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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I thank the manager of the bill for her patience during this difficult time of many amendments and other priorities. I thank her for her patience and her courtesy as well as our Republican manager, the Senator from Mississippi.

This amendment is very minor in nature when we look at a $60 billion piece of legislation. But I think it has a certain amount of symbolism associated with it, which is why I bring it up, symbolism we all want to respond to an emergency and a tragedy such as befell the people of the Northeast as a result of this terrible hurricane and ongoing tragedies that continue. Our hearts go out to them. It is clearly an obligation of the Congress and President to do whatever is necessary to provide what comfort and relief we can to them. It is one of the obligations of government we all recognize.

But also, over the years, I have seen the tendency as one of these things happens, as they do from time to time, tragically, that we have a tendency to put money in things we otherwise would not get so easily or funds for programs that have nothing to do with addressing the tragedy or just an excess of funds in an act of generosity on the part of the Congress of the United States. That might be OK--might be OK under certain circumstances, but we have a $16 trillion debt. To appropriate more money without adequate justification for doing so is something that, sooner or later, we will have to stop.

I guess it was Margaret Thatcher who once said the problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money. My friends and colleagues, sooner or later we are going to run out of other people's money because they are going to stop lending it to us because we have a $16 trillion debt. Even though this is a relatively minor item, I think it is kind of symbolic of what we do around here. It is concerning the $58 million we are going to spend for the Department of Agriculture Forest Restoration Program for planting trees on private property.

Let me make that clear. We are going to spend $58 million for planting trees on private property. This amendment would strike that provision. This tree planting program called the Forest Restoration Program is actually a farm bill subsidy that was created in 2008. It is run by a relatively unknown government office called the Farm Service Agency, whatever that is, which was primarily responsible for managing crop insurance in rural counties. Under the program, ``nonindustrial private forest landowners'' can apply for up to $500,000 for a range of forest restoration activities, including tree planting.

Why is that the role of the Federal Government? Why is it the role of the Federal Government to pay for trees to be planted on private property, much less funded in a bill to repair the damage done by a hurricane.

There is nothing in the supplemental that limits the funding to just Hurricane Sandy. Under this bill, the $58 million can be used anywhere. According to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 45 percent of all forest land in the United States qualifies as ``nonindustrial private forestland.'' These lands are owned by approximately 11 million landowners, many of whom have holdings of fewer than 50 acres on average.

We know this program has cash. It received $11 million from Congress in 2010. It received an additional $28 million in the 2011 Omnibus Appropriations Act, more than doubling the program.

The Senate is proposing to double this subsidy again to $58 million. We know from the U.S. Department of Agriculture records the majority of funding has been used in past years for wind damaged trees in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. There remains an unobligated $15 million in the program's account.

I say to my colleagues, $58 million here, $58 million there, sooner or later it runs into real money. In fact, it runs into a $16 trillion debt. I come from a State, I say, Mr. President, where we love trees. We have not enough of them. In some parts of our State we have a lot of them. In some parts of our State it is kind of bleak--but beautiful. But I am not asking for any money for private owners in my State to plant trees. I think they can do that themselves.

Again, it is only $58 million. Maybe I am taking up the time of the Senate when we are talking about $60 billion, but it is an example, an outstanding example, of the kind of excess that does not have the priority to spend another $58 million of the taxpayers' money.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, as we debate the Hurricane Sandy Supplemental bill this week, it is critical that we ensure taxpayer dollars go to help those impacted by this devastating storm and not toward spending projects that are wasteful or not a priority at this time. This bill, unfortunately, goes way beyond emergency aid and funds projects that have little or nothing to do with meeting the immediate needs of individuals misplaced by Hurricane Sandy. At a time when we face ongoing trillion-dollar deficits, and a $16.3 trillion debt, we cannot justify this type of spending.

While some of the projects included in this bill may hold merit on their own, they should go through the normal budget and appropriations process, where Congress has time to vet the need for such spending requests.

To highlight this point, the Congressional Budget Office--CBO--examined both the Senate bill and the administration's request and found that that 64 percent of the funds appropriated under the Sandy Supplemental will not be spent until fiscal years 2015-2022 and after, therefore, raising concerns about the rush to spend $60.4 billion without any attempt to pay for it.

