Nov. 20, 2004
CONSOLIDATED APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2005-CONFERENCE REPORT
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to oppose the Omnibus appropriations bill. I think the American people would be appalled by the process under which the Senate is considering this bill. Provisions have been added that have never been debated, never had a hearing, and never had a vote in the Senate. It is thousands of pages long, and yet the Senate has had only a few hours to read the bill. We are just beginning to learn about all of the provisions that have been added.
Already, we have learned about an outrageous provision that would allow for a complete reversal of longstanding privacy protections. The bill contains a provision that allows Appropriations Committee chairman, or their designees, to review the tax returns of any American citizen. Any individual, any corporation could have their very private information poured over by any number of people. Not only would the private, sensitive tax information be available to the Chairmen and their staffs-they would be able to distribute that information without incurring any penalties. This egregious "oversight" is inexcusable. That a provision with this impact, on both privacy rules and on powers of the Senate, would be slipped in at the midnight hour with no oversight, is an offense to every Member of the Senate and most importantly, to the American people.
While I am relieved that promises have been made to remove this egregious provision, this is just an example of the danger that comes with rushing a bill like this through the Senate. This is simply indefensible. The American people deserve a more serious effort, and I cannot support a bill that has been rushed through in this manner.
I am also troubled by much of what we already know about this bill. This bill demonstrates that the budget deficit our Nation is facing today is causing real cuts in important programs and real pain for working families. These tight budget numbers are the consequence of a fiscal policy that puts reckless and expensive tax cuts for the wealthiest in our country above all other priorities. That policy has left us with huge deficits and the inability to fully fund some of our Nation's most pressing needs-needs like education, health care, law enforcement and housing. Clearly, we need to take another look at our Nation's fiscal policy and finally put together a budget plan that meet the needs of American families.
The Omnibus appropriations bill before us simply falls short on too many of our priorities. I recognize that it includes a $500 million increase for the title I education program for disadvantaged students and a $607 million increase for special education. I am grateful that increases were provided during these difficult times but let's not forget that even with these increases, funding for No Child Left Behind is still far below the levels authorized when the law passed. We are still not coming anywhere close to our commitment to fund 40 percent of the costs of special education. And once again, the maximum Pell Grant award has been frozen leaving more students with higher student loan debts or shut out of higher education altogether. These are just a few examples. I believe we should be able to do better when it comes to our Nation's students and schools.
In addition, I am very disappointed with the practical elimination of the COPS Universal Hiring program. The Omnibus appropriations bill allocates a paltry $10 million for this nationwide program-a program that has added tens of thousands of police officers to police departments across the country. Not surprisingly, the COPS program has been overwhelmingly popular among our local police departments in Wisconsin and beyond. Moreover, crime has been steadily decreasing in the past decade thanks in part to the COPS program. A mere $10 million is not enough for a program that received more than $300 million just a few years ago. Quite simply, this appropriations bill demonstrates an insensitivity to the needs of our police officers who are also the first line of defense in the war on terror.
This Omnibus bill also contains inadequate support for energy saving research. One of the programs that I was disappointed did not receive sufficient funding in this bill was the Department of Energy's Industrial Technologies program. This program is an important effort to invest in our manufacturing base by increasing energy efficiency. This program invests in research to improve industrial energy efficiency and environmental performance in eight basic, energy intensive industries named by DoE as Industries of the Future: aluminum, chemicals, forest products, glass, metal casting, mining, petroleum and steel.
An example of such a program in Wisconsin that is applicable to all eight DOE Industries of the Future in Wisconsin is the project "Wireless Sensor Network for Advanced Energy Management Solutions" which applies advanced communications and sensors technology to industrial motors. The projected benefits from this program in 2020 include energy savings of 279 trillion Btus, $1.3 billion and 116 million pounds of pollutant reduction.
It is my hope that DOE reconsider this very important technology development and that the Interior Appropriations subcommittee focus next year on this program because of the impact it will have on our manufacturing capabilities in the United States.
I am also very concerned about the across-the-board cut that is included in this bill. The bill includes a cut of 0.83 percent that will apply to every program. That means the increases some programs received will be scaled back, and those programs that received flat funding will actually get a cut from last year's levels after the across-the-board reduction goes into effect.
I am particularly disappointed that this bill fails to address one critical area that is very important to me regarding dairy. As I have stated many times before on the floor of the Senate, dairy is an extremely important part of the economy of the Upper Midwest. For Wisconsin alone, employment associated with dairy farming, processing and related activities is estimated to be about 160,000, generating roughly $5 billion in income annually.
