WAIVING REQUIREMENT OF CLAUSE 6(a) OF RULE XIII WITH RESPECT TO CONSIDERATION OF CERTAIN RESOLUTIONS -- (House of Representatives - September 25, 2008)
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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I thank my colleague and friend from Texas for yielding.
I come to the floor today bitterly disappointed that this majority is one more time denying the opportunity to fund county timber payments to districts like mine.
The Secure Rural Schools Program aids more than 600 rural counties, and 4,400 school districts in 42 States. Let me say that again: 4,400 school districts, 42 States, 600 rural counties are affected by this.
There is broad bipartisan support to reauthorize this legislation and keep a nearly century-old commitment to the areas like I represent in rural Oregon where the Federal Government owns more than half of the land, much of it timbered. In the old days they would share the receipts from the timber harvest, and then the Federal Government and the courts shut all of that down.
I have three counties that have more than 8 percent unemployment. Virtually all of the mills are gone. I had people coming up to me last weekend in their overalls asking, Is there any hope? Is there any hope for them and their kids to make a decent living taking care of America's forests? Is there any hope to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act in this Congress? I gave them a little hope. I said the Senate, the United States Senate, seems to be caring about us. And, indeed, in the tax extenders bill passed by the United States Senate by 93-2, they reauthorized the Secure Rural Schools, phasing it out over 4 years in a formula we all agreed to, but we don't necessarily like.
Time and again, Democrat leadership in this House has said ``no'' to that legislation. That is happening right here, right now. It just happened up in the Rules Committee by denying an amendment offered by the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Hastings) on a party-line 8-3 vote. They said, no, we won't even let the House vote to take care of these folks back home and keep this 100-year-old Federal commitment. It is outrageous. It is outrageous.
Let me tell you what it means to the people out there. These are real jobs being lost. There are counties in Oregon that may declare bankruptcy. Half the police force in sheriff's offices, the deputies are gone. Road department after road department after road department, cut, slashed, gone. I have counties that have one road maintenance person for every 100 miles of road in their county now. That is the distance from the Nation's capital to Richmond, Virginia, in case you're counting.
You are down to where there won't be any patrols by sheriff's deputies. And yet Americans want to recreate in America's forests. Unfortunately, they go out there and occasionally they get lost. And when they get lost, whom do they call upon to come find them but these same search and rescue teams. Tragically, often they have perished in my State before they get rescued.
It was through funding through this program, or in the old days through the revenue sharing that came to those counties that we were able to have the search and rescue teams and the equipment and everything necessary to go out and try and rescue these families who would get lost or caught in a snowstorm. That is going away.
Schools are deeply affected. In my State, the money, $280 million a year, was funneled throughout all of the school districts. In some States they didn't do it that way. They have already laid off teachers.
Now what is wrong with keeping the word that this Speaker and others said at the beginning of this Congress that there would be an open and fair opportunity for the minority to offer up amendments, have them fully considered, and have them so people can see them.
No, this Rules Committee on an 8-3 basis said we are not going to even allow you to have a vote. And the heck with these county roads and schools where the Federal Government has total control, and the heck with the people who live out there.
County roads and school reauthorization should never have been a partisan issue, and yet it has become that. This House could simply take up the Senate bill under a different rule and allow a vote. And the President of the United States, although he is not the biggest fan of reauthorizing this county payments program, said he would sign that bill that came out of the Senate. So he is not the obstacle. He never said he would veto this. He doesn't like parts of it, but the staff is pretty clear that he would sign it into law and we would reauthorize it.
Republicans would like to see a vote on this. They tried in the Rules Committee, but your Rules Committee said no. So here we are today. This same day rule short-circuits that process with a rule that says this is all you get, and shoves it back to the Senate.
It is time for reform and time for change, and it needs to start right here right now by defeating this same-day rule, by defeating the next rule and giving people in this House the chance to represent their people back home by at least having a vote to reauthorize and fund county roads and schools.
I will tell you, when you let them down, you are hurting literally school kids and putting people's lives in peril because search and rescue will be reduced or eliminated in some areas, and police forces are already being dramatically cut. And that is wrong. It doesn't have to be that way. If we really wanted to solve problems, you wouldn't ram this through the way you are doing it.
Mr. ARCURI. Mr. Speaker, I continue to reserve my time.
Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden) has now for at least the last 2 years made himself available, built bipartisan support, spoken to people in both parties, built a case, invited people to see the circumstance, and talked on behalf of 42 States, people who live in rural areas that have timber.
