B, makes our forests healthier and safer and our communities safer?
That funding stream has dried up. There have been massive layoffs in the local governments that I represent. We have counties in Oregon, some of which are contemplating bankruptcy, bankruptcy, dissolve, go away, turn themselves back to the States and the neighboring counties. This is real serious stuff, and it has been going on a long time.
This is the opportunity before us. We asked the leadership in a bipartisan way. Members of both parties sent letters to the leadership saying can you give us another 1-year extension in the CR. They chose not to, and that's their prerogative.
This is the vehicle that's come from the Senate, or at least the vehicle that the Senate passed would have reauthorized and funded county payments for the next 4 years in a phased-out process.
Now some have alleged in the press that it was dropped because the President was going to veto this bill if it was in it. That's not what the statement of administrative policy says, and I don't believe that's what the chairman said or the leadership on the Democrat side of the aisle said.
This isn't because the President said he would veto it, because he didn't say he would veto it. He said he would sign it if the House would take it up. So this could become law. This could become law. This could be passed, this could become law. We could get back on track in 600 rural counties and 4,400 school districts in 42 States and be the partner we should be.
We do a lot of things in this Congress for this, our Nation's city. That's right, because there is a huge Federal footprint and presence here, so we do a lot of things to help the residents of Washington, DC. I believe the figure is 26 percent of the land mass of Washington, DC is Federal. And the rest is private.
You get out in the west and upwards of half of our States in some cases, and sometimes more, is Federal ground. When there is a fire in the forest, which we have had, again, another record season of fire-fighting costs and loss of life and loss of habitat and forests, it is the local sheriff's department. It is the local community that is affected.
In southern Oregon this year in the Rogue Valley, for nearly a month the air quality was about as bad as you can get because of the fires in northern California choking the air shed. There is so much work we need to do out in our forests.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman's time has expired.
Mr. SESSIONS. I yield the gentleman an additional 3 minutes.
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. In the Winema-Fremont National Forest, there is more than 500,000 acres of Federal and private land that is ready to go up in smoke. It is disease-ridden. There is beetle kill. And because of the way that the budget is structured and this Congress' refusal--we did it in the House but the Senate hasn't taken it up, a bill to create a separate fire category for the Forest Service, they have had to take $1 million out of that one forest alone to pay for current fire-fighting costs elsewhere, which means the money is not available to go in and do the thinning and remove the dying trees and open up the stands and deal with the beetle kill. They have had to put all of that, or at least $1 million of it, on hold which just means that the problem gets worse faster. So when it ignites, and it will, folks, you will have half-a-million acres in the northwest, in the Winema-Fremont National Forest, go up in smoke.
Now this legislation, if we can get an amendment, and if you vote down the previous question, I will offer a 4-year extension as the alternative. So you will have a chance to vote. If you are for county payments, vote ``no'' on the previous question.
If that fails, then our motion to recommit will be the full Senate bill that has the 4-year extension with county payments in it.
So this is where the rubber hits the road. This is where you have an opportunity to be for county payments, for your local schools, for the sheriff service, for search and rescue. For all the things, the collaborative approaches to forest management that this legislation in the past has helped provide.
Unless you think that this is a partisan issue, it never was and should never be, because it was enacted in a Republican Congress with a Democrat President, and it has been hailed as a marvelous success on the ground, and it has been a wonderful partnership until it was allowed to expire. Today we need to reauthorize it. Today we need to be given at least the opportunity to vote on it. What is wrong in a democratic institution, the finest on the planet, of offering us at least an opportunity to vote? You have the votes if you want to kill it. You outnumber us on rules more than 2-to-1. There are ways to do this. It doesn't have to be this way.
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