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Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004-Conference Report-Continued

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today in strong opposition to cloture on the Omnibus appropriations bill. I cannot fathom why the Senate would agree today to cut off debate on a measure that is fundamentally flawed precisely because it was put together without the input of the full House and Senate. We have before us a bill that allocates billions of dollars through a plan clabbered together behind closed doors by the White House a very few Republican Members. It was a partisan, undemocratic process and the result is a bill that both thwarts the will of our constituents and makes a mockery of Congress's obligation to control this Nation's purse strings.

A vote for cloture today is a vote to rubberstamp the administration's wish list of policies and spending they couldn't get passed through the regular legislative process. And when you take a good look at what is in this bill-or what was forced out by the White House-you can understand why they had to put it together in a back room and why they want to push it through the Senate with little opportunity for debate.

The issues of concern in this massive bill are numerous-let me just highlight a few of the worst.

This Omnibus bill drops a provision to block a change in the rules that determine which workers are eligible for overtime pay. Both the House and the Senate voted in favor of maintaining the current rules. Both Houses agreed on a policy that would protect overtime for millions of working families-but White House insisted on going ahead with their changes regardless of the bipartisan will of Congress.

Overtime is crucial to helping families make ends meet. In an economy that has lost 3 million jobs, those that have managed to hold onto their livelihood need the extra money that overtime provides more than ever. On average, workers who receive overtime receive almost 25 percent of their pay that way. And the President pushed for, and won, a policy of cutting that vital income for 8 million workers. Lowering wages for working people is not the way to stimulate this economy. Sending as many as 8 million people home with less money in their pocket is not going to spur investment and boost productivity.

And while the backroom negotiators chose to ignore the needs and concerns of workers with their overtime policy, they turned their backs on countless more consumers when they scuttled the country-of-origin labeling provisions passed by the Senate. If one thing comes through loud and clear from the BSE/mad cow experience, it's that consumers want basic information about the food they eat. To deny them such information takes from them a fundamental right to make decisions about their purchases, and their families' health.

I had hoped that we might discuss country-of-origin labeling-along with several other issues-during the conference on the Agriculture appropriations bill. Unfortunately, the conference didn't work that way. Rather than bridge the difference between the House and the Senate on labeling, the conference went behind closed doors and chose another direction entirely. It dismissed the Senate resolution in support of labeling, then went on to embrace and even expand on the House's ill-advised rider. The result, a public kept in the dark by the Government about where and how the food they eat is made.

The Omnibus also inappropriately compromises what Congress enacted regarding broadcast ownership rules. Both the House and Senate passed measures that would have reimposed the 35 percent national TV ownership cap, undoing a misguided FCC regulation that raised the cap to 45 percent. However, a deal with White House negotiators flouts Congressional intent and instead establishes a 39 percent limit-which seems less like a compromise and more like a favor to certain networks that currently own close to 39 percent of the Nation's broadcast stations.

Overtime pay, FCC rules, country-of-origin labeling-all policies inserted into this bill by the administration and against the will of Congress and numerous constituencies we were sent here to represent. Beyond these glaring flaws, there are many-too many-funding and policy decisions that are just plain wrong-and need further debate, further votes, further negotiation.

One obvious example is the administration's decision to slash funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to a fraction of its past level. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership is one of the most successful Federal/State partnerships in Government. This program targets small and medium sized manufacturing firms, boosting productivity and increasing competitiveness as these firms face increasing pressure from global markets. The manufacturing sector has suffered devastating job losses during this past term, and the recent upturn in the economy left the manufacturing sector lagging far behind the rest of the country. MEP is a sound investment: MEP clients reported sales of $2.2 billion, nearly 24,500 new or retained workers during fiscal year 2001.

Manufacturing is vital to building a strong economy, creating good jobs that contribute to a better standard of living for American families and a critical rung on the ladder of opportunity for those working toward a better life. The MEP has a proven record of preserving jobs and stimulating productivity in those firms utilizing MEP services. This vital program will be unable to maintain its public mission to serve small manufacturers without adequate Federal support. MEP has enjoyed wide bipartisan support due to the effectiveness of its programs and fine record of achievement, and failure to adequately fund this program is a disservice to our struggling manufacturing industry.

I am also very disappointed that this bill includes inadequate funding for education. When we passed the No Child Left Behind Act, we made a deal with our State and local partners in education. We insisted on real reform and accountability for results from States, school districts and teachers. And we authorized large increases in Federal funding to help them succeed. This was a bipartisan bargain that acknowledged that reform and resources must go hand in hand if we expect our Nation's public schools to improve.

But once again the appropriations bill before us falls far short of Congress' commitment. It is $8 billion short of the authorized funding levels in No Child Left Behind. It provides only $12.4 billion for title I, which serves disadvantaged, low-income students and was authorized at $18.5 billion for fiscal year 2004. It provides only level funding for afterschool programs, which give students a safe and educational place to go during afterschool hours. The list goes on and on; this bill provides inadequate or reduced funding for many other programs under No Child Left Behind, leaving our schools-which are already struggling with budget shortfalls at the State and local level-with even greater challenges. In addition, while this bill provides an increase for Special Education, it is far short of meeting the Federal Government's promise to fund 40 percent of the costs.

This bill also shortchanges our most vulnerable youth by inadequately funding juvenile justice programs for the second straight year. The title V At-Risk Children's Program, which provides juvenile crime prevention funding to local communities, will only net $25 million in this bill-this program should be funded about three or four times that amount. Overall, juvenile justice funding will receive more than $100 million less in fiscal year 2004 than last year. This is unacceptable and we must do better.

If we are serious about our youth in this country, this bill certainly doesn't show it. We need to make their education and their well-being a top priority. Instead this bill cuts corners.

We can and should do better than this. We have done better than this in the bills and policies we put together on a bipartisan basis last year. I cannot support this bill or any motion to speed its passage. Not when it-against the will of Congress-steals necessary overtime income from over 8 million workers. Not when it-against the advice of the Senate-trashes a program that lets consumers make informed decision about the safety of the food they eat. Not when it overturns the clear decision of Congress to limit concentration in the media industry. Not when it violates common sense, common decency and the common good by slashing funding for programs that educate our children and nurture our manufacturing industries. I will vote against cloture today and against the bill if it comes to a vote. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

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