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Public Statements

Nomination of Pamela Harris to be United States Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. BALDWIN. Madam President, we have an opportunity to address an issue of concern to foresting communities in Wisconsin and across the Nation in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill now pending before Congress.

The supplemental addresses a number of very urgent issues. The issue of unaccompanied minors who are crossing our southern border has rightly received much attention and there is, indeed, a crisis. I believe Congress must pass a supplemental appropriations bill to help address this humanitarian crisis.

This afternoon I wish to call attention to another emergency that Congress must address: extreme wildfires and the dysfunctional way the Federal Government manages our firefighting operations.

Devastating wildfires are raging in Washington and Oregon States, and many other States have felt the heartbreaking impact of major forest fire destruction. As I presided earlier today, I heard the two Senators from Washington State come to the floor and talk about the devastation the wildfires in their State are causing and the bravery of citizens who are facing these destructive fires. It is why I am pleased Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mikulski has drafted an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that includes $615 million for wildfire suppression. I thank her for her tremendous leadership in putting together a strong bill, and I urge Congress to take up and pass this legislation without delay to provide much needed support to these suffering communities.

But it is not just Western States that feel the impact of wildfires. In fact, a State such as Wisconsin is hurt very significantly by a broken budget process called fire borrowing. It forces the U.S. Forest Service to take funding intended to manage our forests and instead use it for wildfire suppression. In fact, fire borrowing is a misnomer. The money is never paid back. This cripples the U.S. Forest Service and diverts critical funding from my home State and many others.

In Wisconsin, over 50,000 people are employed in the forest products industry, from jobs in forestry and logging to paper makers in the State's many mills. The industry pays over $3 billion in wages into the State's economy and ships products worth over $17 billion each year.

Unfortunately, fire borrowing has led to long project delays that are impacting this vital industry and jeopardizing the jobs which it supports.

The practice of fire borrowing has increased in recent years, triggered when we have a bad fire season and the Forest Service runs out of funds available for firefighting. When the firefighting funding is gone, the agency transfers funds from other parts of its budget and borrows them to pay for the fire suppression. When these funds are diverted, agency work is simply put on hold.

No business owner would select a supplier who couldn't provide a clear delivery schedule or who would routinely delay delivery of products for undetermined amounts of time. Loggers and other local businesses that partner with the Forest Service have to deal with just such uncertainty because of fire borrowing. Government can work better than this.

Fortunately, the Senate emergency supplemental appropriations bill would solve this broken process by treating the largest fires as other natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes, and it would stabilize the rest of the Forest Service budget so that other essential work, ranging from timber sales to the management of forest health, can be completed on schedule.

Furthermore, the proposal is fiscally responsible, because it would help reduce long-term costs by allowing for increased fire prevention activities and because it would not increase the amount that Congress can spend on natural disasters.

Ending fire borrowing has strong bipartisan support. In fact, over 120 Members of the House and Senate, and more than 200 groups ranging from the timber industry to conservation groups, to the National Rifle Association, support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act--the bipartisan bill that contains the fire borrowing fix included in the supplemental. The consensus is we need to get this fix done this year.

While there is strong bipartisan support for ending fire borrowing, it is unclear if the House of Representatives is going to support this fix in the supplemental appropriations bill that is being considered now. In fact, my friend, the House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, has consistently stood in the way of bipartisan solutions offered in both the House and the Senate. He has ignored the fact that the current budget structure is flawed and has resulted in the Forest Service taking the forest management funding Wisconsin's forests rely upon and instead using it to fight wildfires.

As his Republican House colleague Representative Mike Simpson recently pointed out:

Unfortunately, continuing the status quo, as Chairman Ryan advocates, prevents us from reducing the cost and severity of future fires by forcing agencies to rob the money that Congress has appropriated for these priorities to pay for increasingly unpredictable and costly suppression needs.

I urge my friend and fellow Wisconsinite to join us and support ending fire borrowing.

I thank Chairwoman Mikulski and subcommittee Chairman Reed for including this important provision in the supplemental bill. I wish to also thank Senators Wyden and Crapo for their tireless leadership in the fight to end fire borrowing.

The proposal included in the emergency appropriations supplemental is a fiscally responsible solution to a devastating problem with wide-ranging impacts. It will help us respond to wildfires and it will support businesses and thousands of jobs in the timber industry in Wisconsin as well as throughout the country.

I urge my colleagues in the Senate and in the House to come together to solve this problem once and for all.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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