Department of Defense Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

By:  John McCain III
Date: Dec. 18, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, this amendment is a very simple one. It calls for striking the funding of some $58 million for the USDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Restoration Program for planting trees on private property. It is actually a farm bill subsidy program that is run by a relatively unknown agency that is called the Farm Service Administration, which is primarily responsible for managing crop insurance.

Under this program, private landowners with about 50 acres of land can apply for up to $500,000 in free grants for tree planting activities. Obviously, this has nothing to do with an emergency, and there is nothing in the supplemental that limits the funding to Hurricane Sandy areas. Under this bill, this $58 million can be used just about anywhere.

I would like to make a few remarks about the bill itself so we have this in the right context.

First of all, I want our colleagues--everyone--to understand there are none of us who do not support--there is no one who does not support--giving the much needed funding as quickly as possible to help relieve the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, and we believe there are important parts of this appropriations bill that we should pass immediately. But we also believe there are many provisions in this bill that both have nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy and many of the programs in this bill will not even take effect before the year 2015. We are about to reach the year 2013. We cannot consider this much needed appropriation outside the context that we now have nearly a $17 trillion debt, and, obviously, this $60 billion is now going to be added to the debt because none of it is paid for.

Let's be clear about this. Every one of my colleagues on this side of the aisle wants to act quickly to provide much needed relief for the people who have been impacted by the horrible effects of Hurricane Sandy. But we cannot consider this legislation in a vacuum. We are looking at a $17 trillion debt--somewhere between $16 and $17 trillion. We have committed generational theft. We have mortgaged our children's and our grandchildren's future. So we must be very careful as to how much more of the taxpayers' dollars are spent. For what? When is this money necessary? Those are the questions this body should be asking itself.

I would argue there are a whole lot of billions of dollars in this bill that fit into the categories of, one, not necessary as a result of the impact of Hurricane Sandy and certainly not an emergency situation.

I would like to go over some of the projects that are in this bill, and some of them hold merit. Some of the projects in this bill are very meritorious. It goes way beyond emergency aid and funds projects, as I said. At a time when we face these deficits, we cannot justify this spending. Again, I wish to emphasize some of the projects are meritorious, but they should go through the normal budget and appropriations process, where Congress has time to vet the need for such spending requests.

The CBO examined both the Senate bill and the administration's request and found--and this is from the Congressional Budget Office--64 percent of the funds appropriated under the Sandy supplemental will not be spent until fiscal years 2015 to 2022 and after, therefore, raising concerns about the rush to spend $60.4 billion without any attempt to pay for it.

Two weeks ago, FEMA Director Fugate told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the Disaster Relief Fund currently has enough money and will not need additional funding until the spring of 2013. CBO's assessment, combined with the statement of Director Fugate, clearly shows we need to pass a Sandy supplemental bill that only includes prioritized disaster aid funding.

I and my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Coburn, have been examining this bill over the last few days, and I will tell my colleagues, we have not gotten all the way through it. We have not identified a lot of these spending bills--what they are for and where they came from. The appropriators and their staff I always admire. They have turned it into an art form, and our ability to ferret out some of these appropriations has required a great deal of hard work and effort.

We have billions to replace ``Federal assets'' damaged by the storm, including automobiles owned by the Federal Government. The Federal Government currently owns or leases over 660,000 vehicles. Do you think we could find replacements within our own inventory, the current inventory? Shouldn't we focus on providing relief directly to those still trying to rebuild their lives before replacing a bureaucrats' car?

There is $2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, DC, while many in Hurricane Sandy's path still have no permanent roof over their own heads.

There is $150 million for fisheries as far away from the storm's path as Mississippi and Alaska.

There is $125 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and droughts for areas, including Colorado, and, by the way, including my own State of Arizona. That money is needed. It is needed. We are having wildfires across the Southwest and the West in an unprecedented fashion because we are in severe drought, and I want that money for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection Program. But it has nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy. That is what is wrong with this bill. I will fight for the $125 million that would help my State of Arizona, and I will fight to find ways to pay for it. I will do both. But we are including $125 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which is several hundred miles away from the path of Hurricane Sandy.

