By Senator Stabenow
Americans overwhelmingly agree that the nation's top two priorities should be creating jobs and reducing the deficit. The farm bill, set to expire this year, gives Congress the opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation to accomplish both.
That's why Congress must pass a strong farm bill this year and not kick the can down the road with a short-term, Band-Aid extension, as has become all-too-common in Washington.
The farm bill is a jobs bill. Farm bill programs give small businesses and farmers critical tools that help them invest and grow.
More than 16 million Americans have jobs because of agriculture, and America's farmers keep growing more jobs. American agriculture exports reached record levels at nearly $140 billion last year -- it is the only area of the U.S. economy with a trade surplus, and it is continuing to grow as demand for American agriculture products is on the rise. Continued growth in the farm sector is critical to boosting the U.S. economy and creating jobs.
But farmers cannot continue investing in their operations or boost production when they're surrounded by uncertainty. Passing a farm bill would provide the certainty that America's farmers need to continue meeting the demands of a growing world. Failing to pass a bill would damage our farmers' ability to compete globally and would undermine growth in the economy. Short-term extensions and piecemeal fixes threaten the health of a robust farm sector that's critical to our economic recovery.
And failing to pass a farm bill before the current one expires would be a lost opportunity to reduce the federal deficit.
Last year, when the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction challenged each congressional committee to submit its plan for reducing the deficit in its area of jurisdiction, the Senate and House Agriculture committees stepped up and developed a detailed, bipartisan recommendation to streamline agriculture programs and cut $23 billion in mandatory agriculture spending.
We proposed eliminating direct payment subsidies. We outlined ways to crack down on fraud and make programs more accountable. The plan consolidated programs, for example, reducing the number of conservation programs from 23 to 13. This was accomplished while still maintaining or even improving the tools currently available to accomplish critical conservation goals, in a way that has earned the plan praise from a wide variety of conservation advocates.
We found real savings that allowed us to strengthen top priorities that help farmers plan for the future and create jobs, while still contributing our fair share to deficit reduction. Agriculture makes up about 2 percent of the federal budget, and $23 billion in savings was just about 2 percent of the supercommittee's deficit-reduction goal.
Too often partisanship poisons the ability to compromise, but the Agriculture committees have risen above politics as usual. Our long-standing tradition of bipartisanship remains strong as we work across the aisle in both the Senate and the House to develop a farm bill that makes sense for our economy, showing that we can cut spending and strengthen critical priorities in a bipartisan, bicameral way.
Agriculture is a bright spot in our economy, creating jobs and boosting entire communities. We have a responsibility to the American people to build on this momentum and provide the certainty that farmers need to continue producing a robust and safe food, feed, fuel and fiber supply.
The time to complete a farm bill is now. This Congress cannot afford to take another jobs bill down to the wire, throwing a key sector of our economy into uncertainty and disarray.
The Senate Agriculture Committee will mark up a farm bill this spring. Having a bipartisan bill on the president's desk by this fall would demonstrate the kind of leadership that the public should expect from its elected officials during these tough economic times.