PROVIDING FOR CONSIDERATION OF H.J. RES. 20, FURTHER CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS, FISCAL YEAR 2007 -- (House of Representatives - January 31, 2007)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Washington State for yielding time.
Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, H.R. 17, of which the chairman of the Rules Committee is a cosponsor.
I went before the Rules Committee yesterday with an amendment cosponsored by my colleague from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) to reauthorize, or to appropriate, I should say, not reauthorize, for 1 year, just 1 year, funds for our schools and roads in our communities, $400 million.
To meet the PAYGO test, we provided a mechanism. It is not the most elegant mechanism out there, but it was an across-the-board reduction in all spending by .00086 percent, or 1 penny out of $11.59 spent in this bill.
Today, across America, in more than 4,400 school districts in 600 counties, layoff notices are going out for teachers, for sheriffs' deputies, for search-and-rescue patrols, for essential services in our counties. Libraries in Jackson County, Oregon, will close in April, all 15 of them, because the last Congress and now this Congress has failed to take action, failed.
The distinguished gentleman who chairs the Appropriations Committee says, this is mandatory spending; we can't touch it in our bill. You can't authorize in this bill, oh, unless you got a waiver from the Rules Committee, because you cannot stand here and tell me there aren't programs being funded in this bill that have fully been authorized. I don't believe it is the case. This is one such program, and you made the choice not to do it here.
Now, many of you have indicated that you will work with us to fund this somewhere else, and I am deeply appreciative of that. The chairwoman of the Rules Committee, a cosponsor of this reauthorization legislation, made that commitment yesterday, I believe, to work with us on some other vehicle.
But I just have to tell you how dramatic this is in my district and in districts across this country where school board administrators are having to tell their teachers, next year I can't guarantee you will have a contract, and I have to be able to do that by March 1. They are putting out the layoff notices. They are looking at shutting down vital services. All because this Federal Government made a decision at some point to stop harvesting timber on Federal forest land in a significant measure, an 80 to 85 percent reduction, that this Congress, through its actions in the past and lawsuits and everything else, brought to a dramatic halt, active management of our Federal force.
Last year in America, 9 million acres burned, and this Congress had to appropriate $1.5 billion to put out forest fires and grassland fires, the most in the history of our country, following another year that was the most.
We will not change the policy so we get commonsense management of our forests. Now, for the first time in nearly 100 years you break the commitment that the Federal Government has had since Teddy Roosevelt was President and created the great forest reserves, to be a good neighbor to the counties where up to 70 or 80 percent of the Federal lands in their counties are owned and managed or mismanaged, in some of our opinions, by the Federal Government.
School kids in my district out in Grant County boarding this bus are going to be traveling on roads where the road department is basically being eliminated.
I want to share with you a letter from a fifth grader in Ashland, Oregon. A fifth grader in Ashland, Oregon, gets it and understands that this Congress ought to be able to understand it and get it. She wrote to me after going to a Martin Luther King event and decided she ought to get involved in public service. Her mother is a school teacher; her father is a professor.
``I live in Ashland and go to Bellview School. I am in fifth grade. I use our library a lot. We always borrow books on tape for car trips. My New Year's resolution is to read all the `Hank the Cowdog' books, and the library has them all. I need the library to stay open so I can finish my resolution. I also use a lot of books there for school reports.
``Please help to keep our library system open!
I appreciate your willingness to work with us in the future. I wish we could have had the amendment made in order in this resolution so that Alice could get her school books and the layoff notices wouldn't go out.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (H.R. 17 a.k.a. County Payments), in both this Congress and the last, has been a strongly bipartisan issue.
The DeFazio-Walden legislation to reauthorize and fund the County Payments program for seven years enjoys the support of 98 Members of their House.
I would like to thank the members of the Rules Committee who heard me out yesterday on a DeFazio-Walden amendment which would have restored funding for this vital program. I would like to thank Congressmen McGovern, Alcee Hastings (FL) and Cardoza, who following my remarks in Committee, joined Chairwoman Slaughter and Congressman Doc Hastings (WA) as cosponsors of H.R. 17.
As I have said in eight of 18 one-minute Floor speeches, the failure of Congress to reauthorize the County Payments program is a breach of faith to more than 600 forested counties and 4,400 school districts across America.
The DeFazio-Walden amendment offered in the Rules Committee yesterday would have provided the vital $400 million to fund this program for one year as we work to fully reauthorize and fund the program. The amendment would have met the PAYGO rule by providing a .00086 percent across-the-board reduction in the [$463 billion] CR we are considering today. This fraction of a percent reduction amounts to one penny out of every $11.59 which will be appropriated in this CR.
One penny is all that rural counties and school districts across this country need.
Without this penny, what will happen to rural America's forested counties and school districts? Severe cuts in funding for jail beds, sheriff's patrols, and criminal prosecutions, and the pursuit of meth cooks. Rural school districts will forego overdue repairs, not buy textbooks, or face significant challenges bussing kids to school.
Libraries will close in places like Jackson County, Oregon. In fact, during the Rules Committee discussion yesterday, Chairwoman Slaughter commented that ``even during the Depression we didn't close libraries.' I would like to draw your attention to a letter I received from Alice, a fifth-grader from Ashland, Oregon who utilizes one of the 15 Jackson County libraries scheduled to close in April if this vital funding is not restored.
There are further impacts. Surely you remember the searches for the Kim Family in southern Oregon and the mountain climbers on Mt. Hood? Both Jackson and Hood River Counties used equipment and personnel paid for in part by the County Payments program in those searches. The Klamath County, Oregon sheriff's force of 35 officers will be cut by one-third. They patrol an area 100 times the size of the District of Columbia.
These vital county services and rural school programs were once funded by timber receipts. The virtual elimination of timber harvest in our Federal forests prompted Congress to provide payments to develop forest health improvement projects on public lands and simultaneously stimulate job development and community economic stability.
Consider that Oregon's Second District, which I represent, is 60 percent public land; 78 percent of Harney County is public land; 79 percent of Deschutes County is public land; 72 percent of Hood River County is public land.
While these forest and range lands are America's treasures, these vast tracts of land do not provide a tax base for communities, greatly reducing the amount of revenue that can be generated for services like schools, libraries, and law enforcement.
I appreciate the kind words from the Rules Committee members and their commitment to work with Congressman DeFazio and myself to find the appropriate legislative vehicle to deal with this rural Federal funding crisis.
We must not wait any longer--pink slips are being sent to county employees, rural school programs are being cut, and Alice, the fifth-grader from Ashland, Oregon is losing her library--time is running out.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT