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Public Statements

Flood Insurance and Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HOEVEN. I thank my esteemed colleague, who is not only a Senator but a former Governor as well.

Mr. President, I rise to speak on the farm bill. I think we have a real opportunity to pass a farm bill that will not only reduce the deficit but provide strong support for our farmers and ranchers. Right now at this point, there is something like 250 amendments that have been filed on the farm bill. Some are good, others are probably not so good, and certainly many amendments have been filed by both parties. Some of them are germane, meaning they actually relate to the farm bill, and many of them are not. That means if we are going to get a farm bill, we have to find a way to work through these amendments and come to agreement on the amendments as far as the ones that will be voted on, and that is going to take some compromise on the part of both parties. I mean that. We have to come together in a bipartisan way and come up with an agreement so we can have a reasonable number of amendments brought forward and we can vote on those amendments and pass a farm bill. We should be able to do it. We absolutely should be able to get that done because this bill accomplishes some very important things for our country.

As I said, this bill saves money. It saves $23.6 billion that will help with the deficit and the debt. It also provides a very strong farm program for our farmers and ranchers, and that is important not only for our farmers and ranchers but for every American. It is important for every single American. Good farm policy not only benefits farmers and ranchers, it benefits all Americans.

First, we have the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world, bar none. We have the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in history. Every American benefits from that.

Second, it is a jobs bill. We are talking about millions of jobs, both on a direct basis and on an indirect basis. If we talk about small businesses, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of small businesses across this country in every State. For farmers and ranchers and all of the businesses that go with farming and ranching, it is hundreds of thousands of businesses. So it really is a jobs bill at a time when we need to get our economy going and we need to get people back to work.

It is also about national security. Think how important it is that we be
able to rely on our own farmers and ranchers across this country for our food supply. We are not beholden to other countries or relying on other countries, particularly countries that may have very different interests than we have for our food supply. It really is an issue of national security as well.

So for all of these reasons and more, we need to move forward on this farm bill. We are talking about legislation that affects every single American.

In addition, this is a cost-effective bill. It provides strong support to our farmers and ranchers, but, as I said, it also provides real savings to help with our deficit and debt. Agriculture is doing its part to help reduce the deficit. I would like to go through the numbers for just a minute to demonstrate that.

On an annual basis, the farm bill is about $100 billion out of a $3.7 trillion budget. So it is $100 billion out of a $3.7 trillion budget, but the portion that goes to farm programs and really goes to agriculture to maintain this network of farms and ranches across the country is only about $20 billion--actually less than $20 billion out of an annual budget of $3.7 trillion. Now, 80 percent of the farm bill, per se, is nutrition payments.

So let's go through these numbers. How does the farm bill score? How do we get what is really spent and where it is spent and the savings that we generate with this new legislation? The farm bill is scored, of course, over 10 years by the CBO. The total cost is $960 billion. Out of that 80 percent-plus is nutrition, primarily SNAP, which is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the School Lunch Program. So approximately $800 billion of that score is nutrition. Less than $200 billion of the score relates to the farm program portion of the farm bill. But, as we know, the farm bill is actually a 5-year legislation, not a 10-year legislation. So the actual cost is half that; it is $480 billion in total. Approximately $400 billion of that goes to the nutrition programs I talked about. Less than $100 billion over 5 years or less than $20 billion a year is actually the farm program portion of the bill.

Back to the savings. There is $23.6 billion saved out of the portion that is less than--or mostly out of the portion that is about $200 billion. In fact, out of what are truly farm programs--the commodity title and crop insurance--we are talking about $15 billion in reductions and another $6 billion in reductions out of the conservation programs. Again, those two programs alone are $21 billion of the $23 billion, and only about $4 billion in total comes out of the nutrition programs. Again, on a 5-year basis, cut that in half. We are reducing by 10 percent the funding that goes to support the farm program. That is a significant reduction.

Let's go back to my point about all of these amendments we have. We have on the order of 250 amendments, and we have to get through them and have some agreement, again on a bipartisan basis, as to the amendments that will be brought forward and voted on as part of this package.

