This vote was on an amendment that would have required farmers to pay interest on the debt used to construct irrigation projects that benefit them.
Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would alter the management of one of California’s largest waterways to favor agribusiness over environmental and conservation interests. Delivering irrigated water to these farms means constructing water delivery systems. This is generally done using taxpayer dollars that are repaid over time by recipients of the water. However, farms in the San Joaquin Valley are exempt from paying interest on this debt. Rep. Napolitano’s amendment would have ended that exemption.
Rep. Napolitano noted that the Republican bill would divert scarce water resources from the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to farms and cities. It would also override state and federal laws meant to protect the environment. This would jeopardize the health of the ecosystem and the water quality for people living in the Delta, she argued, and so the farms that benefit should not be allowed to skirt the full cost of the projects.
“If we are removing the role of the federal government in protecting the environment and public good, as we plan to do, we should also remove the federal subsidy associated with renewed or new water contracts,” Rep. Napolitano said. “My constituency and anybody else's must be treated fairly and must be required to pay equally any additional interest on any future water contract and project.”
Republicans argued that Rep. Napolitano’s amendment unfairly targeted farmers. They said her amendment would force farmers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley to pay a “punitive surtax” that would result in higher water prices.
“I believe that beneficiaries should pay the cost of the water projects, but they should pay only the cost of those projects and no more. These are not cash cows for the federal government to milk until they're dry,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.
Rep. Napolitano’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 174-250. Voting “yea” were 173 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. Voting “nay” were 237 Republicans and 13 Democrats. As a result, the House defeated the effort to require farmers to pay interest on the debt used to finance public irrigation projects that benefit them.