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Five-year timber payment left out of bill

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A $5 billion plan to extend payments for five years to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging – including Del Norte County – was left out of a spending bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators.

It includes a proposal for one year only.

Democrats are preparing to send President Bush a $120 billion bill to pay for the war in Iraq through September. It would not demand that troops leave Iraq by a certain date.

Blaming the House

The bill – the subject of intense negotiations for weeks – includes $425 million for a one-year extension of the payments to more than 700 timber counties in 39 states, as well as other domestic spending not requested by the president.

But it does not include the Senate's plan to spend about $2.8 billion to continue the county payments law through 2011 and direct another $1.9 billion to rural states as part of a program to reimburse state and local governments for federally owned property.

The failure of House and Senate leaders to include the longer-term solution drew fire from Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, as well as Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Wyden and Kulongoski are Democrats, while Smith is a Republican.

"A one-year extension is a Band-Aid when we need a blood transfusion,'' Smith said Wednesday. "The House leadership dropped the ball on rural counties when they did not agree to the Senate's long-term extension.''

Kulongoski said the standoff left "hundreds of counties across the nation in a state of uncertainty at best and crisis at worst.''

Wyden's chief of staff, Josh Kardon, blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House leaders for the collapse of the multiyear plan.

"The House leadership chose to stand with President Bush instead of with rural counties,'' Kardon said, adding that Wyden would bring up the five-year solution "again and again if necessary for the federal government to honor its obligation to the counties.''

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., called Kardon's comments out of line.

"This proxy attack on the speaker of the House for providing over $400 million for one year (of timber payments) is outrageous,'' DeFazio said, "and it isn't going to help'' when Oregon lawmakers seek Pelosi's help for a long-term fix in coming months.

DeFazio, who led House efforts to secure the timber money, said it was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada – not Pelosi –who had some explaining to do.

Reid told reporters Friday that he would seek to include the multiyear timber payments in the war-spending bill. Reid called the timber program a personal priority and said he would hold up the war-spending bill if necessary to include it in the bill.

"It's Tuesday and he's still majority leader and they are accusing the House of bowling over the Senate?'' DeFazio asked.

"What happened between Friday and Tuesday that caused (Reid) to back down?'' asked Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Addressing domestic issues

Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, blamed the White House, which he said opposed efforts to provide long-term funding to rural schools and counties.

"Democrats were crystal clear during the negotiations that rural America cannot be left behind – and that the president's failed foreign policy should not diminish the importance of addressing our domestic emergencies,'' Manley said.

Reid will continue to work with Wyden and others to get a long-term extension.

DeFazio and Walden called the one-year funding a victory, noting that voters across Oregon just last week defeated local tax measures that would have paid for public safety, roads and libraries once financed by logging on national forests.

"It's clear that rural counties need this emergency funding more than ever,'' DeFazio said.

Crediting DeFazio with most of the heavy lifting, Walden said, "Two months ago full funding for one year was a huge goal we were trying to achieve and we achieved it."

"It's not everything we wanted certainly,'' Walden added, "but I don't understand the logic in political rock-throwing right now, when tomorrow is a time we need to work with the same players in the White House and the House and Senate to fully fund a multiyear program.''

Bob Douglas, president of the National Forest Counties Schools Association and schools superintendent in Tehama County called the one-year funding a huge letdown.

"The coalition is deeply disappointed that neither the House nor the Bush administration were willing to work with the Senate to guarantee more than what will amount to a six-month Band-Aid for rural schools and counties,'' Douglas said.

Douglas and other rural leaders have worked for more than two years to secure funding for the so-called Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

The law, which expired in September, reimbursed 700 rural counties in 39 states hurt by federal logging cutbacks imposed in the 1990s.

Schools and counties throughout the South and West have scrambled to cut spending to make up for the expected loss of federal funds. Voters in five Oregon counties last week rejected new local taxes to pay for public safety, roads and libraries once financed by logging on national forests.

 


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