FOOD, CONSERVATION, AND ENERGY ACT OF 2008--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - May 15, 2008)
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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, despite my great admiration for America's hardworking farmers and my support for additional food aid for our Nation's most vulnerable, I must oppose the conference agreement to H.R. 2419, the Food and Energy Security Act, also known as the farm bill. I recognize that in the days ahead, attempts will be made to use my opposition to this bill for another's political gain, but I have always worked to do my best for America and that is why I must oppose this conference report. And, the American people deserve to know the truth about this farm bill: It is a bloated piece of legislation that will do more harm than good for most farmers and consumers.
In today's economy, when hardworking American families buy groceries they feel the sting of misguided Federal agriculture policies. Instead of fine tuning our farm programs to improve their efficiency, we have allowed them to swell into mammoth government bureaucracies that generally exist to serve special interests at the behest of congressional benefactors. Sixty-nine years after the Great Depression and the advent of the farm bill, well into the 21st century, commodity prices have reached record highs. I believe American agriculture has progressed to the point where we no longer need government grown farms.
Don't misunderstand. I am not opposed to providing a reasonable level of assistance and risk management to farmers when they need America's help. Farmers never abandon America, and America mustn't abandon them. When a farmer suffers from a natural disaster such as droughts or floods, they rightly deserve assistance. But they need a hand up, not a hand out.
The American taxpayer has been told before that farm bills and their thirst for subsidies were a necessary evil to provide our country and the world--with affordable, abundant food. Today, as food prices reach historic highs, they're being told the same thing. We must challenge that notion as grocery bills soar, food banks go bare, and food rationing occurs on a global scale. We must question policies that divert over 25 percent of corn out of the food supply and into subsidized ethanol production. Do Americans really want a support system that costs consumers $2 billion annually in higher sugar prices? Will we truly reduce our dependency on foreign oil by extending tariffs that make it too expensive to invest in sugar ethanol production? Can we honestly demand fair and free trade at Doha while domestic cotton growers dump subsidized cotton on the world market?
The farm bill conference report is expected to cost taxpayers around $289 billion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill will exceed the government's budget by $10 billion. But the administration points out that with clever accounting made famous by congressional budget dodgers, the real cost of the bill will exceed the government's budget by about $18 billion. And even though Democrats and Republicans in both Chambers have promised to rein in pork barrel spending, this bill betrays that promise. Buried within its hundreds of pages are special favors like: $170 million bailout for the west coast salmon industry included at the insistence of the Speaker of the House; $93 million in special tax treatment for race horses; $260 million in tax cuts for the timber industry; $15 million for asparagus growers. During debate on the Senate farm bill last year, my colleague Senator Gregg offered an amendment, which failed, to strike this provision. This is a crop that has never before received farm subsidies; $175 million would be transferred to Bureau of Reclamation for activities at three Nevada lakes; $500,000 to the Walker River Paiute Tribe for legal and professional services in support of settling tribal water claims. Other tribes have dealt with water rights without a half million dollar earmark; $5 million for joint planning and development activities for water, wastewater, and sewer facilities by the city of Fernley, Nevada, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
The bill authorizes a myriad of grant programs including grants for research into pig genetics, grants for the preservation of historic barns, and $300 million for the Sun Grant Program, which provides grants to 6 universities and science centers that conduct bioenergy research.
Twenty million dollars goes to the collection and storage of seeds for research purposes; $75 million for a crop research facility in El Reno, OK; $35 million to promote the production of ``hard white wheat.''
A $4 billion disaster assistance package on top of an existing crop insurance program that's subsidized by the Federal Government. And these are only a few examples of the questionable provisions expected to hit the President's desk.
As you may know, farm subsidies were originally designed to ensure farmers get a fair return on their labors, but the majority of subsidies go to large commercial farms that average $200,000 in annual income and $2 million in net worth. Indeed, these payments aren't going to the average hardworking American farmer working in the Heartland. This farm bill actually increases subsidy rates for some crops and a majority of those payments are funneled only to a few staple crops. During debate on the Senate farm bill last fall, I proudly cosponsored an amendment which would have capped subsidies for farmers whose income exceeds $250,000. That amendment, which was rejected, was written by Senators Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Chuck Grassley of Iowa--two distinguished colleagues who understand rural America better than most. Instead of fixing a system that provides farm payments to millionaire land owners, sometimes when they don't grow anything at all, Congress ignored the cries for reform from small farmers themselves. In fact, this farm bill contains a phony payment limit designed to allow farmers to earn up to $750,000 and $500,000 off the farm before hitting any subsidy ceiling. Astounding.
This Congressional feeding frenzy is tragic because other areas of the bill have merit, like the increased funding and focus on food assistance and nutrition programs. In particular, the bill would index food stamps to reflect the current cost of living and fill shortfalls in the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good in this bill.
More than hand-outs, more than ballooning disaster payments, the families and small businesses throughout the Heartland are demanding affordable quality health care, better education for their children, lower taxes, and relief from government regulation. Rural America has seen farm bill after farm bill passed without policies that adequately promote economic development or address population loss. We must improve rural life, provide high-tech connectivity essential for jobs and education, open trade markets, maintain our competitiveness, and reduce overregulation for farmers and ranchers.
For now, we need to put an end to flawed government policies that distort the markets, artificially raise prices for consumers, and pit producers against consumers. We have once again failed farmers in that regard, which is why I oppose this bill.
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