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Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

RENEWABLE ENERGY AND JOB CREATION ACT OF 2008--Continued -- (Senate - September 23, 2008)


Mr. SMITH. Madam President, I thank the Senator from Connecticut, Mr. Dodd, for his statement on health parity. When I first began wrestling with this issue, he was unusually helpful to me in breaking the dam, this cause of mental health and suicide prevention. I thank him for that. I will never forget him for that. I think of Senator Kennedy and of Pete Domenici and others who have been my allies to move not just the youth component but mental health parity as an essential ingredient, to help move it forward and put it on a basis that is equal with physical health. The truth is, if you have physical health and you don't have mental health, you do not have health. In fact, you may have something just as lethal as leukemia or any other dreaded disease.

America is taking a great step forward with the passage of this extenders package today. I suspect many of my colleagues are having their phones ring off the hook as we speak on the issue of financial insecurity that is leading the headlines of the papers and on all the news shows and talk shows. It is something that is deeply distressing to every American and certainly to this American.

What we have in this country that we are dealing with, at its root, is a crisis in confidence over credit. Right or wrong, like it or not, commerce in this country runs on credit. Small businesses without cashflow have to take out loans. As I evaluate this package--and I have made no decision on it--I am going to be looking to make sure there are no golden parachutes, to make sure this is not a bailout of fat cats but that this goes to Main Street in ways that help people who are already suffering the consequences. We can do things such as extending unemployment insurance, improving LIHEAP. We can even add additional funds to food stamps. But at the end of the day, what does matter to the people who have a job and go to work is to have employers who are creditworthy. If their banks are not creditworthy, if their banks have written their assets down so much that when you put your money in, they keep it, they don't lend it out--when that happens, commerce stops. Jobs are lost. The carnage spreads. That is what we are dealing with in this very difficult week in the Senate, to make sure we do the best we can in this deliberative body that the Constitution gives the purse strings.

We have to do it right. If it comes up wrong, we have to start over and do it better. There is no place for golden parachutes for those who have taken advantage of the rules on Wall Street in ways that have victimized many people. We have already put $300 billion toward the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are government-sponsored enterprises. In those institutions, apparently the leaders, the boards, were playing fast and loose with the terms Congress gave them in their charter in a way that is both deplorable and more than lamentable. There are people who need to be held accountable for what has happened. But Fannie and Freddie are the central plank in the problem of our credit. That is what started the dominos.

Having said that, I do wish to suggest that this extenders package is most worthy of passage, not just because of the mental health parity that is included, but I wish to talk about another feature that my colleague Ron Wyden and I have been working on ever since we have been in the Senate together. That is the secure rural schools extension. This has been most difficult because it has not been easy to explain to our colleagues all over the country who do not know what it is like to have the Federal Government own most of your State. When the Federal Government owns your State, the local governments cannot tax the Federal Government. So dating back to the beginning of statehood in Oregon in 1859, there was a relationship developed between the Congress and Oregon, and other similarly situated States, whereby they would receive 25 percent of what are called timber taxes or mining taxes or extraction taxes, these kinds of resources that come from public lands.

It is through that, because the counties don't have a tax base, that rural folks are able to have schools, streets, and neighborhoods that are safe, with police protection. That worked very well, even through a big reformation period under Teddy Roosevelt, when these things were redone. It has worked very well. But in the 1990s, there came a great effort to save the spotted owl. There came a change in forest policy with the Clinton administration. The purpose was to save the spotted owl. We learned now, decades later, that the spotted owl was not imperiled by logging. It is now imperiled by catastrophic wildfire. It is now imperiled by a nonnative owl called the bard owl, and the bard owl likes to eat the spotted owl. Nevertheless, the carnage has been done. At the end of the Clinton administration, the President was good enough to sign replacement revenues which are called county payments or secure rural schools funding.

It has been hard to get these funds reauthorized. We had it extended by one year last year. This package extends it 4 years. It needs to be extended. This is not a golden parachute. This is keeping the covenant with rural counties.

This is vital if we are to keep faith with rural places and people in very vulnerable areas.

I am delighted this legislation is included in the package. The Senate has passed it before with huge majorities because Senator Wyden and I--he has worked that side of the aisle and I have worked this side of the aisle--made sure we got it in, that we keep enough support on both sides that it could make it to the House of Representatives, where I hope and I pray it will be accepted.

But I would conclude my remarks by saying: I understand from some of my neighboring States that the formula had to be changed. This bill represents a declining interest to Oregon of 60 percent. The 60 percent is based on a cut to Oregon, which is based on a new formula. The new formula is not based on history. You see, the old formula was that the money goes to those counties where God put the trees. Now, it is distributed differently, so our neighboring States can get more, and Oregon gets less. I do not like that.

But I want to say there is a way to remedy that deficiency, and that is to go back to a balance on forest policy that allows for a sustainable yield, allows for the creation of timber jobs, allows for the development of American timber for American homes and American commerce. Instead of being a nation that imports lumber, we can once again be a self-sufficient country in lumber.

We need the help of the administration. We have had it with President Bush. We have not had it with the courts. But the courts, I hope, are changing because this is literally a matter of economic life and death for vulnerable rural communities. So what we have to have is this, which is the best we can get, and we need it for 4 years.

Then we need to make up this deficiency the old-fashioned way, by letting men and women in rural places go back to work, to manage our forests, these public lands that can be managed in a way that is consistent with the environment and creates the economic blessings Oregon and other places have known in the past. Those blessings, in short, are family-wage jobs, the kinds of jobs that pay property taxes, build schools, pave streets, and keep neighborhoods safe. If we can do that, all will be well and this day will represent a good day for the State of Oregon and particularly its rural parts and places.

With that, I thank the Presiding Officer for the time and yield the floor.


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