FOOD, CONSERVATION, AND ENERGY ACT OF 2008 -- (Senate - June 05, 2008)
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I appreciate the cooperation of Senator Harkin and Senator Chambliss on allowing us to have some discussion on the farm bill. The attempt was made to pass this by unanimous consent. Unanimous consent means that every Senator in the body agrees with the bill, agrees it should be passed, agrees it should not be amended, and should not be debated.
I will offer no amendments in working with Senator Chambliss and Senator Harkin. However, I think it is very important, especially in light of the recent WTO ruling which allows Brazil to administer approximately $5 billion in punitive penalties on American products going to Brazil because we are WTO noncompliant. I come from a farm State and I want to tell you I think this bill is not good for my farmers. As a matter of fact, I know it is not good for my farmers, especially when we think out in the distance.
Input costs have more than doubled for production agriculture in this country and the assumption--not implicitly, but nevertheless in this bill is the assumption of good prices in the future. Anybody who has been around farm community for any period of time recognizes that farm prices are erratic. My thoughts are what do we have in the farm bill when corn prices are back at $3 a bushel, when wheat prices are back at $2.50 or $3 a bushel, and when soybeans are back down at $5 a bushel with input costs doubled? What we have done is we have cut $3.5 billion from the commodity title in this program.
The one thing that WTO says is compliant is direct payments. We have cut them by $313 million. I don't want farmers to get anything if they don't need it, but food is important to us and I do not disagree that we will use agriculture to help us in our energy needs. But I think in the long run we have not done what we need to do for the American farmer.
More importantly, and this is not to degrade the very hard work that was done by the Agriculture Committee and the conference committee, is that we have missed an opportunity to be good stewards with Americans' money. How can that be so? One is the bill extends ethanol provisions as livestock producers and consumers are struggling to pay for higher feed costs. It takes 2 pounds of feed to gain a pound of weight in a chicken. It takes 4 pounds of feed to gain a pound in a hog. So the input costs on food have risen dramatically.
We didn't eliminate the import duty on ethanol. If we think ethanol is an important aspect of our freedom in terms of energy independence, why do we have an import duty on ethanol coming into this country? Why did we not fix the dollar blending for biofuels, biodiesel? Now large quantities are coming into this country. A small quantity of diesel is being blended to it, they are collecting $1 from the Federal Government and shipping the biodiesel fuel to Europe where they can get more money for it. What in fact we did not eliminate is the subsidy to European biodiesel in this bill.
This is basically a food bill, it is not an agricultural bill. Madam President, 73 percent of this bill goes for food and there are absolutely no metrics on what we are doing in terms of our food programs. There is no measurement, there are no performance indicators, there are no qualifications as to are we meeting the needs? Is the money we are spending accomplishing our goal? We have no metrics in that. There are none.
The bill steals money, much to the chagrin of the leaders in the Senate, for true agricultural programs and puts it into things that are not agricultural at all. We took $250 million in an earmark in this bill for the Nature Conservancy to buy land in Montana for one person. We are constructing a Chinese water garden in Washington, DC, in the Arboretum, from a gift from the Chinese--but now we are going to pay for it. We are spending $3.7 million in a noncompetitive grant for the University of the District of Columbia to upgrade agriculture and food science facilities. Granted, it is a land grant college. Why should not it have to compete? How do we know that is the best place to spend the $3.75 million?
We are spending money, at a time we are going to come close to a $1 trillion deficit, on historic barn preservation? We are going to preserve falling-down barns at the time we add $3,000 per man, woman, and child in this country to their debt? We create a farm and ranch stress assistance network. After this bill they are going to need it. They are going to need it--especially if crop prices fall. The safety net is gone.
We have the highest prices historically we have ever had for asparagus and yet we put $15 million for asparagus prices from 3 years ago in this bill.
We have $50 million for the Sheep Industry Improvement Center that has two employees in Washington, DC. It halts a previous law that was going to privatize the center.
We also have a wonderful study to study methane release from livestock operations. I would like for us to know, in the natural physiologic condition of cattle, how we are going to eliminate flatulence? How we are going to spend money? We know it is there. We know how much is there based on how many head of cattle there is. We are going to spend money to study it.
More importantly, this bill offends one of the most cherished beliefs of farmers and ranchers, and that is property rights--a guaranteed right in this country is put at risk under this bill. In addition to the $250 million for the Nature Conservancy to buy more land, this bill authorizes the Community Enforced and Open Space Conservation Program, which will give grants to local governments--Federal money; we don't have it but we are going to give grants--and tribes, to buy up private forest land and put it into the hands of the Government. We are not going to have an option. We are going to let the Government agency give grants and we are going to take land away from private landowners. That is what we are going to do. That is ultimately what will happen.
We added 100 million acres in Government land in the last 5 years in this country. We added 100 million acres. What was the purpose for this? The guise of protecting water supply, hunting opportunities and, in the bill itself, preventing obesity. We are going to prevent obesity by buying land.
Finally, the bill fails to rein in the USDA. It is the fifth largest corporation in the world. It has 115,000 employees--11,000 here in DC. We are still going to have a top-heavy bureaucracy and we are going to spend money on the bureaucracy instead of on the production of food, efficiency in the farm, and guaranteeing that Americans will have a safe and secure food supply.
This is not to denigrate my colleagues. Most of this they didn't agree with. They had to trade to keep a half-way commonsense bill, so I don't want Senator Harkin or Senator Chambliss to think--and I know through my conversations with them that this is stuff they had to swallow, coming out of a conference committee. This bill was never going to be easy. Yet after nearly 2 years of debate, Congress is going to pass a bill that fails to prioritize agricultural spending in any meaningful way and what I believe, and it is my opinion, that what in the future will be is life very much more difficult for the American farmer and rancher.
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