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Public Statements

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food And Drug Administration, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I intend to have three amendments considered. I discussed with the majority leader and the Republican leader how we would proceed. So at this time, after I make a brief remark about amendment No. 1910, I will be calling up amendment No. 1912 and amendment No. 2030, both of which are at the desk.

Amendment No. 1910 eliminates, as suggested and recommended strongly by the President of the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's High Energy Cost Grant Program. This is a $17.5 million subsidy designed to pay for energy generation systems in rural areas. This program was proposed for termination by the administration because it is duplicative of existing programs, including USDA's own Rural Utilities Service Loan Program.

Under the fiscal year 2010 budget, the Rural Utilities Service Program would provide $6.6 billion in electric loans at no cost to the taxpayers. In comparison, providing $17.5 million in grants, as opposed to a loan, actually costs the taxpayer $17.5 million. Moreover, Senators should know there is $20 million in unobligated high energy cost grants still available from the previous year.

This is the submission to Congress, the budget of the U.S. Government for fiscal year 2010, by the Office of Management and Budget. Guess what. In there is a page that is titled ``Termination: High Energy Cost Grant, Department of Agriculture.'' It goes on to say:

The administration proposes to eliminate the High Energy Cost Grants program because it is duplicative of and less effective than the Rural Utilities Service's electric loan program.

Those are not my words, those are the words of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, who, at the direction of the President of the United States, prepared this document of certain programs that should be eliminated.

It goes on to say:

The 2010 budget proposes elimination of the duplicative High Energy Cost Grants program in favor of electric loans, which are more cost effective from the standpoint of the taxpayer. Using loans to provide support is less expensive than using grants because loans provide more support ..... with fewer appropriated dollars. For example, the 2010 budget provides for $6.6 billion in electric loans at no cost to the taxpayer. In comparison, providing $18 million in grants costs the taxpayers $18 million. In addition, the funds for High Energy Cost Grants have not been obligated in a timely manner and $20 million in balances from previous year funding are still available.

In other words, this amendment eliminates a duplicative, unnecessary program, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and at the President's request, he has sent over one of the programs they want eliminated. So somehow it ends up back in the appropriations bill.

It seems to me it is a pretty clear-cut case again that at some point we have to try to make some kinds of cost savings. I admit, as we are throwing around billions and trillions of dollars, as we do here lately, $17.5 million is probably not much money given the kind of behavior the Congress and the administration have been up to lately. I would still argue, though, to millions of Americans, including those in my home State of Arizona, $17.5 million--in the view of the administration and a clear argument, it is not a complicated issue--should be eliminated.

I hope we will be able to vote on this amendment.

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Mr. McCAIN. This amendment eliminates the U.S. Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program, also known as the Small Watersheds Program.

This program is a textbook example of how reckless earmarks can devastate a government program. Like the previous four Presidents' budgets, the administration proposes to terminate this account because Congress has earmarked virtually all of this program in recent years, meaning that the agency is unable to prioritize projects on any merit-based criteria such as cost effectiveness.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Small Watersheds Program was 97 percent earmarked in fiscal year 2009, which severely marginalized the USDA's ability to evaluate and prioritize projects. Earmarks may partly be to blame for the findings of a 2003 Office of Management and Budget study that showed this program has a lower economic return than any other Federal flood prevention program, including those in the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The onslaught of earmarks over the years has almost certainly contributed to the current backlog of about 300 unfunded authorized small watershed projects totaling $1.2 billion. As it was originally intended, the Small Watersheds Program may be a worthwhile program. I am sure we will hear a vigorous defense of this program. But by inundating it with so-called congressionally designated projects, the program is challenged to function properly to the point where the administration would rather see it gone.

Note this. Our friends on the Appropriations Committee have not given up on plundering it yet. This bill provides $24.3 million for this program, including $16.5 million in earmarks for projects such as $2 million for the Pocasset River in Rhode Island, which is not authorized; $1.5 million for Dunloup Creek in West Virginia, which is not authorized; and $1 million for the DuPage County Watershed in Illinois, which is not authorized, to name a few.

