May 26, 2006

Wyden blocks Interior Department nomineeover funding for rural schools and roads

Senator vows to block future Administration nomineesuntil there is an acceptable way to fund county payments

Washington, DC U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today placed a hold on the nomination of David Bernhardt to become Solicitor for the Department of the Interior and vowed to block future Administration nominees until there is an acceptable way to fully fund county payments. 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.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 Wydens statement today is below:Statement for the RecordU.S. Senator Ron WydenMay 26, 2006Mr. President, I rise today to attempt, once again, to raise awareness of the plight of countless rural communities due to the impending expiration of the "Secure Rural Schools and County Self-Determination Act." I regret that the lack of concern at the White House and the inertia in Congress forces me to put a hold on David Bernhardt, the administration's nominee for Interior Solicitor. It is time for everyone to focus their attention on the needs of the more than 700 rural counties in over 40 states who are depending on the reauthorization of this county payments legislation.Thus far, the Administrations solution to funding county payments is 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-authored a bipartisan bill, S. 267, to reauthorize county payments for another seven years. The bill has 26 Senate cosponsors. 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. In response, Senator Baucus proposed a sensible, alternative funding source for county payments, a proposal which I was pleased to cosponsor. 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. Recently, however, over my objections, Congress approved a major tax bill that uses the Baucus proposal to instead provide tax cuts for this country's most fortunate few. This lack of regard for the historic obligations of the federal government to rural counties severs a vitally important funding lifeline to communities throughout the country.I will hold this nominee -- and many nominees coming after him, if need be -- until the Administration finds an acceptable way to fund county payments. I ask unanimous consent that my statement be printed in the record.A major tax bill recently passed by Congress and signed by the President 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.