Congressman Greg Walden explains timber payment floor battle

Letter from Congressman Wladen’s Office 6-4-2008 that has come to our attention:

Dear County Commissioner,

Over the last several years I can think of no issue I have put more time and energy into solving than reauthorization of the county timber payments program and funding for PILT. Along the way I have voted against my party and voted against my president in support of funding and reauthorizing county timber payments.

While in the majority in Congress, I made sure to keep this issue bipartisan, rejected ideas that would split the coalition or that were merely designed to embarrass one side or the other. Too much was–and is–at stake.

When I learned that HR 3058 would, after many months, finally come up for a vote in the House, I was at first elated. But then I learned the unfortunate truth that the promise had been broken to fund the program with something other than the offset in the committee-passed bill. Moreover, with PILT stripped from the bill at the last minute too, the coalition we have all spent enormous time constructing began to unravel.

In a letter dated Friday, May 30, 2008, Rep. DeFazio wrote to me asking “If you have other suggestions for offsets that won’t raise the ire of oil patch or mineral-dependent members, I would welcome the input.”

On Monday, June 2, I asked Rep. DeFazio in a phone call to give us time to come up with an alternative offset that could pay for this program””not one that is merely a “placeholder,” which is most likely in violation of contract law. He agreed to postpone consideration of the new version HR 3058 that was finally made available last week when the Congress was in recess. All day yesterday (Tuesday), I worked with legal, budget and technical experts to come up with an alternative offset that does three things: It was approved by the House last Congress (and supported by Rep. DeFazio and other Democrats); it will fund County Timber Payments and PILT; and it creates American-made energy and jobs. I proposed this offset plan to the Secure Rural Schools/County Payments Coalition late yesterday afternoon and they fully embraced it, realizing that this was a real offset that could work not only in the House, but also in the Senate. They eagerly agreed to contact Rep. DeFazio to inform him of their support of this alternative and to ask for time for it to be fully considered in an open discussion process””the way it should be. They provided his office with a copy of the outline of the legislation and alternative offset.

Unfortunately, the bill has been rushed back on to the House calendar today to be considered under suspension of the rules. A bill considered under suspension of the rules requires a two-thirds vote for approval. Considering the explosive nature of the offset being used and the process to route the bill, I doubt it will receive that level of support. If it fails under suspension of the rules, it can be brought back up for a vote on the floor under a rule. This procedure is not unique and occurs frequently. If it comes up under a rule, we could have the opportunity to offer the offset I’ve proposed as an alternative. If HR 3058 fails today, I can only hope Rep. DeFazio and the majority leadership will give us the chance to bring our new offset solution up under a rule.

After all of the years of work, I regret that it has come to this. This is our last and best hope to reauthorize and actually fund County Timber Payments (and PILT). Our proposal, if given a chance, would likely even add a partial fifth year payment.

The version of HR 3058 being considered under suspension of the rules today is a known failure in the Senate (it has been rejected each of the three times this Congress it has been sent over from the House), creates a bitter, partisan divide in the House and most likely violates contract law. I’m willing to vote against my party””as I have. I am willing to vote against my President””as I have. But I am not willing to abrogate contracts as a way to grab money to solve the federal government’s breach of agreement.

I was raised to right wrongs, to keep my word and to obey the law. I was taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. These are fundamental principles by which I operated my business for over 21 years and have conducted myself in public life. And they are principles I intend to keep in the course of solving this problem.

Best regards,

Greg Walden
Member of Congress