Congress settles on one-year bailout


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

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

The bill &

the subject of intense negotiations for weeks &

includes $425 million for a one-year extension of the payments to timber counties, 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 a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who said it ignored the needs of rural counties in Oregon and 38 other states.

"The House leadership chose to stand with President Bush instead of with rural counties," said Josh Kardon, Wyden's chief of staff. Kardon vowed 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., who led House efforts to secure the timber money, was more upbeat.

"Given the defeat of local tax measures around the state last week, it's clear that rural counties need this emergency funding more than ever," DeFazio said.

The program reimburses 700 rural counties in 39 states hurt by federal logging cutbacks imposed in the 1990s. It expired in September.

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, including Jackson County, last week rejected new local taxes to pay for public safety, roads and libraries once financed by logging on national forests.

Jackson County received about $23 million under an older law that expired last year, but officials estimate the new legislation will provide less than the previous amount.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith welcomed the additional money, but said it won't make much of a difference in restoring cuts to libraries, public safety or roads.

"I was proceeding as if I were never going to get the money," he said.

At this point he doesn't know how much to expect from the compromise bill, but he wants to consider paying down what remains of a $38.9 million bond from 2000.

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