There is $20 million for a nationwide Water Resources Priorities Study. While studies are important, they are not emergencies and should be submitted during the upcoming budget debate.

We badly need a water resources priorities study. There was just a recent study about the Colorado River basin and how we are going to run out of water. But, again, the water resources priorities study is not associated with Hurricane Sandy.

There is $15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane minimal. One day after the storm hit, NASA's Wallops Island put out a statement stating that ``an initial assessment team surveyed roads and facilities at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility today reporting a number of downed trees but otherwise minimal impact in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.'' Does this mean we need $15 million for NASA's facilities?

There is $336 million for taxpayer-supported Amtrak without a detailed plan for how the money will be spent. Some of the funding will go for repairs. Money will also go to increasing capacity and future mitigation efforts. Amtrak is up and running. We can go right over here--not very far from here--to Union Station and get on Amtrak. It is not apparent why this funding is deemed ``emergency'' spending and included in this spending package. Further mitigation should be debated next year.

The dirty little secret is that Amtrak loses billions of dollars every year. That is because we subsidize unneeded and unnecessary routes. The route on the east coast from here to New York, for example, makes money. But we cling to those routes that neither make money nor does anybody care to patronize.

There is $5.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers--more than the Army Corps of Engineers' annual budget. With no clarity as to how the money will be spent. Included in the Senate bill is $50 million in funding for more studies, which will most definitely lead to additional Army Corps projects and a new task force established by executive order.

More projects are not something the Army Corps can handle. They are currently experiencing a backlog of construction and maintenance projects of approximately $70 billion. Furthermore, a 2010 report released by the Government Accountability Office noted that carryover funds have increased ``due to the large amount of supplemental funding the Corps has received in recent years.'' Clearly, supplemental spending on the Army Corps has not paid off.

The bill includes $12 to $13 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies, without identifying a single way to pay for it. I think we need future disaster mitigation activities. We need studies. We are experiencing climate situations which we never anticipated. Certainly Hurricane Sandy was never anticipated by any of us. We need the studies. But that is not an emergency to handle the effects of Hurricane Sandy and should come out of normal funding and be paid for. I support these studies. But should they come out of the taxpayers' pocket without a way to pay for it?

There is no justification to include these projects in this emergency spending bill. Waiting to fund these projects until next year during the normal budget and appropriations process, we will have a better understanding of the path forward and reduce the possibility of waste, fraud, and abuse.

There is $10 million to improve weather forecasting capabilities and infrastructure. Mr. President, $10 million to improve weather forecasting capabilities and infrastructure--do we truly need to include that in an emergency funding bill for Hurricane Sandy? As I mentioned at the beginning, at some point we are going to have to start paying for things. At some point we are going to run out of Chinese money. At some point we are going to be like Greece. At some point the American people are going to say ``enough.'' Every American family has to balance their budget. Every American family has to make tough decisions. Why don't we make some tough decisions if we want to have things paid for such as weather capabilities, such as Amtrak, such as replacing Federal assets, buying vehicles when we have 660,000 vehicles in the inventory? Why don't we start making tough decisions?

I often mention that the approval rating we have from the American people is rather interestingly low. The last one I saw was an 11-percent approval rating. No wonder--no wonder--we are about, in a matter of literally hours, to spend about $60 billion of the American taxpayers' money--estimates by some are it should be around $24 billion--without hearings, without the kinds of scrutiny it deserves in the normal appropriations process.

I understand why we need some of this money in an emergency fashion. But it is akin to the train leaving the station. It is loaded with pork and it is moving and so everybody wants to get on board. It is not the way the Congress should do business.

So, Mr. President, I will ask for the yeas and nays on my amendment, which is to strike funding for $58 million for the tree planting subsidy known as the Forest Restoration Program for planting trees on private property.


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