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Public Statements

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. STABENOW. I appreciate the courtesy very much. I wanted to take a brief moment to indicate to my friend from Alabama I couldn't agree more that we need to make sure the food assistance programs--every farm program and every program in the Federal Government--have rigorous review and that we are holding taxpayer dollars accountable. We have held accountability hearings in the Senate, in the Agriculture Committee. The good news is, there is only a 4-percent error rate in the entire SNAP program through the supplemental nutrition program being talked about, but there is more we can do.

The case of the lottery winner in Michigan the Senator talked about was outrageous, and it has been fixed. They can't do that anymore. We are going to fix it in the next farm bill as well. I could not agree more. We are going to go through and fix those things that don't make sense.

But I would also say that what the Senator is suggesting is, first of all, policy that needs to be done in the context of the farm bill negotiations. We have an extraordinary agreement we have reached between myself and our ranking member in the Senate and the chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, and we are putting together language to give to the supercommittee that will address nutrition as well as other areas. I would ask my colleagues to support our effort that we will be putting forward. We will have that language by November 1 that will address those egregious areas which, by the way, are very small, but we do need to address them and we need to do it in a way that also recognizes more people than ever before need food help.

I have people in Michigan who have never needed help in their entire life. They have paid taxes all their lives, and they are mortified they can't keep food on the table for their children throughout the month. So they are getting temporary help, and that is what is it is designed for--people who need temporary help. Because of that, we want every single dollar to go where it ought to go, and we are going to do everything possible to see that happens. We are going to be putting forward policies that I am sure

the Senate will support that will guarantee there is not $1 that is going to somebody who doesn't deserve it or to someone who is cheating or where there is fraud or abuse. We are going to make sure that happens. But this debate needs to be done in the context, as it always has been, of our farm bill policy on food and nutrition.

I ask my colleagues to oppose this amendment and to work with us as we put forward policies that will be coming very soon. I thank the Senator from Colorado for his graciousness.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to speak in opposition to the Coburn amendment No. 791, and I am pleased to be joined on the floor by my good friend and colleague and ranking member, Senator Roberts.

Let me start by saying that in the context of addressing a very large deficit we know needs to be addressed and in the context of the work being done by colleagues in what has been called the supercommittee, I am very proud of the fact that Senator Roberts and I and our colleagues, the chair and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, have come together and worked very hard, for different regions of the country, on different issues that we bring to the table. We have agreed on an overall reduction number that we have recommended as agriculture's portion of the deficit reduction.

We have already done deficit reduction, I have to say. We have already seen cuts in crop insurance, we have already seen cuts in the current year's budget that were substantial. But we know we need to do our part, and we are doing that. We are recommending $23 billion in deficit reduction.

Part of that, though, the critical part of that is we have asked the committee to allow us, as the leadership in the House and Senate, to propose the policy that goes with the cuts. We are working with all of those who are affected, from production agriculture, to conservation groups, the nutrition community, rural development, everyone who is involved and impacted by the 16 million jobs in agriculture. There are 16 million jobs. That is one out of four jobs in Michigan. This is incredibly important to our economy.

We are taking very seriously the need for us to come together and create changes, reforms in agricultural policy that streamline the system and the bureaucracy, do a better job with dollars, accountability, and reform what we are doing as it relates to the agricultural payment structure. It is in the context of that that I rise to oppose Senator Coburn's amendment. I appreciate his well-intended amendment, but I would say two things.

First of all, I understand he is proposing caps of $1 million on direct payments. We are in the process of changing that and recommending positive reforms in that whole system.

So we would ask that the Senate, our colleagues, to support us and the recommendations that we have been asked to put together by November 1, which is extremely fast-tracked, but we are working diligently, and our staffs are working diligently. There is not a lot of sleep right now so we can get this all done and put forward this new policy. So it is the wrong time and place to be suggesting this change, first of all, on an appropriations bill and, secondly in the context of this bipartisan, bicameral, good-faith effort to put forward changes in our system, which we are committed to doing, which will, frankly, usurp what this amendment is really all about.

Let me also say that it is important to talk about the fact that we have made changes in the last two farm bills. In 2002, there was a cap put on payments of $2.5 million, and we then lowered that in the 2008 farm bill to $500,000 for nonfarm income and $750,000 for farm income. We made a number of changes and a number of reforms in the last farm bill that moved us in the right direction, listening to the criticisms and concerns of the public and of colleagues. I think there were some very important steps that were made and positive changes in the last farm bill.

Understanding the world we are in now and the dynamics around deficit reduction and the economy and all of the other issues we are involved in, we are taking another major step, and I think it is a step being done in a way that says to colleagues and says to the public that we can work together. These are challenging policies, economic issues.

We have come together and worked very hard on a bipartisan basis with the House and the Senate, and I think this speaks well to the fact that if we sit down together and listen to each other and are willing to compromise, we can come together on something that is good for the country. We are in the process of doing that right now. I would ask our colleagues to allow us and support us in that effort.

We have put forward a proposal for $23 billion in deficit reduction, which is, frankly, more than would be required under sequestration for agriculture. We have gone above and beyond what the Bowles-Simpson proposal said. We know agriculture will want to do its part. We are asking colleagues to allow us to put together that policy to get there.

We will address the concerns that have been raised. We hear you. We understand. We will be proposing substantial changes that will, in fact, both create new tools for agriculture for our farmers and our ranchers but also address concerns that have been raised. I ask my colleagues, rather than supporting this amendment, to support what is a good-faith effort that is going on right now in the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and allow us the time in the next week to put together the proposals to be able to make a change.

With that, I yield to my friend--and I do mean my friend--we have become good friends as well as colleagues on the Agriculture Committee. I have to say I loved being in Kansas and having the opportunity to be with Senator Roberts and experience the high esteem with which he is held there. At the same time, I saw tremendous devastation as a result of what has happened with the droughts. I understand that when there is bad weather, when there are bad conditions, we need to have support for American agriculture. Food security, national security depends on it. I certainly saw in Kansas what happens when the weather is bad and it has reinforced for me--as well as what happened in Michigan--certainly the importance of having a strong set of tools to manage risk and a safety net that is there when farmers need it.

I yield to my friend, the distinguished ranking member.

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