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Oregon Senator Threatens To Block US Budget Bill Over Rural Funds January 30, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–An Oregon senator is threatening to filibuster a must-pass spending bill if Congress doesn’t extend payments to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging.

“The federal government has an obligation to rural Oregon, and it’s time to meet that obligation,” said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. “We are talking about people’s jobs, children’s schools and general public safety in 700 timber counties in 39 states.”

Congress is considering a $463.5 billion spending bill that would pay for 13 Cabinet agencies this year. Democratic leaders hope to move the bill through the House as early as Wednesday, with the Senate likely taking it up after that.

Smith said he would try to block the bill if it doesn’t include funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, a seven-year-old law that has pumped more than $2 billion into Oregon and other states hurt by federal policies that restricted logging in the 1990s. The policies were aimed at protecting the spotted owl and other threatened species.

The law – known as “county payments” – expired last year, and the federal government sent out its final checks to counties last month.

Smith and other Western lawmakers have been trying to reauthorize the law, but they have been frustrated by budget constraints and concerns that Oregon gets too much money under the current formula.

Oregon, long a leading timber producer where more than half the land is owned by the federal government, received more than $149 million of the $385 million distributed nationally last year by the Forest Service, far surpassing No. 2 California, which received $66 million. Washington state was third at $42 million; Idaho got about $21 million.

Smith sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declaring that he will “put the brakes” on the budget bill if it doesn’t include a one-year extension of the county payments program, which he called a “safety net” for rural America.

Some state and local officials have warned that libraries might be closed, deputy sheriffs laid off and other services curtailed if the timber program isn’t renewed.

The Senate would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster effort.

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