We have the core bill that came out of the Agriculture Committee. It came out of the Agriculture Committee with a strong bipartisan vote--16 to 5--and that is for the underlying legislation. We have these 250 amendments. We have to somehow get together, come to the floor, and have a reasonable vote on these amendments--some will pass and some will not--and move this legislation forward.

As I said, while many of the amendments relate to the farm program portion of the farm bill, they either seek to further reduce the cost of the bill or seek to improve the bill. Regarding the cost of the bill, as I have just explained, the farm program portion of the bill is less than $20 billion a year, and we have already saved 10 percent. We are already reducing 10 percent. So no amount of amending for additional savings is going to make a large difference on the $3.7 trillion budget.

Further, as I said, since we already reduced the 10 percent, agriculture is doing its part to help with the deficit. For example, think if we went through the rest of the budget and were able to secure a 10-percent reduction out of all of the other portions of the budget, right? Again, my point being, of course, we have to find savings, but we are doing it in agriculture, and we are doing it in a big way. It truly is a cost-effective measure.

There are also amendments that seek to improve the bill. Here I go back to the old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. I get that there are a lot of amendments and everybody wants their amendment passed, but no amount of amending this bill is going to make it perfect. What this bill does is it already builds on the strengths of the existing farm program and makes the program stronger.

The heart of this bill is enhanced crop insurance. That is what producers across this country told us over and over again that they want. It is what they need to continue to do the very best possible job to produce the food supply we rely on throughout this country and many other countries throughout the world. Enhanced crop insurance is the risk tool they want. It is a market-based approach, and it is cost-effective.

In fact, we enhanced crop insurance with what we call the supplemental coverage option. Essentially what we do in this farm bill is we say we are going to build on the core and strength of the existing farm program because that is what the farmers and ranchers of this country have told us they want.

As it is now, the farmer goes out and buys his crop insurance and insures up to the level he thinks is appropriate. He tries to make the best decision he can, all conditions considered, and buys the crop insurance on a cost-effective basis. But the higher level he insures, the more costly it becomes to insure. So we add a new element to this bill, and it is called the supplemental coverage option. Essentially what it does is once the farmers purchase their crop insurance at whatever level they feel is cost-effective, then they can buy a secondary policy on top of that to insure at a higher level on a cost-effective basis. It is not farm-level coverage, it is countywide coverage that makes it more cost-effective. If the farmer has a disaster, it truly makes sure the farmer can continue in business. So they are able to buy crop insurance in a way that affords them better coverage.

In addition, the legislation provides help with shallow or repetitive losses that farmers sometimes face due to weather. That coverage is called ARC, or the Agriculture Risk Coverage Program. These are voluntary programs. These are an effort to make sure farmers and ranchers can insure like other types of businesses and continue even when weather conditions make it very hard for them to farm or ranch, not only in a given year but if they face weather difficulties over a period of time.

I know some of the Senators from the Southern States think that in this bill for their farmers, particularly for peanuts and rice and to some extent cotton--although there is a STAX program for cotton--there needs to be more price protection. In fact, we are working with them to do just that. We have offered amendments that I think we are making real progress on that will help them with some of the price protection they want for the southern crops, particularly peanuts and rice. As I said, they do have a product that I think they feel works for cotton, but this would provide additional price protection for cotton as well.

Again, I believe we are reaching out and doing what we need to do with southern producers. I hope we can get their support on this bill as part of getting an amendment package that we can agree to and move forward on the bill.

The other point that I think is very important to keep in mind relative to southern growers is that they will have additional opportunity in the House for some of the improvements they may feel they need in the bill even though, as I say, I think the underlying bill itself is very strong, and we have, I believe, come to some agreement or gotten very close to some amendments that will afford them the further price protection they feel is needed in the legislation.

So that is where we are. I want to return to where I started. We have to come together in a bipartisan way. Both sides of the aisle have to come to reasonable agreement on these amendments so we can move forward and vote on this bill. I absolutely believe we can do it, but I want to be very clear that it is incumbent on all of us to make it happen.

This bill is not just about our farmers and ranchers. This is a bill that affects every single American, and it is time we come together on an amendment package and find a way to move forward and get this bill done for the good of farm country and for the good of the American people.

I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.

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