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Public Statements

Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I note the Presiding Officer was paying close attention to the Senator from New Mexico. I think that is entirely appropriate for that to happen. I am sure it certainly has nothing to do with family allegiance.

The Senate is considering the farm bill, which we do every 5 years. During this debate, Americans will hear speeches about spending reductions and cuts to farm subsidies. I concede that there is some of that in this bill.

Unfortunately, so far we have failed to have an open and fair amendment process that should be the case in the Senate. I have several amendments I would like to have considered. Similar to my other colleagues, we have been prevented from doing so. I have been in this body for some years during the consideration of previous farm bills. I have always been able to have a couple amendments considered and voted on.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case in the consideration of this farm bill.

It is very regrettable and unfortunate that we cannot just start voting on amendments and then see where we are. Instead, we have the filling of the tree and other language, and most Americans have no idea what we are talking about. But it does prevent this body from considering the amendments of Members on both sides of the aisle. It is unfortunate.

Also, the fact remains that the programs authorized under this farm bill consume a colossal sum of taxpayer dollars. It is over 1,000 pages and is estimated to cost $969 billion over 10 years. Again, that is $969 billion over 10 years. That is about $1 billion per page. It is a 60-percent increase from the previous farm bill, which was passed in 2008. While I believe it is necessary to assist low-income families with nutrition programs, we should keep farmers out of the red when a natural disaster strikes.

I am also mindful of the taxpayers who are saddled with a $1.5 trillion deficit and a ballooning $15 trillion national debt. The farm bill is certainly ripe for spending cuts. Some have taken place--not nearly as much are necessary. As usual, the farm bill, being 1,000 pages long, is filled with special deals for special interests.

I acknowledge that the Senate bill generates $23 billion in savings, and that is a notable accomplishment. We have finally done away with Depression-era farm subsidies such as ``direct payments'' and the ``countercyclical program,'' which encourages overproduction, thereby triggering more farm subsidies to compensate for depressed prices. Unfortunately, it seems that Congress's idea of farm bill reform is to eliminate one subsidy program only to invent a new one to take its place. Cutting direct and countercyclical payments actually saved the taxpayers about $50 billion, but rather than plug that money into deficit reduction this farm bill blows $35 billion of its own savings on several new subsidy programs.

For example, we have a new agricultural risk coverage subsidy program, or ARC, which works by locking in today's record-high crop prices and guaranteeing farmers up to an 89-percent return on their crop. ARC could cost taxpayers anywhere from $3 billion to $14 billion each year, depending on market conditions. We also create a new $3 billion cotton subsidy program called STAX, which the Brazilian Trade Representative has signaled will escalate their WTO antidumping complaint against the United States. I wonder how many of our taxpayers know that we already pay Brazil $150 million a year to keep our cotton programs. Why would we make things worse?

This bill authorizes the creation of a new marginal loss subsidy program for catfish. This bill maintains a $95 billion federally backed crop insurance program, which also subsidizes crop insurance premiums. We then pile on a new $4 billion program called supplemental coverage option, or SCO, that subsidizes crop insurance deductibles. Subsidized insurance, subsidized premiums, and subsidized deductibles--I am hard pressed to think of any other industry that operates with less risk at the expense of the American taxpayer.

This is all part of farm bill politics. In order to pass the farm bill, Congress must find a way to appease every special interest of every commodity association, from asparagus farmers to wheat growers. If you cut somebody's subsidy, you give them a grant. If you kill their grant, then you cover their insurance programs.

Let's look at several other handouts that special interests have reaped in this year's farm bill, which may account for the size of the bill.

The bill authorizes $15 million to establish a new grant program to ``improve'' the U.S. sheep industry. We are going to spend 15 million of your taxpayer dollars to improve the U.S. sheep industry.

The bill authorizes $10 million to establish a new USDA--Department of Agriculture--program to eradicate feral pigs. I have always been against pork spending, but now we are going to spend $10 million to establish a new USDA program to eradicate feral pigs.

The bill authorizes $25 million to study the health benefits of peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans--$25 million to study the health benefits of peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans. I know mothers all over America who have advocated for their children to eat their peas will be pleased to know there is a study that will cost them $25 million as to the health benefits of peas, lentils, and garbanzo beans.

It authorizes $200 million for the Value Added Grant Program, which gives grants to novelty producers such as small wineries and--I am not kidding--the occasional cheesemaker.

There is $40 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to encourage private landowners to use their land for bird-watching or hunting. We are looking at a $1.5 trillion deficit this year, and we are going to spend $40 million to encourage private landowners to use their land for bird-watching or hunting. I am all for bird-watching, and I support hunters--not to the tune of $40 million.

The bill authorizes $700 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative--$700 million. That funds a variety of research grants, such as testing pine tree growth in Florida or studying moth pheromones. I have no clue what a moth pheromone is. When did it become a national priority to study moth pheromones?

There is $250 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Urban Forest Assistance Program, which spends Federal funds to plant trees in urban parks and city streets. There is a new program that spends $125 million to promote healthy food choices in schools. There are already at least four other healthy eating educational programs in this bill. There are already four, but we are going to add another $125 million program for another healthy eating educational program.

There is $200 million for one of my all-time favorites, the Market Access Program, which has been there for years, which subsidizes overseas advertising campaigns of large corporations. We have, of course, the infamous mohair wool subsidy, which has been fleecing the American people since 1954. When Congress passed the 1954 farm bill, they wanted to ensure a domestic supply of wool for military uniforms by paying farmers to raise, among other things, angora goats for mohair. This may have held merit then, but nobody can dispute that mohair became obsolete, thanks to synthetic fibers. Today we use mohair in custom socks, fashionable scarves, and trendy throw rugs. Some of my colleagues may recall that Congress killed off mohair subsidies in the 1990s. Unfortunately, goats are reputed to eat just about anything, and our hard-earned tax dollars are no exception.

