GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said comments from a Bush administration official have encouraged him to think a one-year extension of federal timber payments to rural counties could be approved.
But Rep. Peter DeFazio, of Oregon, said the administration will have to make a commitment in writing before even a one-year extension will get traction in the House.
“This is not going to give me the clout I need to jump ahead of about 40 other requests,” being considered for the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, he said.
The Senate has included a $400 million, one-year extension of the payments in an emergency supplemental spending bill, and DeFazio has been trying to do the same in the House after the failure of his bill to extend the payments for four years.
Lawmakers from both parties have tried for several years to salvage the program, which makes up for declines in logging revenues that help pay for schools, roads and public safety in 700 rural counties in 39 states. Oregon gets the largest sum of money.
Wyden based his feelings on comments by Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey during a committee hearing in Washington.
Though President Bush has threatened to veto DeFazio’s House bill extending the program four years because it did not include provisions to phase out the program, Rey noted that the administration has supported the program, and has in the past signed a one-year extension.
“I wasn’t telegraphing anything,” Rey told the Associated Press afterward.
DeFazio said Rey’s comments are no different from those he made two weeks ago to the Deschutes County commissioners in Bend.
DeFazio added he is still waiting for a response from the White House to his letter asking for a written commitment to the program.
“I don’t frankly know whether we are going to get something to him before (the supplemental appropriations bill) hits the House floor in any case,” Rey said. “The White House is working on a response.”