Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers visited with Columbia County Commissioners on Monday
Border wall appropriations, hydroelectric energy and student loan debt were discussed
November 7, 2019
DAYTON-On Monday, Columbia County Commissioners Mike Talbott, Ryan Rundell and Chuck Amerein had the opportunity to visit with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, topics under discussion included the Southern border wall, healthy forests, breeching dams, and other topics of interest.
McMorris Rodgers said during the first two years of the Trump Administration, $5.6 billion was appropriated and signed into law for construction of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
"So that is now underway, hundreds of miles," she said.
She said the president has issued an executive order that proposed moving money out of the military budget to pay for the wall.
"I did not support that," she said. "I support the wall."
She said her biggest concern is the precedent that order sets for future administrations and for future presidents to unilaterally decide how to spend money.
"I spoke out a lot about President Obama, and his executive orders, and the overreach by the administration," she said. "As a representative, the power of the House is in the purse. . . our responsibility is to decide how our hard-earned tax dollars are spent. To give that to the Executive Branch is a huge shift."
Commissioner Ryan Rundell wanted to know if there is some pathway to address Executive overreach.
"She answered, "I think it's the most important question before us as a country, right now."
She also said the Supreme Court has been undermining Congressional authority.
A case in point is the Supreme Court's Chevron decision, which says when there is a disagreement between what is signed into law by Congress and what an agency introduces in a proposed rule-deference goes to the agency, McMorris Rodgers said.
"But, you know, I don't think our founders would ever have imagined that the legislative branch would become as weak as it is," she said.
McMorris Rodgers talked about the national debt and she said a balanced budget amendment is needed. She said Republicans have been trying to pass a balanced budget amendment, whenever they are in the majority, but have failed to get the votes.
She said she asked her staff what else could be done.
She said the answer was the Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act which she brought before Senator Rand Paul's committee a week ago.
They talked a lot about "zombie" programs, at that meeting, she said.
"There are hundreds of programs, departments and agencies within the Federal government that continue to get funded although their authorization has expired. Hundreds of billions of dollars," she said.
"Way too much of the federal government is on autopilot. You just have a lot of it that is outside of congressional review, and it is a problem," she said.
Regarding the bloated national debt, McMorris Rodgers said, "When this debt is really going to catch up with us is when interest rates go up again."
She said when there is a 1% increase in interest rates, the debt service is going to be more than all the money spent on the military, in one year.
"When our interest payment is larger than our military spending in any given year, that's when it really starts hitting us," she said. "We need to be addressing it now. Every year we put it off is only going to make it more painful."
McMorris Rodgers said the Energy and Commerce Committee is at the heart of our economy and future, and in her role as the ranking member on the committee she has been making forest health a top priority.
She is advocating for policies to ensure healthy forests and supports efforts like the A-Z demonstration project on 50,000 acres in the Colville National Forest, where contractors are removing diseased and bug infested trees.
"On the Colville National Forest, we are starting to turn on the A-Z demonstration project. For many, many years we were trying to get to 40 million board feet off the Colville National Forest, and this year we are approaching 120 million board feet," she said.
She said two more of these projects are being looked at in the Colville National Forest, one near Chewelah, and one in Pend Oreille County, where the tribe is looking into creating more outdoor recreation opportunities.
This involves a more collaborative approach, she said.
She said she sees infrastructure construction starting to rebound.
"We have a biomass plant that is looking to expand. They are taking wood waste and making newsprint," she said.
She told the commissioners that a hearing on renewable energy standards took place last week.
"There are shared goals of us moving more and more and more to a clean energy future, and so we have been having hearings on what that looks like," she said.
"Certainly, the dams are a big issue," she said.
McMorris Rodgers said she just learned that in the 1990's, Chinook salmon went extinct in Lake Washington, because they couldn't get over Ballard Locks, and were eaten by sea lions.
"She said legislation was signed into law in Dec. 2018 to allow the taking of some sea lions at the mouth of the Columbia River.
She said she didn't know that bill exempted Puget Sound, and she said she's asked for a briefing from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation as to the reasons why.
She said she sat down with the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Board and asked to be considered a partner for salmon recovery in Puget Sound, "so that you can get your eyes off the four lower Snake River Dams".
"Two years ago, Bonneville Power Administration said we would have had blackouts in Washington State without the four lower Snake River dams. We depend on them for that base load," she said. " It is the natural 'battery' that we all enjoy.
McMorris Rodgers is emphatically opposed to writing off student debt. She said it isn't fair to the two thirds who don't attend college to pay for those that do.
"I just paid off my student loans last year," she said. "It took a long time."
But McMorris Rodgers said she is supporting legislation to extend Pell grants for the building trades.
She said the Women Helping Women program in Spokane is partnering with the Association of General Contractors for a six-week introductory program about the building trades.
"For the first time these women are seeing a future. They're seeing a good paying job in their future," she said. "It's a win/win, where you're giving some hope and new opportunity to people that are in a really tough place, and you're also helping introduce people to the trades."
She said she has also been working with a colleague in California on a legislation that would establish more residency programs for aspiring doctors in underserved rural areas, and also in the Veteran's Administration.
"We have the doctors, but we don't have the residencies," she said.
She touched on the problem of opioid addiction, as well.
"Last Congress, the major focus was legislation around combating opioids. There is grant money for prevention. There was more money put into treatment," she said.
With regard to the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement, McMorris Rodgers said the AFL-CIO has asked for a delay so it can be reviewed by them, but she believes it has enough votes to pass.
"You think about the USMCA. It's really important to Washington State," she said.
She said one out of three jobs in the state depends on the trade agreements.
"We want to grow it here. We want to manufacture it here. We want to innovate it here and then sell it to the rest of the world," she said.
McMorris Rodgers said she is on the Whip Team and she hopes the trade agreement will be passed by the end of the year.
The Columbia County Board Of County Commissioners (BOCC) has been concerned about the unreliability of Payments in Lieu of Taxes and McMorris Rodgers told them she thought the House passed a bill to make PILT payments permanent.
The BOCC is also concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency granting exemptions for renewable energy manufacturing, which impacts the county's finances.
"We would rather not have exemptions," Commissioner Mike Talbott said.
"Since the sales tax exemption for renewable energy has gone into effect, our county has lost almost 6 million dollars," County Treasurer Carla Rowe explained.
Rowe said the sales tax exemption was set to expire at the end of this year, but a Senate bill extended it, creating a type of tier system so that the exemption is now between fifty percent and one hundred percent, depending on what the company meets, as far as the standards go.
"It's good for business promotion, but it hurts a lot in this county," Commissioner Chuck Amerein said. "So it makes us less inclined to see renewable projects here because what benefit to us?"
Commissioner Talbott said the county intended to fill out an application to the Department of Commerce for a grant funding for the HVAC system at the courthouse but was put off by the sheer number of pages in the application.
McMorris Rodgers said she would be more than happy to connect the county with someone in the Department of Transportation who is a dedicated grant writer for rural areas.
Then Commissioner Amerein pointed out all the ways the state takes money from the county.
"As it goes now, we go scrimping and scraping, trying to pay for things," Amerein said
He also said there is a lack of good housing secondary to the lack of jobs in the county.
McMorris Rodgers was sympathetic, and she told the commissioners she will help in any way she can.