FLOOR STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON AMENDMENTS 1910, 1912, AND 2030 TO THE FY2010 AGRICULTURE APPROPRIATIONS BILL
August 3, 2009
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to call up amendment number 1910 which is at the desk.
This amendment eliminates, as suggested by the President, the USDA’s High Energy Cost Grant Program, a $17.5 million subsidy designed to pay for energy generation systems in rural areas. This program was proposed for termination by the Administration because it’s duplicative of existing programs including the USDA’s own Rural Utility Service loan program. Under the FY2010 budget, the Rural Utility Service program would provide $6.6 billion in electric loans at no cost to the taxpayer. In comparison, providing $17.5 million in grants, as opposed to a loan, actually costs the taxpayer $17.5 million. Moreover, senators should know there’s $20 million in unobligated High Energy Cost Grants still available from the previous year.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment and call up amendment number 1912 which is at the desk.
Mr. President, this amendment eliminates the USDA Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, also known as the Small Watersheds Program. This program is a textbook example of how reckless earmarking can devastate a government program. Like the previous four President’s Budgets, the Administration proposes to terminate this account because, quote, “Congress has earmarked virtually all of this program in recent years, meaning that the agency is unable to prioritize projects on any merit-based criteria, such as cost-effectiveness.” According to CRS, the Small Watersheds Program was 97% earmarked in FY2009, which severely marginalized USDA’s ability to evaluate and prioritize projects. Earmarks may partly be to blame for the findings of a 2003 OMB study that showed this program has a lower economic return than any other Federal flood prevention programs, including those in the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And the onslaught of earmarks over the years have most certainly contributed to the current backlog of about 300 unfunded authorized Small Watershed Projects totaling $1.2 billion.
As it was originally intended, the Small Watersheds Program may be a worthwhile program, and I’m sure we’ll hear a vigorous defense of this program. But by inundating it with so-called “congressionally designated projects”, the program is challenged to function properly to the point where the Administration would rather see it gone. Nevertheless, our friends on the Appropriations Committee haven’t given up on plundering it just yet. This bill provides $24.3 million for this program, including $16.5 million in earmarks for projects like: $2 million for the Pocasset River in Rhode Island (which isn’t authorized), $1.5 million for Dunloup Creek in West Virginia (which isn’t authorized), and $1 million for the DuPage County Watershed in Illinois (which isn’t authorized), just to name a few.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment and call up amendment number 2030 which is at the desk.
This amendment is very simple. It prohibits funding of a $250,000 earmark for the Iowa Vitality Center at Iowa State University. This earmark is a textbook example of how difficult it is to stop funding an earmark once it starts. According to the website of the earmark’s sponsor, since fiscal year 2001 the Iowa Vitality Center has received $2,579,000. And for what? What is so vital about the Iowa Vitality Center that it has required over $2.5 million of scarce taxpayer funds? Well according to their own website, “The purpose of the Iowa Community Vitality Center is to serve as a catalyst in fostering collaborative public-private partnerships among nonmetro community interests to stimulate vitality and address barriers to growth.” I have no idea what this means.
Mr. President, I want to be clear that I am not necessarily questioning the merits of this program – but I am questioning the process. Why was this funding earmarked? If the Vitality Center is such a critical national priority at this time why wasn’t the funding authorized, or requested by the President in his budget submission?
The funding for the Vitality Center is often justified as helping communities ‘plan strategically,’ and as ‘representing diverse interests across the state’. However, the sponsors of the earmark neglect to explain why ten years of “strategic planning” has been insufficient to accomplish the center’s stated purpose.
Mr. President, our current economic situation and our vital national security concerns require that now, more than ever, we prioritize our federal spending. We need to prove to the American people that we are serious about changing the way we do business and we should start with ending the practice of earmarking. We need to put our national priorities first and eliminate unnecessary, wasteful earmarks like the Iowa Vitality Center.
