WASHINGTON – Congressman Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee, presented the following opening statement for the Appropriations Committee markup of the Energy and Water and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bills proposed for the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations:
Stated simply, the bills before us today, and likely most of the rest of the bills that we will consider over the next two weeks, make no funding recommendations on Member project requests. Worse than that, they make few or no recommendations for ongoing or new projects requested by the Administration.
Let me illustrate this point in a different way:
The Administration’s budget request for the Corps of Engineers under the Energy and Water bill was $3.8 billion for 837 specific projects. This bill provides $4.3 billion for unspecified projects.
What that really means is that the bill before us recommends a $4.3 billion pot of money with zero direction from Congress on how the Corps should allocate this money. Lest any of us should forget, it is our job - - the job of Congress and this Committee - - to determine how federal dollars are spent.
Furthermore, this bill is not transparent! It is just the opposite! It shows the American people a lump sum and tells them nothing about where their tax dollars are going to be spent. As currently drafted, this bill is an irresponsible dereliction of duty.
Let me highlight a few ongoing authorized projects that have received funding from this subcommittee in past years and which were included in the President’s budget request but, at least so far, receive no funding in the Energy and Water bill. They include:
· Oakland, California Harbor Deepening-$42 million budget request;
· New York-New Jersey Harbor Deepening-$92 million budget request;
· Houston-Galveston Navigation Channel – $16.3 million budget request;
· South Florida Everglades Restoration Project -$162.4 million; and
· Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study - $13 million.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are literally dozens of such projects in both the Energy and Water and Mil Con bills which have been fully vetted and authorized; have, in most cases, been funded in previous years; and, most important, have been supported by a vast majority of this Committee and the Congress. The stated reasons why they must remain in limbo now just to be “airdropped” into conference next fall defy comprehension, but I believe they deserve a moment of our attention.
First, it has been stated that the Committee was late getting started because it had to first finish the work on the 2007 bills. While I have stated publicly my extreme unhappiness that the Senate did not do its job and pass the bills sent to them by the House last year, the fact remains that Chairman Obey and his excellent staff completed the work on the 2007 CR in mid-February, less than two weeks after the President’s 2008 budget submission was presented to the Congress. There was no conference with the Senate on this legislation and it was considered on the House floor under a closed rule. Stated simply, the work to finish the 2007 process is completely unrelated to marking up these 2008 bills.
Next, it has been stated that our inability to include projects in these bills is due to my request --- along with members on both sides of the aisle --- for an extension of time beyond the arbitrary March 16th deadline for Members to submit project requests.
As all members know, this request was made because our Committee on Standards of Official Conduct had not adequately defined the intent of our new rules regarding “earmarks” as it pertained to benefiting members. But the fact is, I requested a two or three week extension. The Committee’s response was to grant a six week extension to April 27th.
Finally, and expanding on this last point just a little, it has been stated that the extension did not leave Members and staff sufficient time to review requests. Moreover, the fact that there were 35,000 or so requests just made it impossible to conduct all the reviews necessary.
I would respectfully suggest to my colleagues that this committee has been dealing with 35,000 or more annual requests for quite some time. Somehow we got our work done on time.
I would further suggest that Members and staff had at least a month to review requests for inclusion, or not, in these bills.
I have been the full Committee Chairman and the chairman of two different subcommittees, Defense and VA HUD, and both included thousands of member requests. Somehow, we managed to get our work done on time, and I can assure my friends here that it was typically done in far less than a month.
Moreover, my comments in this regard only deal with Member requests. I know for a fact that after all the hearings conducted this spring our fine subcommittee staffs are ready and waiting to make the appropriate recommendations for funding of Administration-requested projects. They could do it today.
I think it is negligent and disingenuous to move these bills forward as it is, without taking the time to make the tough choices that come with being in the majority. The notion that these projects will somehow be magically airdropped into a conference report at the end of the process is outrageous! I am confident that the able-bodied Chairmen and Ranking Members of these subcommittees are, at least privately, disappointed and embarrassed to mark-up bills that look like this.
I am left scratching my head wondering why anyone in this room would support these measures when we have absolutely no idea how this money will really be spent and who will ultimately make these important decisions.
Mr. Chairman, I say to you very respectfully that this approach leaves the House in a very dangerous, exposed position if and when we get these bills in conference with the Senate. Mr. Chairman, I say to you again very respectfully, what is the urgency of moving these bills today?