During the 2002 farm bill, a new dairy program was created, called the Milk Income Loss Contract, MILC, program, to provide countercyclical assistance to all dairy farmers in the nation, whenever market prices for milk fall below certain trigger levels. The program provides assistance in the form of direct payments to producers, up to the first 2.4 million pounds of production annually, when market prices are low. While the MILC program uses the market as a reference price to trigger assistance, it does not directly intervene into the market.
In 2002 and the first half of 2003, dairy prices reached 25-year lows. During that time, the MILC program provided dairy producers with much needed assistance. Wisconsin dairy producers have received $413 million in assistance under the program to date.
Without a doubt, dairy producers prefer to receive their income from the marketplace. Fortunately, milk prices have recovered over the last year, and as a result, the MILC program is now dormant. However, the safety net provided by the MILC program has been extremely helpful, particularly during times of low market prices. Unfortunately, the MILC program is scheduled to expire in September of 2005, 2 years earlier than the rest of the farm bill commodity programs.
Recognizing this problem, a bipartisan, multiregional coalition of Senators sought to remedy the situation during this year's appropriations process by extending the MILC program for 2 more years. Such an extension would put the MILC program on equal footing with other farm bill commodity programs.
On October 7, the President of the United States personally entered the debate on MILC extension. He traveled to Wisconsin to voice his support for the MILC program and before a group of Wisconsin dairy families stated:
I know that the Milk Income Lost Contract Program is important to the dairy farmers here in Wisconsin. The milk program is set to expire next fall. I look forward to working with Congress to reauthorize the program so Wisconsin dairy farmers and dairy farmers all across this country can count on the support they need.
Our effort to extend the MILC program was also endorsed by a bipartisan, multiregional group of Governors. I ask unanimous consent that the Governors' letter of support be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
Nov. 12, 2004.
Hon. TED STEVENS,
Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee,
Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.
Hon. ROBERT BYRD,
Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee,
Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC.
Hon. BILL YOUNG,
Chair, House Appropriations Committee,
Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC.
Hon. DAVID OBEY,
Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee,
Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC.
DEAR SENATORS STEVENS AND BYRD; REPRESENTATIVES YOUNG AND OBEY: We are writing today to urge you to support a two-year extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, as was recently passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 18 to five.
The MILC program, created by the 2002 farm bill, has been extremely helpful to dairy producers nationwide, by providing financial assistance when milk prices fall below certain target prices. The program has helped to stem the tide of dairy farm loss in our states, especially when milk prices fell to historic lows in 2002 and the first half of 2003.
Without question, dairy producers in our states prefer to receive their income from the market. As designed, the MILC program is dormant when market prices are strong, as they have been during most of 2004. When milk prices fall, however, the MILC program provides an effective safety net for the dairy-dependent communities in our states.
Unfortunately, the MILC program is scheduled to expire on September 30, 2005, two years earlier than the other farm bill programs, The bipartisan Senate provision would extend the MILC program by two years, to bring it in line with the timing of the rest of the farm bill, assuring a continued safety net for dairy farmers nationwide in the event of future price declines.
We therefore strongly urge you to support the inclusion of the Senate MILC extension provision on one of the remaining Fiscal Year 2005 appropriations conference reports scheduled for enactment this year.
Governor Jim Doyle, Wisconsin.
Governor Mark R. Warner, Virginia.
Governor Bob Holden, Missouri.
Governor Edward Rendell, Pennsylvania.
Governor John Baldacci, Maine.
Governor Jennifer Granholm, Michigan.
Governor Mike Rounds, South Dakota.
Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Louisiana.
Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota.
Governor James H. Douglas, Vermont.
Govemor Michael Easley, North Carolina.
Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho.
Governor Tom Vilsack, Iowa.
Governor George E. Pataki, New York.
Governor Bob Taft, Ohio.
Governor John Hoeven, North Dakota.
Mr. KOHL. Our MILC extension was adopted twice by Senate conferees on appropriations measures, and each time it was shot down by House negotiators. Notwithstanding assurances of executive support and gubernatorial support, House Republican negotiators thwarted our efforts to include MILC extension in the various appropriations measures. I am extremely disappointed they did so.
One can reasonably assume, given the President's assurances in Wausau, WI, that MILC extension will be a part of his budget submission next year. While that is welcome, I caution my fellow MILC supporters and dairy farmers all across the nation to take that eventual development with a grain of salt.