Mr. President, the Agriculture Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2010 spends about $123 billion in direct and mandatory spending, an amount that is approximately $234 million above the Administration’s budget request. We debate this legislation in the shadow of the FY09 omnibus bill, which doled out $108 billion for USDA programs, as well as the infamous economic stimulus package, which provided another $26.5 billion in Ag spending. Mr. President, 2009 is certainly a good year to be a USDA program office.
I acknowledge that many of the programs funded by this bill are valued for providing important services to the agriculture community at large, and I commend the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for reporting this bill in a timely manner. I agree that we should ensure that our farmers stay out of the red, and that some federal involvement is necessary to assist low-income families under nutrition programs. Unfortunately, Congress once again has conformed to the practice of diverting precious taxpayer dollars into an array of special interest pork projects which have not been authorized or requested by the Administration.
The committee report accompanying this bill contains 296 “Congressionally Directed Spending Items” – a fancy new term for earmarks - totaling over $220 million. None of these projects were requested by the Administration. Many of them were not authorized, or competitively bid in any way. No hearing was held to judge whether or not these were national priorities worthy of scarce taxpayer’s dollars. They are in this bill for one reason and one reason only - because of the self serving prerogatives of a select few members of the Senate who chose to serve their own interests over those of the American taxpayer.
Mr. President, let’s take a look at some of the earmarks that are in this bill and its accompanying report:
· $250,000 for gypsy moth research in New Jersey. Don’t gypsy moths travel all over the country? Why just New Jersey? Over the past ten years – the taxpayer has funded $42.8 million worth of gypsy moth research.
· $500,000 for the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid at the University of Tennessee. This is an aphid-like insect – that’s a lot of money for a little bug.
· $235,000 for noxious weed management in Nevada. I think a better term for this one is obnoxious. Over the past ten years – over $15.4 million has been earmarked for Nevada noxious weed management.
· $200,000 for cotton research at Texas Tech University. Congress subsidizes the cotton industry to the tune of $3 billion per year.
· $300,000 for Floriculture at the University of Hawaii. Nearly $3.5 million has been earmarked for floriculture in the past ten years.
· $165,000 for Maple research center at the University of Vermont. According the center’s director, Tim Perkins: “Maple syrup science is a nose -- and mouth -- science. The technical term is organoleptic. Which means you put it in your mouth and taste it," says Perkins. "We get people who know the flavor of maple syrup, and off-flavors, and they try each one. Laboratory tests using gas chromatography provide a breakdown of the many compounds in the syrup, which supplements the tastebud approach.” Someone needs to explain to me how this is a national priority. Since 1998, The University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center has received over $2.1 million in earmarks.
· $75,000 for farm safety education for children in Iowa. Who better than a bureaucrat in Washington to teach a farmer’s children how to be safe? The ten year total for earmarks for Iowa Farm Safety Education? Over $4.2 million.
· $300,000 for shrimp aquaculture research at the University of Southern Mississippi Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center. Over the past ten years – we’ve earmarked over $30.4 million on shrimp aquaculture research.
· $1 million for potato research at Oregon State University. Over the past ten years – we’ve earmarked over $7.1 million for potato research.
· $600,000 is gobbled down by the National Wild Turkey Federation for projects in Nebraska, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Since fiscal year 2004, the National Wild Turkey Federation has received over $1.7 million in earmarks.
· $265,000 for minimizing blackbird damage to sunflowers in North and South Dakota. This is an earmark “regular” for the agriculture appropriations bill. Evidently, the Dakotan sunflowers have a rather serious Alfred Hitchcock “Birds” problem. According to the USDA, Blackbird Management in North and South Dakota has received over $1.2 million over the past 5 years.
· $200,000 for Washington State University to study goatgrass. Since 2003, $767,000 has been earmarked for goatgrass research.
· $372,000 for Penn State University to study dairy farm profitability. If you’re relying on a federally funded study to make your dairy farm profitable – you might want to find a new business plan. Nearly $3.8 million has been earmarked for dairy farm profitability over the past ten years.
· $288,000 for the Iowa Soybean Association. Since 2002, over $3.3 million has been earmarked for the Iowa Soybean Association.
· $1 million for mormon cricket control in Nevada. The ten year total for Mormon Cricket Control? Nearly $13.7 million.
