Wyden Blocks Two Interior Department Nominees over County Payments Funding

Senator keeps promise to block Administration nominees until there is an acceptable way to fund county payments

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, keeping his promise to block Administration nominees until there is "an acceptable way to fully fund county payments," today placed a "hold" on the nominations of two Interior Department nominees: John Ray Correll, nominated to be Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and Mark Myers, nominated to be a Director of the United States Geological Survey. The county payments law provides vital funding for rural schools, roads and county services across the nation; Oregon counties will receive $1.6 billion in county payments funding over the life of the original bill, which expires later this year.

"The Administration seems to have forgotten about the needs of rural communities here at home," Wyden said. "I'm going to keep reminding them that Oregon's rural counties rely on county payments funding to keep schools open, maintain roads and provide other vital services."

On May 26, Wyden placed a hold on the nomination of David Bernhardt to become Solicitor for the Department of the Interior; he also announced at that time that he would block future nominees until the Administration finds "an acceptable way to fully fund county payments."

As a matter of policy, Wyden publicly announces any holds or formal objection he lodges with regard to nominees or legislation. The full text of Wyden's statement today is below:

Statement of Senator Ron Wyden on the Nominations of
John Ray Correll To Be Director of the Office of Surface Mining and
Mark Myers To Be Director of U.S. Geological Services, Interior Department
August 3, 2006

The plight of countless rural communities in Oregon and across the country may take a turn for the worse due to the impending expiration of the county payments legislation. For this reason, I am putting a hold on the following two Bush nominees to express my continuing dissatisfaction with the Administration's lack of attention to the needs of people in more than 700 rural counties in over 40 states:

John Ray Correll, Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Interior Department
Mark Myers, Director of the U.S. Geological Services, Interior Department

In addition, I would also object to any Unanimous Consent allowing Mr. Correll, Mr. Myers and Mr. Bernhardt to remain on the calendar. Instead, I request that these three nominations be returned to the White House during the Congressional August recess. Rule 31 para. 6 of the Senate Rules provides that when the Senate will be in recess for more than 30 days, any nomination in committee or on the Senate calendar must be returned to the White House unless the Senate, by Unanimous Consent, allows a nominee to remain on the calendar.

To date, the Administration has proposed only one solution to funding county payments, and it is one that many of us find unacceptable. The county payments law, which provides a stable revenue source for education, roads and other county services in rural areas, is due to expire at the end of this year. In early 2005, I co-sponsored a bipartisan bill, S. 267, to reauthorize county payments for another seven years. In February, the Administration proposed reauthorizing the law for only five years while cutting funding by 60 percent and funding that reduced portion with a controversial Federal land sale scheme.

Senator Baucus and I have proposed a sensible, alternative funding source for county payments. Our legislation fully funds county payments by ensuring that a portion of Federal taxes are withheld from payments by the Federal government to government contractors. The Federal government currently does not withhold taxes when it pays government contractors. In May, the Republican-led Congress approved a major tax bill that uses our funding provision to instead provide tax cuts for the most fortunate Americans, leaving rural counties with fewer options and growing fiscal concerns.

As I have said before, I will hold these nominees and every nominee coming after them, if necessary, until the Administration steps to the plate and delivers some leadership in finding a way to fund county payments. I ask Unanimous Consent that my statement be printed in the record.

A major tax bill passed by Congress and signed by the President in May used a funding provision — proposed in March by Wyden and U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as a full-funding source for the rural county payments bill — to instead provide additional capital gains and dividends tax cuts. Since then, the Administration has not proposed any additional means for funding the county payments program.