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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

THE FARM BILL

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, the comments I am about to make could well have been made by my friend on the other side of the aisle as recently as last year, when his party was in the minority.

Of course, we all know we will indeed pass the farm bill. The only issue is: When and how. We actually made good progress yesterday on both sides, defining the realm of possible amendments that might be filed to the bill. The amendments list on our side is actually about 120, and the Democratic list is 140--approximately 265 amendments on the list.

Before my good friend on the other side protests too much about this number, let me remind Senators that 246 amendments were filed to the 2002 farm bill, 339 amendments were filed to the 1996 farm bill, averaging about 300 amendments per bill. In fact, when Republicans were attempting to move the 1996 farm bill through the Senate, the current committee chairman, Senator Harkin himself, filed 35 amendments. So if all 100 Senators emulated the Senator from Iowa, 3,500 amendments would be the normal for farm bill consideration.

Thus, the current list of 265 amendments is not insurmountable, and, actually, not at all unusual at the beginning of the process of passing a farm bill. This is a complex bill that only gets reauthorized every 5 years. This time it is 1,600 pages long and includes the first farm bill tax title since 1933, adding an extra degree of difficulty.

However, Republicans are ready and willing to begin working in earnest to address these amendments. What always happens is that most of the amendments go away and we gradually work down the list. But this is a massive bill. The notion--if I can lift it here--that we are going to basically call up a bill of this magnitude, file cloture, and basically have no amendments strikes me as, shall I say, odd at least. What we always do is try to work out an orderly way to go forward. The issue of getting a fixed amendment list, which we were prepared to enter into last night, is the way it usually begins.

I am a little perplexed as to whether the majority actually wants this bill to pass and is trying to simply blame the minority for trying to bring it down. We all know, and I am sure anybody who has followed the Senate at all knows, we are going to pass a farm bill, no question about that. The farm bill is not going to be killed. The issue is whether we are going to have any kind of reasonable process for going forward, and I think getting an amendment list is the first step. I was hoping we could do that, but, apparently, that is not the case, and I regret that we are where we are.

But let me reassure everyone, I don't think there is anybody in the country who knows we aren't going to pass a farm bill, and nobody is going to kill the farm bill. But we are going to insist on a reasonable procedure for going forward.

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Mr. McCONNELL. We could have done way more than five amendments over the past week if the majority leader had not filled up the tree and prevented amendments from being offered. The last time the tree was filled on a farm bill was two decades ago, on October 31, 1985. In 1985, the majority leader filled the tree after a week of floor consideration; not after the very first day, but after a week--a week.

Here, amendments were prevented by a parliamentary device of the majority leader, which he is certainly entitled to use, to prevent an amendment process from going forward. Now we have this 1,600-page bill with no amendments allowed, and the majority leader says we ought to invoke cloture on the bill and pass it.

Look, we know the farm bill is going to pass. With all due respect to my good friend the majority leader, I know he is bluffing. He is going to pass a farm bill. I am reasonably confident the farm bill is going to pass after the minority gets an opportunity to offer some amendments.

I am also totally confident that the fact that the amendment list has a lot of amendments on it at the beginning does not mean they are all going to be offered or all going to be voted on. That is just the way the legislative process starts on a very large, complicated bill that we only pass once every 5 years.

I suppose we are at a stalemate. Obviously, we will continue to talk, and hopefully we can work out some way to go forward. But I am very doubtful that the minority is going to be interested in going forward in a situation where they basically have no opportunities to affect a 1,600-page bill that we only pass every 5 years.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, on the issue of nonrelevant amendments in the last several decades, the majority leader has indicated the farm bill has not had nonrelevant amendments. According to my information, the Democrats have filed seemingly nonrelevant amendments during consideration of the last several farm bills on such things as the Social Security trust fund--offered on a farm bill; bankruptcy--offered on a farm bill; and convicted fugitives in Cuba--offered on a farm bill. So I hope no one seriously believed that nonrelevant amendments have not been offered by the other side on farm bills over the last couple of decades.

This is the kind of sparring that frequently goes on at the beginning of a big, complicated bill. We all know how it will end. It will end, in the end, with a reasonable number of amendments on both sides being voted on and the passage of the farm bill. The timing of that, obviously, will be up to the majority leader, who does have a difficult challenge. Floor time is always at a premium in the Senate. We understand that. But at some point, we will pass the farm bill, in the near future, after we have negotiated a process that is fair to both sides.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this has been an interesting colloquy, but the parliamentary situation we are in is that unless the majority leader gives his consent, no amendments on my side will be allowed. That is an unacceptable way to go forward on a 1,600-page bill that we pass every 5 years. We will continue to talk. We all know there will be a farm bill. The only issue is when and how, and that is something we will have to negotiate here in the Senate, as we always do.

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