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Bush: Finish Columbia Deepening a Year Early

by Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Capital Press, February 22, 2008

... budget would take $32 million from the $67 million Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery program.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bush administration has proposed spending $36 million to help complete a project to deepen 103 miles of the Columbia River sooner than expected.

The president's budget request would boost annual spending by $6 million to complete the channel deepening next year, instead of 2010 as planned.

Northwest lawmakers hailed the proposal, which they said would save money and allow the region to reap the economic benefits of the deepening project a year earlier than expected. A deeper Columbia River "means more jobs, more trade and smarter use of energy," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

But the Columbia project was one of the few bright spots for the Northwest as President Bush released his final spending request.

The $3.1 trillion plan would slash funding for the Forest Service, for cleanup of the Hanford nuclear complex and for restoration of Puget Sound, among other projects, Northwest lawmakers said. Bush is relying on spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other programs to help ensure the budget blueprint is balanced, at least on paper, in a time of war.

Congressional Democrats said they would make major changes before the plan, which covers the budget year that begins Oct. 1, is adopted.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, called cuts proposed for the Forest Service "breathtaking," adding that Bush's plan could result in a layoff of nearly 1,200 employees - 10 percent of the agency's workforce. The president's proposal would cut non-fire related programs for the Forest Service by $408 million, or 16 percent.

"It's bad," Dicks said. "It's very disappointing."

Dicks said he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., his Senate counterpart in overseeing environmental spending, would seek to restore as many programs as possible.

"Democrats will do a better job on these very important programs," Dicks said. "To have these things completely - year after year - cut, cut, cut is very disappointing. These are programs that are important to the American people."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that with his final budget request, Bush "gave us more of the same. More promises, fewer dollars. More rhetoric, less investment in America.

"From security and health care to education and housing, the president cut. Instead of investment, he gave us red ink," Murray said.

Bush's plan would cut spending for Pacific salmon recovery from $67 million in the current budget year to $35 million next year, a figure Murray said would threaten efforts to restore and protect salmon habitat.

"The Pacific Coastal Salmon Fund does more than just maintain our rivers, streams, and salmon - it maintains our way of life in the Northwest, and I'll fight to restore federal support for this vital program," she said.

For the second year in a row, the president's budget would terminate funding for Urban Indian Health Care. Lawmakers called the proposal a nonstarter and said funding for Indian health centers in Seattle, Spokane and Portland would be restored.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the president's budget "an ideological wish list" that was less than serious.

Bush and his allies "are making a statement as they walk out the door about their agenda for Iraq without paying for it," Wyden said, noting that war spending was not included in the president's proposal. On the major domestic issue facing the country - health care - the Bush approach "is light years from where the American people want to go," Wyden said, citing his own health care plan that has attracted support from lawmakers in both parties.

Wyden and other lawmakers said they were relieved the administration abandoned a plan to sell national forest land, but said the latest plan to reimburse rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging fell far short of what's needed.

"I'm glad we finally persuaded the Bush administration to drop their proposal to sell off national treasures, but ... there is still no clear path to finding a genuine solution for rural counties" in Oregon and other states, Wyden said.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said proposed health care cuts would jeopardize the welfare of Oregon's senior and vulnerable populations.

"Good policy should drive the budget, not arbitrary cuts to programs that protect our seniors, our children and the most vulnerable," Smith said. "Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid start an unwelcome ripple effect in state budgets and doctors offices. We should strengthen, not bring down the programs that keep America healthy."

Laura Hicks, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Portland, which oversees the Columbia deepening project, said the additional spending would help the Corps "bring closure to a project we've been working on for a very long time."

If the money is approved, dredging is likely to be "substantially completed" next year, four years after it began, Hicks said.

The $160 million dredging project will deepen the river channel from 40 to 43 feet from Astoria, Ore., to Vancouver, Wash. The project is intended to give new, larger oceangoing vessels access to Portland, Ore., and other ports, helping them compete for Pacific Rim business.

Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Bush: Finish Columbia Deepening a Year Early
Capital Press, February 22, 2008

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