I refer back again to the Office of Management and Budget publication entitled ``Terminations, Reductions and Savings,'' where the administration proposes to terminate watershed and flood prevention operation programs. Congress has earmarked virtually all of this program in recent years, meaning that agencies are unable to prioritize projects on any merit-based criteria such as cost effectiveness.

So, again, these first two amendments, the President of the United States, the Office of Management and Budget, most any casual observer would argue need to be eliminated.

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Mr. McCAIN. This amendment is very simple. It prohibits funding of the $250,0000 earmark for the Iowa Vitality Center at Iowa State University.

This earmark is a textbook example of how difficult it is to stop funding for
an earmark once it starts. According to the Web site of the earmark sponsor, since fiscal year 2001, the Iowa Vitality Center has received $2,579,000. For what? What is so vital about the Iowa Vitality Center that it has required over $2.5 million of scarce taxpayer funds?

Well, according to their own Web site, the purpose of the Iowa Community Vitality Center is to serve as a catalyst in fostering collaborative public-private partnerships among nonmetro community interests to stimulate vitality and address barriers to growth.

I am not making that up. I am not making it up. That is what the Web site says. Let me repeat. We spent $2.5 million. The purpose of the Iowa Community Vitality Center is to serve as a catalyst in fostering collaborative public-private partnerships among nonmetro community interests to stimulate vitality and address barriers to growth.

Is there anyone who has a clue as to what that means? I wanted to be clear. I am not questioning the merits of this program, but I am questioning the process. Why was this funding earmarked? If the Vitality Center is such a critical national priority at this time, why wasn't the funding authorized since 2001 or requested by the President in his budget submission?

The funding for the Vitality Center is often justified as helping communities ``plan strategically'' and as ``representing diverse interest across the state.'' However, the sponsors of the earmark neglect to explain why 10 years of strategic planning have been insufficient to accomplish this center's stated purpose.

Our current economic situation and our vital national security interest concerns require, now more than ever, that we prioritize our Federal spending. We need to prove to the American people that we are serious about changing the way we do business and we should start with ending the practice of earmarking. We need to put our national priorities first and eliminate unnecessary wasteful earmarks such as the Iowa Vitality Center.

The Agriculture appropriations bill for the year 2010 spends about $123 billion in direct and mandatory spending, an amount that is approximately $234 million above the administration's budget request. We debate this legislation in the shadow of the fiscal year 2009 omnibus bill, the omnibus bill which doled out $108 billion for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, as well as the infamous economic stimulus package which provided another $26.5 billion in agricultural spending. So 2009 is certainly a good year to be a U.S. Department of Agriculture program office.

I acknowledge that many of the programs funded by this are valid for providing important services to the agricultural community at large. I commend the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for reporting this bill in a timely manner. I agree we should ensure that our farmers stay out of the red and that some Federal involvement is necessary to assist low-income families under the nutrition programs.

Unfortunately, Congress once again has conformed to the practice of diverting precious taxpayer dollars into an array of special interest projects which have not been authorized or requested, and in the case of two of these, they have been requested to be terminated by the administration.

The committee report accompanying this bill contains 296 congressionally directed spending items, a fancy new term for ``earmarks,'' totaling over $220 million. None of these projects was requested by the administration. Many of them were not authorized or competitively bid in any way. No hearings were held to judge whether these were national priorities worthy of scarce taxpayer dollars. They are in this bill for one reason and one reason only--because of the prerogatives of a select few Members of the Senate to serve their own interests over those of the American taxpayer.

Let's take a look at some of the earmarks. Let's take a look at some of the earmarks that are in this bill and its accompanying reports. There is $250,000 for gypsy moth research in New Jersey. Don't gypsy moths travel all over the country? Why just New Jersey? Over the past 10 years, the taxpayer has funded $42.8 million worth of gypsy moth research.