Budget resolutions themselves are not enacted into law. They form a blueprint for subsequent Congressional action. Putting MILC in the President's budget, by itself, won't get the job done. It will take concerted and cooperative effort on both sides of the capitol to extend the MILC program.
Despite the serious problems I have noted above, it is worth mentioning several positive things in this bill that are of importance to my State, and I want to thank the chairman and ranking member, Senators STEVENS and BYRD, for working to accommodate my priorities.
First, I am pleased that juvenile justice programs fared much better than the President's original budget request. In that proposal, juvenile justice programs-which fund afterschool and other juvenile crime prevention programs, intervention initiatives that work to redirect troubled teens, youth mentoring programs, substance abuse prevention and education projects, and programs that help keep kids out of gangs-received just under $200 million. Through our work with Senators GREGG and HOLLINGS throughout the year, we have been able to increase that number to $384 million in this appropriations bill and I thank my colleagues for their support and cooperation. Though encouraging, we must remember that juvenile justice programs and our children deserve more funding than that. Just three years ago, these programs received roughly $550 million. Dollars spent on juvenile crime prevention is a wise investment. We can and must do better.
I am also grateful for the efforts of Senators SPECTER and HARKIN in working so hard to accomodate my State's needs for additional funding for Hmong refugees. The U.S. Government announced in December, 2003, that 15,000 Hmong refugees living in Thailand would be resettled in our country, primarily in Wisconsin, Minnesota and California. The resources provided in this bill will provide job training, health care, education and other support services and help our communities assist them with their basic needs. I know it was very difficult to find scarce resources in this tight budget, and I greatly appreciate the hard work of Senator Specter and Senator Harkin to meet this need.
The bill before us also makes progress in meeting the need to provide assistance for low-income people trying to pay their rising heating bills. Funding for LIHEAP has been seriously underfunded coming into the heating season. As the prices of heating oil and natural gas continue to go up, an economic disaster was around the corner for many working families. While this bill did not provide the entire $600 million in emergency funds that many of my colleagues and I thought was necessary, it did provide $300 million. This additional funding raises to $2.2 billion the amount of regular and emergency funding available to help families meet there energy needs. In my state of Wisconsin, this account is crucial to helping the disadvantaged make it through the long winter.
In addition, one of my top priorities this year has been to restore full funding for the Commerce Department's Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, so I am especially pleased that we have been able to provide a total of $109 million for this vital program, a dramatic increase above the fiscal year 2004 funding of $39 million and a $3 million increase above funding in fiscal year 2003. Wisconsin is one of the most manufacturing-dependent States in the Nation, second only to Indiana, and this budget will be able to support the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership program and the Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center, the two MEP centers in my State. MEP provides critical assistance to small- and medium-sized manufacturers throughout the Nation. It is one of the only Federal programs which exists to help manufacturers maintain their technological edge and thus, retain jobs. Unfortunately, the fiscal year 2004 budget and the administration's fiscal year 2005 budget request included deep cuts to the program leading to the firing of staff and the closing of local offices around the country. While we were able to get the Commerce Department to reprogram some funding at the end of fiscal year 2004 to stave off further cuts, it was essential that we put this program back on track for fiscal year 2005.
In addition, I am pleased we have added bipartisan legislation to the Omnibus that will extend the benefits of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act for another five years. We needed to act quickly to extend some sections of the satellite law we passed in 1999 because they were set to expire this year. To be sure, compromises were made to achieve this goal. But, we feel a deal was struck that is fair to all parties-consumers, satellite companies, and broadcasters alike.
Let me discuss how this bill will further spur competition between cable and satellite, which in turn will benefit consumers. Our bill will allow satellite companies to retransmit "significantly viewed" stations into local markets on a royalty-free basis. Cable companies have enjoyed this privilege for years, and it is time to extend this right to the satellite industry. By doing so, satellite companies will be able to craft a local channel line-up more similar to what cable currently offers.
Furthermore, through working with my colleagues, particularly Senator Hatch, we were able to assist low power TV stations, like Channel 41 in Milwaukee, carry valuable local programming and sports broadcasts that other stations do not carry. Satellite television consumers in southeastern Wisconsin and around the country will benefit from more local programs and more choices. It represents a tremendous win for consumers and local sports fans. Simply, we extended a statutory license to low power TV stations in the same way those stations receive that privilege in the cable world. This is an important pro-consumer measure that we are able to successfully include in the Omnibus.