· $260,000 for wine grape research at Washington State University. According to Washington State University’s own website, the wine industry generates $3 billion in their state. There is no reason for the American taxpayer to pour another $260,000 into it.
· $350,000 for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to support the “specialty meats” industry. Since 2004 the Wisconsin Specialty Meats Industry has received over $12.7 million in earmarks.
· $340,000 for the Center for Beef Excellence in Pennsylvania. According to their own press release, the Center was established by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture just last year. At least we can agree that a $340,000 handout from Congress is quite an advantageous start. Nevertheless, I’m certain we’ll see more of the Center for Beef Excellence in future appropriation bills. Over $1 million has been earmarked to the Center for Beef Excellence since 2005.
· $405,000 for the University of Northern Iowa to study “agriculture based lubricants.” Agriculture-based lubricants research has received over $3 million in the last ten years.
Mr. President, not surprising, the largest earmark in this bill goes to Hawaii. The Aloha State bags $5 million to continue construction of an Agriculture Research Service Center to study agriculture practices in the Pacific. As my colleagues know, ARS construction is one of the most heavily earmarked accounts in government. So much so that the President’s budget actually proposed zeroing out ARS construction for FY2010 because: “Congress routinely earmarks small amounts of funding for[ARS projects] located throughout the nation. The result of scattering funding in this manner is that… few if any of the projects are able to reach the critical threshold of funding that would allow construction to being. Funding construction over such a long time significantly increases the amount of money needed to fully complete these projects, as well as postponing their completion for many years.” So here we have a program that’s earmarked so severely that it delays and drives up the costs of approved construction projects. Not only are we defiantly funding this Hawaiian facility, the bill provides a total of $47 million for a list of fifteen ARS facilities, ranging from $4 million for a Fruit Lab in West Virginia, to $2 million for an animal waste research facility in Kentucky.
Another amendment I’ve filed proposes striking the $50.7 million contained in this bill for USDA’s Resource Conservation and Development Program (RC&D’s). The RC&D Program was created in 1962 to promote resource conservation through community-based conservation leadership councils. RC&D councils have helped to leverage local funding for efforts like soil mapping or erosion control for rural areas. The Administration supports terminating this program because, in their own words, “after 47 years, the goal of the RC&D program has been accomplished. These councils have developed sufficiently strong state and local ties... and are now able to secure funding for their continued operation without Federal assistance. The program has been in operation for decades and these councils have a proven track record of success, showing that they have outlived the need for Federal funding.” There you have it, Mr. President. A half-century’s old program proposed for termination by this Administration yet retained by appropriators for its spoils.
Mr. President, this bill funds several other government programs that were proposed for termination in the President’s budget. I have filed amendments to strike these programs as well as zero out the ARS construction account. If successfully adopted, these amendments would save taxpayers over $144.5 million.
Some of these programs may have merit and may be helpful to the designated communities, but considering our current budgetary crisis, it’s inappropriate to include them on this year’s agriculture spending bill, especially when they’ve been identified for termination or reduction. I hope my colleagues will agree that we have higher spending priorities that are directly related to the purposes of this agriculture bill. This bill is intended to address farmers, women, children, and rural communities with the greatest need, and should not be used as a vehicle for piggybacking pet projects to get the support of special interest constituents. It is no surprise that many of these earmarks are included for political glamour rather than practical purposes. This way Members can go back to their states to ride in public parades and garner votes from special interest constituents at the expense of average citizens who are struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy.
I know that many of my colleagues have spoken about the economic struggles of America’s hardworking farmers and low-income families. The farmers and struggling families I know are their tired of watching their hard-earned money go down the drain - and I intend to fight every single unnecessary, unrequested, unauthorized earmark in this and every other appropriations bill.
Mr. President, I filed 313 amendments to this bill – the bulk of those amendments seek to strike the 296 earmarks – humorously now called “Congressionally Directed Spending Items” in the committee report on this bill. I have now offered only three of those amendments - but let me assure my colleagues that I have no problem with offering, debating, and voting on each and every one of the amendments I filed. The time has come to end the practice of earmarking.