Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Chairman, if it weren't for the lateness of the hour, I would be tempted to ask if any of my colleagues have had constituents call or write their offices to ask whether Congress has lost its marbles. I won't do that.
But I would point out the fact that the underlying bill we are considering tonight contains a provision to create a checkoff program, like many others, but this is a checkoff program for natural stone on behalf of the marble and granite industry.
To those of my friends who are supporters of the checkoff program--and again, there are many checkoff programs--I would simply ask for you to take a close look at my amendment.
Proponents of this checkoff have argued that stone is a natural product, and yes, it is. But is it just like the other products covered in the checkoff program in the agriculture arena?
To anyone unfamiliar, here's a sampling of the some of the other checkoff programs currently run by the USDA: dairy, eggs, beef, blueberries, pork, sorghum, watermelons, et cetera.
The common denominator between the some 20 checkoff programs run by the USDA is that they are all agricultural commodities. They all grow. They all can be raised. The statutory authority for this program defines precisely what an acceptable agricultural commodity is, and rock, no matter how natural it is, is not one of them.
Mr. Chairman, farmers in my district do not grow rocks. In fact, they don't like it when frost heaves and pushes new rocks up in their fields, as in my farm field.
My amendment is more than fair, Mr. Chairman, and is necessary for maintaining the integrity of the farm bill and not for expanding--for which our chairman earlier this evening expressed concern--more farm bill programs in assorted prior amendments. There are no laws preventing this industry from imposing a voluntary tax on their membership. If they are really insistent on having a government-run checkoff, they could have pursued a program under a more appropriate agency like the Department of
Commerce or the Department of the Interior.
I would hope my colleagues, Mr. Chairman, would agree that rocks have no place in a farm bill, and would join me in removing this provision from the bill.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. AUSTIN SCOTT of Georgia. The underlying language of the farm bill simply provides this industry the same opportunity that many other industries have been provided through the checkoff.
I share a similar concern with the gentleman who has the amendment. Commerce or the Interior might have been an appropriate place to put this, other than they simply don't have the infrastructure to handle such a program. The infrastructure is already there at the USDA. There are other examples of products outside of agriculture that have been handled there.
It simply gives the U.S. stone industry the opportunity to come together with a voluntary payment to support a marketing program to help their industry. Again, it is voluntary. A ``tax,'' by definition, is an involuntary payment to support the government. This is a voluntary payment to support an industry.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
Ms. HERRERA BEUTLER. With that, I urge my colleagues to join in this bipartisan, bicameral effort to protect jobs and protect our forest health.
I urge adoption of the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.
The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from Washington (Ms. Herrera Beutler).
The amendment was agreed to.
AMENDMENT NO. 3 OFFERED BY MS. FOXX
The Acting CHAIR. It is now in order to consider amendment No. 3 printed in part B of House Report 113-117.
Mr. CONAWAY. Mr. Chairman, I've got great respect for the author of the amendment, and he knows that, but I do stand in opposition to the amendment.
The checkoff programs on a generic basis are very successful. The industry itself votes on them and comes together to decide how they're used in the promotion of the products.
I respectfully disagree with my good colleague, but I have to oppose this amendment. We handled this in committee, and it passed in committee. We gave it a good scrubbing there. So I would ask my colleagues to oppose the amendment.
Mr. BACHUS. I thank the chairman.
The chairman and I have had several small businesses in Alabama--marble businesses, granite businesses, stone businesses--that have contacted me and have told me that this discretionary permission to request a research order or a promotion is very important to them.
They've been struggling over the past several years since our what was almost a depression, and they're small businesses. I'm talking about businesses of 10 people, 30 people, 100 people. This is predominantly a small business venture, and we all have them in our communities.
I would urge a ``no'' vote, although I do respect the gentleman from Michigan and many of his endeavors.
Mr. WALBERG. Mr. Chairman, propane and oil heat function as checkoff programs under the Department of Commerce and under the Department of Energy. The statutory authority for the USDA checkoff also does not include rock. So I respectfully request that my colleagues in this body support this amendment, which keeps free those things that don't grow and are not part of agriculture out of a farm bill.
I yield back the balance of my time.