AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008
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Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I want to, first of all, start off by complimenting the Chair of the committee. We have had a number of hearings this year. We've had a lot of great oversight opportunities. I look forward to more. We've thoroughly reviewed this bill, and there's many things that we found agreement on. There are some things that we're going to have debate on today and things that we'll continue to debate as the bill goes through the process, but I want to commend Ms. DeLauro for a bill well put together. Also, I want to thank her staff, Martha Foley, Leslie Barrack, Diem-Lihn Jones, Adrienne Simmonson, Kelly Wade and Brian Ronholm, and thank them for everything that they've done. And on our side, Martin Delgado, Dave Gibbons. You'll note, on the Democrat side, I pronounced the Republican side with equal ineptitude as I do the Democrats. Jamie Swafford, Meg Gilley, Merritt Myers, Emily Watson, Heather McNatt, Elizabeth Davis and Jason Lawrence and Scott Stevens. We have a lot of folks who've helped. One of my friends on the floor said, Well, how many people does this take? And I said, Well, you know this is almost a $100 billion bill, so we all have to get involved in it.
I also wanted to say something about RAY LAHOOD. Mr. LaHood is a great committee member. He's going to be leaving Congress at the end of this term and made that announcement this week, and I thought I'd be remiss if we didn't say something about Mr. LaHood. He is a great appropriator. He's a guy who had early on worked with the Hershey Retreat to bring more bipartisan civility to the floor. He was instrumental when I was Chair of the Leg branch subcommittee of getting the staff gym started. Indeed, I don't know if we would have it without him and all of his hard work.
And also, when we were in majority, he stood and sat where you are, Mr. Chairman, many times guiding this House through hot debates and emotional issues, and we're all going to miss Mr. LaHood.
I want to start off on the bill a little bit because so many people think of agriculture as just farming. And yet, if we look at the breakdown of this bill and we see this large blue part, the actual money in this bill, the majority of it goes to domestic food assistance programs. And it's appropriate that it is in the ag bill because so much of what we're talking about is national security, as seen through our food policy, but direct farming programs are in this more purplish area, and it's about 35 percent of the bill. We also have money for conservation, rural development for the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and foreign food assistance. But I think it's important for people to realize that this is not just a bill that affects the rural areas.
I also want to point out that much of this bill our committee doesn't have the control over that we would like to. In fact, if you look at this bill, we have an expression here in Washington called "mandatory and discretionary spending.'' Discretionary spending is spending that Congress itself can effect on an appropriate bill. Mandatory spending is what authorizing committees do. This would have been done through the farm bill, for example.
Now, I don't like the term ``mandatory.'' I think it should be called automatic spending, maybe even lazy spending, maybe even unchallenged spending, since we debate it once every 5 years and then lock it up in a farm bill. I think that the mandatory portion of this budget, since it is almost 80 percent of the budget, should be opened up and debated. I think there's a lot of things in there that need more scrutiny. Indeed, of the $18 billion in the discretionary spending area, we have been scrutinized and we've had a good look at it.
I want to make a couple of points. Number one, the bill at its current level will be vetoed. We do not have a veto-proof majority. This bill will pass today, but not by a veto-proof. The President has made it clear that at a 5.9 percent increase over last year, he will veto it. I think it's important for us to realize this since this is a bipartisan body. This is not a veiled threat. The President has the votes to sustain the veto, and so that's what's going to happen. I think we would be better served getting together and bringing down the numbers on this bill.
The second thing that I wanted to point out is there are a lot of issues that we're faced with in this House this week. One of them is the government health care program that's being pushed on the States and taking away a lot of their discretion. Another one is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These bills are being pushed aside for this bill, and while I have a lot of passion for this bill, being an aggie myself, the reality is, this bill will leave the Chamber and it will sit over with the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee, for all intents and purposes, is defunct. We've been working hard. We've been working long in the House to pass our appropriation bills on time, and I commend Mr. Obey and the Democrat leadership to make sure that we get the bills over there.
And yet, the reality is the Senate is going to sit on this bill, cram it into another bill, stuff it into a shoe box called an omnibus bill, and I think that's the wrong way to approach things. And at the same time, we're going to have other things that slide.
Another thing I wanted to do is set the record straight on some of the nutrition programs, because we've had and heard from a number of people on the Rules Committee earlier today that this restores funding for important and critical child nutrition programs. And you would think that under Republican control, that the bill did not give any money for food and nutrition programs. And yet, if you look at this chart, Mr. Chairman, going back from 2001 on up to 2008, you can see there's simply a linear progression in nutrition funding that has taken place under Republicans mostly, and now under Democrats. But there's no huge dip. There's no great spike now that the Democrats are in charge. And it's important to set the record straight on that.