Just two weeks ago, FEMA Director Fugate told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the Disaster Relief Fund currently has enough money and will not need additional funding until the spring 2013. CBO's assessment, combined with the statement of Director Fugate clearly shows us that we need to pass a Sandy Supplemental bill that only includes prioritized disaster aid funding.

As I have examined this bill over this week, I have found numerous examples of questionable spending including billions to replace `Federal assets' damaged by the storm, including automobiles owned by the Federal Government. The Federal Government currently owns or leases over 660,000 vehicles--surely we can find replacements within our current inventory.

Shouldn't we focus on providing relief directly to those still trying to rebuild their lives before replacing a bureaucrat's car?

The new substitute also includes language expanding levee construction to include West North Central States, such as North Dakota. It also includes $2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane Sandy's path still have no permanent roof over their own heads, $150 million for fisheries as far away from the storm's path as Mississippi and Alaska, $125 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and droughts for areas including Colorado, $15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane `minimal.' On the day after the storm hit, NASA's Wallops Island put out a statement stating that ``an initial assessment team surveyed roads and facilities at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility today reporting a number of downed trees but otherwise minimal impact in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.'' To me, this raises a red flag that this NASA funding may not be an immediate emergency.

There is $58 million for the USDA ``Forest Restoration Program'' for planting trees on private property. This program is actually a Farm Bill subsidy program that's run by a relatively unknown agency called the ``Farm Service Administration,'' which is primarily responsible for managing crop insurance. Under this program, private landowners with about 50 acres of land can apply for up to $500,000 in free grants for tree planting activities. Not only is this a non-emergency need, there's nothing in the supplemental that limits the funding to Hurricane Sandy areas. Under this bill, this $58 million can be used just about anywhere.

There is $336 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK without a detailed plan for how the money will be spent. While some of the funding will go for repairs, money will also go to increasing passenger capacity to New York and future mitigation efforts. In a two page letter from AMTRAK that gives a broad description of how the $336 million will be spent, almost all of it falls under funding for improvements and future capital projects. This includes $191 million for AMTRAK to start design and construction of new Hudson River Tunnels, as part of the Gateway Program. According to AMTRAK, the Gateway Program, which was started in 2011 and is projected to cost over $13 billion, is ``a comprehensive program of infrastructure improvements to increase track, tunnel, bridge, and station capacity serving New York City that will improve current assets and allow the eventual doubling of passenger trains into Manhattan.'' I am not here to debate the merits or the need for new tunnels, but this is clearly a capital improvement project--unrelated to Hurricane Sandy. AMTRAK is up and running so it is not apparent why this funding is deemed ``emergency'' spending and included in this spending package. Keep in mind, AMTRAK receives roughly $1 billion in annual funding. Future mitigation projects should be debated in next year's budget process.

There is $5.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers--more than the Army Corps' annual budget--with little clarity on how the money will be spent. Included in the Senate bill is $50 million in funding for more studies, which will most definitely lead to additional Army Corp projects and a new Task Force established by Executive Order.

More projects are not something the Army Corps can handle. They are currently experiencing a backlog of construction and maintenance projects of approximately $70 billion. Furthermore, a 2010 report released by the Government Accountability Office noted that carryover funds have increased ``due to the large amount of supplemental funding the Corps has received in recent years.'' Clearly, supplemental spending on the Army Corps has not paid off. There is $10 million improve weather forecasting capabilities and infrastructure. The bill also includes roughly $13 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies, without identifying a single way to pay for it. While I understand that Mitigation is important to save money when future natural disasters occur, there is no justification to include these projects in this ``emergency'' spending bill. By waiting to fund these projects until next year during the normal budget and appropriations process, we will have a better understanding of the path forward and reduce the possibility of waste fraud and abuse.

As a nation, we are confronted with trillion dollar deficits, out of control spending in Washington and the imminent approach of an economically, devastating fiscal cliff. We do need to come to the aid of those who lost everything in Hurricane Sandy and are struggling to get their lives back together. Congress, however, cannot continue down this road of irresponsible spending. We must pass a true disaster spending bill that only spends money on disaster recovery and response, not pet projects.

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