There is $500,000 for the hemlock woolly adelgid at the University of Tennessee. This is an aphid-like insect. That is a lot of money for that bug.

There is $235,000 for noxious weed management in Nevada. I think a better term for this one is obnoxious. Over the past 10 years, over $15.4 million has been earmarked for Nevada noxious weed management.

There is $200,000 for cotton research at Texas Tech University. Congress subsidizes the industry, the cotton industry, to the tune of $3 billion a year.

There is $300,000 for floriculture at the University of Hawaii. Nearly $3.5 million has been earmarked for floriculture in the past 10 years.

There is $165,000 for the Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont. According to the center's director, Tim Perkins, Maple syrup science is a nose-and-mouth science. The technical term is organoleptic, which means you put it in your mouth and taste it, says Perkins. We get people who know the flavor of maple syrup, and off-flavors, and they try each one. Laboratory tests using gas chromatography provide a breakdown of the many compounds in the syrup, which supplements the tastebud approach. Since 1998, the University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center has received over $2.1 million in earmarks.

There is $75,000 for farm safety education for children in Iowa. Who better than a bureaucrat in Washington to teach a farmer's children to be safe. The 10-year total for earmarks for Iowa farm safety education--over $4.2 million.

There is $300,000 for shrimp aquaculture research at the University of Southern Mississippi Thad Cochran Marine Agricultural Center. Over the past 10 years, we have earmarked over $30.4 million on shrimp aquaculture research.

There is $1 million for potato research at Oregon State University. We have earmarked, over the past 10 years, $7.1 million for potato research.

There is $600,000 which is gobbled down by the National Wild Turkey Federation for projects in Nebraska, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Since fiscal year 2004, the National Wild Turkey Federation has received over $1.7 million in earmarks.

There is $265,000 for minimizing blackbird damage to sunflowers in North and South Dakota. This is an earmark ``regular'' for the Agriculture appropriations bill. Evidently the South Dakota sunflowers have a rather serious Alfred Hitchcock ``Birds'' problem. According to the USDA, blackbird management in North and South Dakota has received over $1.2 million over the past 5 years.

There is $200,000 for Washington State University to study goatgrass. Since 2003, $767,000 has been earmarked for goatgrass research.

There is $372,000 for the University of Pennsylvania to study dairy farm profitability. If you are relying on a federally mandated study to make your dairy farm profitable, you might want to find a new business plan, because nearly $3.8 million has been earmarked for dairy farm profitability over the last 10 years.

There is $288,000 for the Iowa Soybean Association. Since 2002, over $3.3 million has been earmarked for the Iowa Soybean Association. There is $1 million for Mormon cricket control in Nevada; the 10-year total for Mormon cricket control, nearly $13.7 million. There is $260,000 for wine grape research at Washington State University. According to Washington State University's own Web site, the wine industry generates $3 billion in their State, so we are going to pour another $260,000 into it. There is $350,000 for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to support the ``specialty meats industry.'' Specialty meats industry? Since 2004, the Wisconsin specialty meats industry has received over $12.7 million in earmarks. There is $340,000 for the Center for Beef Excellence in Pennsylvania. According to their own press release, the center was established by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture just last year. At least we can agree that a $340,000 handout from Congress is quite a good start. Over $1 million has been earmarked to the Center for Beef Excellence since 2005. There is $450,000 for the University of Northern Iowa to study agriculture-based lubricants. They have received over $3 million in the last 10 years.

It is not surprising that the largest earmark in this bill goes to Hawaii. The Aloha State bags $5 million to continue construction of an Agricultural Research Service center to study agricultural practices in the Pacific. As my colleagues might know, ARS construction is one of the most heavily earmarked accounts in government, so much so that the President's budget actually proposed zeroing out Agricultural Research Service center construction for fiscal year 2010 because ``Congress routinely earmarks small amounts of funding for [these projects] located throughout the nation. The result of scattering funding in this manner is that ..... few, if any, of the projects are able to reach the critical threshold of funding that would allow construction to begin. Funding construction over such a long time significantly increases the amount of money needed to fully complete these projects as well as postponing their completion for many years.''

