AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2010 -- (House of Representatives - July 08, 2009)
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Mr. KINGSTON. I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
I thank the gentlewoman, my counterpart, the chairwoman of the committee, for her great introductory remarks. I certainly support many parts of this bill. I want to start out by complimenting her on the process that we have and the relationship that we have. We have an open and honest relationship. We can agree to disagree and do it in an agreeable fashion. We have a lot of fun on the committee. We've had a lot of hearings. Many hearings where we are interrupted by votes and then we had to go back over there, sometimes it's just the Chair and I who go back; and we have our way with the witnesses, which is always fun because here in Washington we'd rather be the ones with the microphone than having somebody else have the microphone. We just have a good time with this. I think the staff works well together, and I want to recognize the staff for all their efforts at this time. On the majority staff, Martha Foley, Leslie Barrack, Jason Weller, Matt Smith, Kerstin Millius, Brian Ronholm and Letty Mederos. I thank everybody on that side for working with our folks. Our folks are Dave Gibbons, Merritt Myers, Meg Gilley, Bernie Tokarz and Jarr Rosenbaum who all worked closely with us over the years; and we appreciate the work of the staff.
I think that if you look at one of the things that this bill has also done in this atmosphere where earmarks are under a lot of scrutiny, in 2006 this bill had $865 million in earmarks. The bill we are looking at tonight has $219 million. That is a substantial reduction. In 2008 there were about 400 earmarks in the bill, and now we're down to about 322. So we're making a lot of progress in reducing the number of earmarks, and that is a good thing.
What this bill does not have though is spending reductions; and unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, we spend a lot of time talking about increase in spending, but we don't talk about efficiency and effectiveness. The purpose of Congress really shouldn't be just to spend more money on an authorized program. We should make sure that the programs are effective, they're efficient, and are doing their intended purpose. Increasing WIC or increasing food stamps, is that a good thing? I would challenge that premise that it's not necessarily a good thing. It may be a necessary thing to do. But just because we've increased food stamps or WIC spending, I don't think we can polish off our halos and pat ourselves on the back. I think it underscores a situation in society that we need to be addressing, some of it in this committee, some of it in the authorizing committee; but certainly all Members of Congress, what do you do to help encourage people to be more independent so they do not have to depend on the U.S. Congress year after year? Spending in this bill is up about 14 percent overall. It's a $123.8 billion bill. The discretionary portion is up nearly 13 percent from about $20 billion to nearly $23 billion. The FDA is up 13 percent, from $2.6 billion to about $3 billion; and CFTC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has gone from $140 million to $160 million, which is about a 14 percent increase.
Now for these increases, what will we get for the taxpayer dollar? What does it do for us? It just really, we know, grows the bureaucracy. It doesn't always get something done better or faster. I think that when we spend more money, we should have a measurement of the expectation, particularly in an economy that is floundering, an economy right now that has an $11 trillion national debt. I think my colleagues here don't need me to remind them where money comes from. We print it; we tax it from those who have earned it; or we borrow it from countries such as China, to whom we owe about $622 billion right now. Truly the national debt is a big problem. It's not the 500-pound gorilla in the room. It's, rather, a whole lot of gorillas that are in the room.
I think as a Republican, one reason why we are in the minority is because we spent too much money. Republicans had a brand identity of being fiscal conservatives, and unfortunately we threw that away. There was a war. There was a hurricane. There were flooding problems. There was terrorism. There were domestic attacks. But that's not an excuse. However, now, particularly with this administration, spending seems to be on supercharge; and as government increases in size, the private sector seems to decrease in size.
Take, for example, the recently passed stimulus program, $790 billion in deficit spending at a time when unemployment was 8 percent; and the President said we have to do something that will give us drastic and immediate results. Now instead of that unemployment rate being decreased, it's almost 10 percent; and 1.5 million new people are out of work since the passage of the stimulus program. Yet here we are again tonight, saying we can pass a bill with a 14 percent increase on it, and that is synonymous with good. Mr. Lewis on the committee actually offered a substitute amendment in what we call
the 302(b) allocation that would have actually held spending to a 2 percent increase over last year's level. That was rejected on a party-line vote. But I think Mr. Lewis was trying to say, we've got to rein in control of the spending because it's clear more spending does not create more jobs.
There are other issues in this bill which we, in the minority, have tried to address through amendments. Now unfortunately despite the fact that we turned in to the Rules Committee 90 amendments--and I'll say I had not seen those amendments. I was trying to focus our minority efforts on about 8 to 10 to 12 particular amendments, amendments which I thought were substantial, substantive, that were good government, maybe philosophical disagreements here or there; and I had lots of communication with our Members. So I'm not sure where the other 70 to 80 amendments came from. But I do know with the prefiling of amendments that Members are more inclined to throw a lot of amendments out there to the Rules Committee in order to protect themselves should they decide to go forward on their amendments because if they don't prefile, then they can't even have consideration. But because of the continuing practice of closed rules, most of these amendments, of course, were rejected. Tonight I believe we're going to be looking at two or three substantive amendments, then some earmark amendments, and then a couple of noncontroversial amendments. And I'm appreciative of that. But I do think that we should open up this process a lot more.