The gentleman invited me out this last August, notwithstanding that I am a friend of his, but he invited me out. I landed in Portland, drove east on the beautiful highway that goes to Hood, Oregon, and had an opportunity to meet a lot of the people in the area. They are fabulous. They are outstanding people who live in the very midst of Mount Hood.
I had an opportunity to see Mount Hood from a different perspective than the three climbers from Dallas who were trapped and who died earlier last winter. I had a chance to see Mount Hood in the summertime. As I was there with the gentleman, Mr. Walden, he told me the story about the big blowout in the mountain which happened on a separate event, that devastated the area as a result of what Mother Nature had done. He spoke about how the communities got together, how they worked together and solved their problems, just as they did when the three climbers from Dallas perished on the mountain.
But he forthrightly, along with others, reminded me that it is really up to us to get our work done here in Washington. And by no means did the gentleman task me with doing it, but he knew, he knew that I would have the opportunity, along with our colleague, the gentleman from Pasco, Washington, Doc Hastings, who is also greatly affected, that we could come back to a committee that we have served on for 10 and 12 years respectively between the two of us, that we would be able to talk to our colleagues whom we have served with on that committee for the past 10 years, that we would be able to express to them the need and the desire for public policy to be addressed at the appropriate time.
Well, the appropriate time is now. The Senate has spoken. Today the bill came over from the Senate, overwhelming vote, and the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden) rushed to me to find out what the Rules Committee would do, really just to find out what was in the bill. We found out about the bill only minutes before, which once again is against the rules of the House that you don't consider a bill until it is laid out publicly for 24 hours. But that didn't matter again today.
And so we asked on behalf of the gentleman, Mr. Walden, the other members of the Rules Committee what we thought was a bipartisan basis because I believe it is true to say that there are five people on the committee who serve rural areas also or who had heard the compelling story that impacts people all across this country.
So I told Mr. Walden, I think we stand a good chance because we are able to come to our colleagues whom we have spent hundreds of hours with over the last 10 years and to say if it is not in your bill, and we found out it was not, but it is in the package that came from the Senate, will you please just include that?
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. SESSIONS. I yield to the gentleman.
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I appreciate the gentleman's kind and generous comments, and also his willingness to come out to my State this summer and see what we are facing in some of these forests.
I talked to a county commissioner from Klamath County yesterday morning. The Winema National Forest now, between the Federal forest land and adjacent private land, there is a half-a-million acres, 500,000 acres, that is now bug infested and nearly dead, if not completely dead. They can go in and treat that area, clean it up, replant it, get the dead trees out for about $250 an acre. If we wait until it catches on fire, taxpayers will spend $1,500 to $2,000 an acre to fight the fire.
Reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act makes funds available through different titles in the bill to assist those local governments and the Forest Service to get in and make our forests less susceptible to catastrophic fire, healthier by removing the dead or diseased trees or those that are bug infested and get ahead of this and actually be better stewards of our lands.
This year, the Federal Forest Service budget spent over half, 52 percent so far, to fight fire. In that forest alone, they had to take $1 million away from forest treatment efforts to pay for fighting fires elsewhere. So we fall further and further behind.
This is not the stewardship of our forests that we should be proud of. It is the lack of stewardship that would cause Theodore Roosevelt to roll over in his grave, the great founder of our Nation's forest system. And it doesn't have to happen. It doesn't have to happen.
Communities shouldn't be evacuated because of fire threat. Our budgets at the Forest Service shouldn't be exhausted to put out fires. And the biggest economic activity in a rural, forested timbered community around these Federal lands shouldn't be the making of sandwiches for the fire fighters. This has to stop.
The gentleman from New York is a cosponsor of the legislation I'm advocating here. There are other members of the Rules Committee that are cosponsors of this legislation on both sides of the aisle. This is our opportunity. This is our moment. This is our time.
The Senate and the White House support this effort in the legislation sent here by the Senate. If not now, when? Or do you let it all burn? Because that's what's happening out there.
Do you put people out of work?
You claim you're for family wage jobs. You're killing them in my part of the world.
Am I angry about this?
You bet I am. This is real life-and-death stuff. I was at the memorial service for the firefighters who were killed in Northern California, killed fighting fires. And while that, tragically, will happen again, and it is not all the fault that we don't have the Community Self-Determination Act in place, we need to get better policy. We need to get ahead of this problem. We need to be the good stewards we're entrusted to be of these lands. It is not that hard to be fair. It shouldn't be that hard.
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