So here we have a program that is earmarked so severely that it delays and drives up the cost of approved construction projects. Not only are we defiantly funding this Hawaiian facility, the bill provides a total of $47 million for a list of 15 of these facilities ranging from $4 million for a fruit lab in West Virginia to $2 million for an animal waste research facility in Kentucky.

Another amendment I have filed proposes striking the $50.7 million contained in this bill for USDA's Resource Conservation and Development Program, known as RC&D. The RC&D Program was created in 1962 to promote resource conservation through community-based conservation leadership councils. The RC&D councils have helped to leverage local funding for efforts such as soil mapping or erosion control for rural areas. The administration supports terminating this program because, in their own words:

After 47 years, the goal of the RC&D program has been accomplished. These councils have developed sufficiently strong state and local ties ..... and are now able to secure funding for their continued operation without Federal assistance. The program has been in operation for decades and these councils have a proven track record of success, showing that they have outlived the need for Federal funding.

A half-century-old program proposed for termination by this administration, yet retained by appropriators for its spoils.

I could go on for a long time.

This bill funds several other government programs that were proposed for termination in the President's budget. I filed amendments to strike these programs as well as zero out the ARS construction account. If successfully adopted, these amendments would save taxpayers over $144.5 million. As I have said throughout my comments, some of these programs may have merit and may be helpful to the designated communities. But considering our current budgetary crisis, it is inappropriate to include them in this year's agricultural spending bill, especially when they have been identified for termination or reduction.

I hope my colleagues will agree that we have higher spending priorities that are directly related to the purposes of this Agriculture bill. This bill is intended to address farmers, women, children, and rural communities with the greatest need and should not be used as a vehicle for piggybacking pet projects to get the support of special interest constituents.

It is no surprise that many of these earmarks are not included for practical purposes. I know many of my colleagues have spoken about the economic struggles of America's hard-working farmers and low-income families. The farmers and struggling families I know are tired of watching their hard-earned money go down the drain. I intend to fight every single unnecessary, unrequested, unauthorized earmark in this and every other appropriations bill.

I filed 313 amendments to this bill. The bulk of those amendments seek to strike the 296 earmarks, now humorously called ``congressionally directed spending items,'' in the committee report on this bill. I have now offered only three of these amendments. Let me assure my colleagues I have no problem with offering, debating, and voting on each and every one of the amendments I have filed. The time has come to end this practice.

This first amendment, which we may vote on today, I want to emphasize, eliminates, as recommended by the President and the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's High Energy Cost Grants Program, a $17.5 million subsidy designed to pay for energy generation systems in rural areas. It was proposed for termination by the administration because it is duplicative of existing programs. Under the fiscal year 2010 budget, the rural utility service program would provide $6.6 billion in electric loans at no cost to the taxpayers. Senators should know there is $20 million in unobligated high energy cost grants still available from last year.

I urge a ``yes'' vote on my amendment.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, this amendment eliminates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's High Energy Cost Grant Program which is a $17.5 million subsidy that is designed to pay for energy generation systems in rural areas.

The 2010 budget from the President of the United States and the Office of Management and Budget have recommended a number of programs be eliminated. Concerning this High Energy Cost Grant Program, it says:

The administration proposes to eliminate the High Energy Cost Grant Program because it is duplicative of and less effective than the Rural Utility Services Electric Loan Program.

This recommendation by the administration to eliminate this program is because it is both duplicative and unnecessary and there is a $6.6 billion program in electric loans at no cost to the taxpayer.

I recommend we agree with the President of the United States and eliminate this unnecessary $17.5 million subsidy.

I yield.

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