There are other things that we should be discussing that are not in this bill, like a limitation on housing payments for illegal aliens. We need to be discussing categorical eligibility for food stamps; and this is a practice widespread right now in the States where if you qualify for one entitlement program, then you're automatically going to be enrolled in food stamps. What the unintended consequence of that is, some people who have substantial net worth are going to be able to get food stamps because they're unemployed. And we all know, tragically, a lot of people are unemployed right now; but some of them have a lot of assets in the bank. Yet under the State interpretations of categorical eligibility, they're automatically enrolled in food stamps. I think that's taking away food stamps from somebody who truly deserves it. We are unable to have an amendment on that. Also payment limitations to farmers who are ineligible for programs. From 2003 to 2006 the USDA discovered about $50 million that was paid to farmers who were not eligible to receive payments. I think that should be addressed in this bill a little more closely than it is. We did offer an amendment on that, but it was not supported. In 2006 the food stamp program made $1.29 billion in overpayments. An amendment that would have prohibited illegal recipients from getting the money I think would have been something good for this bill, but that was not accepted. There was another amendment offered on P.L. 480. It's interesting, P.L. 480, we have increased that substantially. That's our foreign food assistance program. It has popular, broad bipartisan support. But on the same hand, I don't think we had enough oversight, enough discussion as to why that spending needed to spike up to the tune of getting $700 billion in a supplemental bill and then another $464 million in this bill. These things are of great concern to me, and we will discuss some of these in more detail.
I look forward to the debate. I look forward to the amendments. Again, I want to close with where I started with my chairwoman. I enjoy working on the committee, enjoy working with the staff; and we're going to continue to be engaged in this process. It won't just end tonight. We're going to make sure that we follow this bill all the way through; and to the degree that the minority is able to participate, we will be there. But thank you for letting us work with you.
I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. KINGSTON. I yield myself such time as I may consume, Mr. Chairman.
I want to make a statement on behalf of myself and Mr. Frank of Massachusetts and Ms. Brown of Florida regarding the domestic catfish industry, and if the Chair wants to respond, fine; but we have discussed this.
And it actually came a little bit late in the hearing process to do anything about, but I wanted to give some background. In 2008 the farm bill created a new USDA catfish inspection program that requires the USDA to define what is considered a catfish.
Now, the reason this is important is because the FDA traditionally does the inspection on fish, not the USDA. But now we put in this farm bill, the USDA, in the catfish business. This was pushed by the domestic catfish industry, asserting that Chinese catfish processors would not be able to meet the USDA equivalency requirements of continuous inspection and thus could not export competing products to the United States.
And as somebody who comes from farm country, I know that dealing with foreign competition is very tough because sometimes they subsidize their producers, and maybe they have different regulatory requirements or they have some unfair advantage over the domestic producers. And yet at the same time, the ability to buy food internationally often brings down the price, increases the quality sometimes and increases the number of choices for our consumers. So it is a desirable thing for the United States Government to want to have people import food.
But the FDA uses a hazard analysis critical control point risk-based system that has worked very, very well. But now, under this, we are having the USDA get into the catfish inspection program, which probably is not as--well, it's just not going to be as effective as the FDA program.
The problem is the Chinese begin to grow and export a catfish to the United States called the ictaluridae. And, meanwhile, the Vietnamese started growing something called the pangasius. And these species are very different. Just like a human being is different from a baboon, so are these two different types of fish.
But what is happening now, the domestic catfish industry is pushing the USDA to adopt a broad definition of catfish beyond the ictaluridae and include the pangasius. And I know you got all of that, Mr. Chairman, because I did too the first time.
And the concern that I have is that the USDA really does not have the expertise to broaden their mission to start making definitions on a different type fish than what the farm bill asked them to look into. So I am very concerned about that, as is Mr. Frank, as is Ms. Brown from Florida. And I know other Members are as well, and we really do not want to see the USDA go beyond the mission and include this pangasius in their definition of catfish.
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Mr. KINGSTON. Well, I thank the gentlewoman for those remarks, and I think that your uncertainty with the reliability of USDA on Chinese chicken I share with the USDA on catfish.
There is a lot to continue to discuss. And it's interesting, Mr. Chairman, as we talk about our trade relations, and I think that the gentlewoman does make a very good point that we have to be sure that our desire to trade with countries doesn't blur the food safety mission that we also have.
I was reminded, though, on the 4th of July that of the $211 million worth of fireworks that we exploded all around the Nation, most of it came from China. And of the flags and buntings that we displayed on the 4th of July, $340 million worth, most of that came from China as well.
So we do have a great deal--we have got a big challenge in front of us as we look at our second largest trade partner in China to figure out, you know, what are some of these lines and boundaries.
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