Finally, this bill includes funding for many important programs that will improve the lives of people in Wisconsin. Projects that provide job training, health care and dental care to uninsured families, afterschool programs, mental health services, caregiver training, transportation, crime prevention and economic development-all of these programs will have a real benefit for families and communities in my State. I am grateful for the hard work of the committee in accomodating these Wisconsin priorities.
As ranking member of the Agriculture Subcommittee, I would also like to make a few remarks about what is included in Division A of the bill, providing fiscal year 2005 appropriations for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
First of all, I want to congratulate Senator Bennett who has now completed his second year as chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee. In the period he has served as our chairman, his grasp of the policies, programs, and problems related to this subcommittee's jurisdiction has been outstanding. It has been a great pleasure for me to work with him, and I look forward to our continuing partnership next year.
Again this year the resources available to the Agriculture Subcommittee have witnessed a decrease from the previous year. Yet in spite of those constraints, Chairman BENNETT was able to provide some important increases to benefit American consumers and those who live and work in our rural areas. This conference report includes more than $5 billion for the WIC program. This amount is significantly higher than the fiscal year 2004 level or that of either the House or Senate bills. This appropriation will help meet caseload requirements for the coming year in spite of higher than expected food costs and participation rates.
This conference report includes new funding for a number of plant and animal disease problems including research for soybean rust, mad cow disease, avian influenza and a number of other emerging issues. More than $33 million is provided to establish a national animal identification program, as is funding related to conservation, rural development, food and drug safety, and more.
However, I must mention concerns I have with this conference report. I am concerned about reductions in the rural water and wastewater programs. Further, although the Public Law 480 title II program is funded at near the Senate level, worsening conditions around the world and the administration's reluctance to use the Emerson Humanitarian Trust, worries me that international food assistance may fall short and our contributions to humanitarian relief around the world may go wanting.
I also feel it is important to mention a growing, and unfortunate, practice on which this subcommittee has had to rely again this year. In order to achieve the funding levels for discretionary programs that we have in this conference report, serious reductions or rescissions in other programs had to be realized. This is not a wholly new occurrence. For many years, this subcommittee has effected limitations on a number of mandatory programs, notably those funded through various farm bills, in order to meet discretionary targets. However, due to a strangling of resources provided to this subcommittee in discretionary allocations, reductions in mandatory programs are becoming more and more severe.
My grave fear is if discretionary constraints continue at the rate we have seen the past couple of years, we will hit the limit on savings we can achieve and there will be nothing left to rescind. If and when that happens, the demands for carrying out farm programs, protecting American consumers, ensuring food and drug safety, keeping our environment clean, providing basic services for rural families, and meeting new challenges such as mad cow disease, soybean rust and all the rest will not diminish and we will simply not be able to provide what is necessary. On that day, we, and all of America, will be standing in the middle of a very tragic train wreck and we will all be asking each other how and why we let this happen. I hope that before that day comes, we will be able once again to have the resources necessary to meet the demands we were given the trust to overcome.
Having said that, I do want to praise the work of Chairman BENNETT. With the limitations I have just outlined, he has crafted a very balanced bill that will serve America well. He has done an outstanding job with limited resources and we should all be very proud of him for that.
I also want to recognize the majority staff who has worked so well with mine on putting this conference report together. I would like to mention Fitzhugh Elder, Hunter Moorhead, and Dianne Preece. I especially want to recognize the majority clerk, Pat Raymond, for her outstanding service, not just to his subcommittee, but to the Senate overall. I want to note that Pat will be leaving the Senate after the first of the year and we will all miss her and wish her well.
I would also like to recognize Galen Fountain, Jessica Arden, Bill Simpson, Tom Gonzales and Meagan McCarthy of the minority staff and Phil Karsting of my personal staff for all their hard work on this bill.
While I am pleased that the Omnibus appropriations bill includes many of my priorities, on balance, I cannot support it. First, this bill shortchanges too many of our nation's most important priorities. This Nation's fiscal policy throughout the last several years has led to large and irresponsible deficits, and as a result, we are facing an appropriations bill that is unable to meet some of the most pressing needs of our families and communities.
Finally, I cannot support this bill because the process by which it was put together and rushed through the Senate has been unacceptable. It is three thousand pages long and we have had only a matter of hours to review it. We have already learned about an egregious provision that would infringe on the privacy of Americans' tax returns, and as we have more time to review the bill, it is likely we will find more troubling provisions. I hope that this unfortunate process will not be repeated in the future. People in Wisconsin and across the Nation expect a more serious effort from the Senate. I urge my colleagues to oppose the conference report.