In fact, I'm one, call me old fashioned, who doesn't think it's great to have lots and lots of people dependent on government programs. I think we should work to get people more independent, and I don't think that increasing these programs blindly makes sense. For example, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, I don't follow the math on that. Last year the casework estimate was 490,000 people. The actual number to participate was 463,000. And yet this year, even though the projection's 464,000, the budget increase is $42 million for it, and I don't follow that logic at all. If the number of participants is going down, why is the spending going up? And the President actually had zeroed that out. Why did he do that? Does the President not care about hungry people? No, it's because they are eligible for food stamps. There's another program for them. Why have two bureaucracies doing basically the same thing, especially since you have electronic benefit transfer cards which are very simple to do, and those were some that this committee led in.
The other thing that I wanted to point out on the subject of nutrition and hunger is it's interesting that we debated obesity a lot more than we have debated hunger. I think that's probably a good thing, but I think, on the other hand, it shows that there hasn't been this horrible hunger crisis under Republican rule.
Another point I want to say about this bill, the farm service agencies, right now farm service agencies, there are 58 of them that have no staff. The Chair and I have agreed that these should be closed down. I think that's a step in the right direction; 139 of them have one employee and 338 have two employees and 515 have three employees.
Now, I've heard it said about the VA that you can close down any veterans clinic you want in America as long as it's not located in a congressional district. Well, I guess the same is true with military bases, and it's true with FSA offices and other offices. We talk about wanting to balance the budget, but when it comes home to our own district, we all backpedal and say, no, we don't want anything closed.
These decisions aren't easy, but we have to be leaders on this and not shirk our responsibility. I think this committee kind of worked through it, and I'm hoping that we're going to continue to work through it as the bill moves through the process.
Renewable energy. There's so much right now in the rural areas from the subject of ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol and other economies that we can go out and capitalize in and help bring alternative fuel to America.
In my home State of Georgia, there are about five or six ethanol plants. There are 121 of them nationally, but Georgia has on the drawing table right now to build another 80 ethanol plants just in our one State. That would put Georgia on the national leaders level. I am excited about that. Because if Georgia can do that, then certainly other States should be doing that; and I am glad that this bill puts a lot of investment into renewable energy.
On broadband and distance learning, I think we all have a commitment to that. Two things that the Chair and I have agreed on that are very important is, one, we don't want the government programs to be competing with the private sector. If the private sector is already there, why put a government program out there? And, number two, for the retired stockbroker who has bought his mountain house on the top of the beautiful mountains in Colorado, why should we care if his laptop is hooked up or not? I don't think we have to waste taxpayer money so that he can check his stock quotes while he is in retirement.
I also want to talk a little bit about a horse amendment that we have, some language in the bill that prohibits people who own horses from taking these horses across international lines. If you own a horse in America and this bill passes with the language that is in it, you will not be allowed to take that horse to Mexico or Canada for any purpose.
Now, I understand that there are those who don't want horses to be slaughtered. Most of them are people who have never owned horses, who don't understand horse owners or who are intimidated by special interest groups in Washington. But the reality is sometimes you have to put a horse down, and since we have a problem with that in America, as outlawed by this Congress or the previous Congress, then this bill does give some flexibility to those people. But, in trying to close that loophole, what the committee did is they said now you can't take your horse out of the country and you can't bring one in. It is a ridiculous part of the language, and I am going to move to strike it.
Another issue that I have some concerns about is drug reimportation. I think drug reimportation is a major policy shift, and I believe that we should have a vote on that.
I commend the Chair in reducing the number of earmarks. The earmarks last year in the bill were about 4 1/2 percent. We are starting out at about a 2 percent level. I think that is a great reduction not just in the dollar amount but in the number of earmarks.
And one other area that I was disappointed in that I want to point out is risk-based inspection. This is where USDA inspectors go to food-processing plants and, rather than dwell on all of them equally over time, they focus on the ones who are the bad actors, the ones who have the older equipment and the shoddy practices. They put more time there. It is a common business decision, and yet we are interfering with the USDA's right to do that. It is called "risk-based inspection.'' I think it is very important to a good, clean, healthy food supply, and we have stopped RBI. I think that is a mistake.
But, overall, there is a lot that's good in the bill. I look forward to the debate.
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