By the time Congress passed the 2002 farm bill, mohair

subsidies had been restored. The mohair program, which costs taxpayers about $1 million a year, may not be particularly expensive compared to most farm programs. I suppose where some of my colleagues see a minor government pittance for wool socks I see a disgraceful example of how special interests can embed themselves in a farm bill for generations.

As if field corn and ethanol subsidies weren't nefarious enough, this farm bill includes a new carve-out for popcorn subsidies--I am not making it up. This is a perfect example of farm bill politics. Thanks to a provision snuck into a 2003 appropriations bill, popcorn started receiving millions of dollars in ``direct payment'' subsidies. However, because the new farm bill eliminates direct payments, the popcorn industry is scrambling to be added to the newly created ARC Program. Under this farm bill, popcorn will be subsidized to the tune of $91 million over 10 years, according to CBO.

The cooking oil that movie theaters use to heat popcorn is already subsidized, as well as the butter they put on top. So popcorn is doing fine is the truth of the matter. The price of popcorn has risen 40 percent in recent years, thanks in part to ethanol, and recent free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea are creating a boom for American popcorn exports. There isn't a kernel of evidence that they need this support from taxpayers.

The Sugar Program is another masterful scam. The USDA operates a complex system of important tariffs, loans, and government production quotas that restrict sugar imports and keeps sugar prices artificially high. The sugar barons will tell us that the Department of Agriculture Sugar Program operates at ``no net cost'' to the American taxpayers because sugar didn't receive ``direct payments.''

In actuality, businesses and consumers bear the burden of the Sugar Program by paying higher costs for any sweetened product. Every year, American consumers are forced to pay an extra $3.5 billion on sweetened food products.

Just yesterday, the Senate voted to table an amendment to phase out the Sugar Program, which is quite a sweetheart deal for sugar growers.

Finally, one of my favorites of all time is regarding catfish. I have an amendment that will repeal the farm bill provision that directs the USDA to create a new catfish inspection office. I am grateful for the support of my colleagues who cosponsored it. What we are attempting to do with this amendment is simple: It puts an end to the latest attempt by southern catfish farmers to restrict catfish imports.

Five years ago, a protectionist provision was snuck into the 2008 farm bill that requires the Department of Agriculture to begin inspecting catfish. As my colleagues know, the USDA inspects meat, eggs, and poultry but not seafood. That is a whole new government office. It is being developed at USDA just to inspect catfish. Catfish farmers have tried to argue that we need a catfish inspection office to ensure Americans are eating safe and healthy catfish.

I wholeheartedly agree that catfish should be safe for consumers. The problem is that FDA already inspects catfish, just as it does all seafood, screening it for biological and chemical hazards. If there were legitimate food safety reasons for having USDA inspect catfish, we would not be having this discussion. Don't take my word for it, just ask USDA.

When the Department of Agriculture completed an internal assessment for the program in December 2010, the Department said it could not establish a ``rational relationship'' between the catfish office and the risks to human health, concluding, ``There is substantial uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of the catfish inspection program.'' The Department of Agriculture estimates that this questionable program will come at a cost to taxpayers of $30 million just to create the office and another $14 million each year thereafter.

GAO has also extensively examined the catfish office. In February 2011, GAO released a report saying the catfish office is at ``high risk'' for fraud, waste, and abuse, and it is ``duplicative'' of FDA's functions and would fragment our food safety system. Just last week GAO issued a new report, titled ``Responsibility For Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA,'' and they called upon Congress to repeal the catfish office.

This isn't the first time consumers have been hoodwinked by southern catfish farmers. When the Senate considered the 2002 farm bill, they slipped in an obscure provision that made it illegal to label Vietnamese catfish as ``catfish'' in the United States. At that time, the State Department had recently reopened trade relations with Vietnam, and domestic catfish farmers in Southern States found themselves competing against cheaper catfish imports. Domestic catfish farmers wanted to discourage American consumers from buying Vietnamese catfish by marketing it under the Latin name ``pangasius,'' or ``panga,'' even though it is virtually indistinguishable from U.S.-grown catfish.

Although the panga labeling law was enacted, it ultimately backfired on catfish farmers because panga catfish remained popular with American consumers. It is a senseless law, and my colleagues may recall that I came to the floor to fight against it. I asked the question: ``When is a catfish not a catfish?'' Why would Congress pass a law that renames a species of catfish into something else? Why single out catfish and put it in the same category as USDA-inspected beef.

Ironically, catfish farmers are lobbying USDA to re-relabel Vietnamese ``panga'' back to ``catfish'' to ensure Asian imports are subject to this new catfish office.

So the catfish office offers no legitimate food safety benefit. Its true goal is to erect trade barriers on Asian catfish imports to prop up the domestic catfish industry and make American consumers pay more.

The farm bill before us has some laudable parts to it. There are some reductions in spending. When we examine the bill, however, we find more and more of this kind of special interest, unnecessary spending, and programs that either are protectionist in nature or programs that have been inserted sometimes in the middle of the night in the past. We have also just begun to examine a number of provisions in this bill, which I did not discuss today.

I wish the small business men and women in my State had a bill for small business, a bill that would help them in the very difficult times they are experiencing, in the terrible economic times which have caused them to not be in business anymore so that they and their families are going through the most difficult of times. This is obviously a well-intentioned bill, but I also think in these harsh economic times it is far from the kind of legislation we owe the American people.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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