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

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: June 18, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, as we are waiting for wrap-up this evening, I wish to take a moment to thank all our colleagues for the extraordinary effort to get to this point where we are going to be able to come together, debate a number of different issues related to the farm bill and other issues as well, and be able to come to a final vote and passage of the farm bill.

I wish to thank, first of all, Senator Reid for his extraordinary patience and talent in working with Senator Roberts and me and all the staff, all the leadership staff, who have worked with us on this.

I also wish to thank Senator Roberts for being a tremendous partner with me, and both our staffs who are doing yeoman's work.

There is a lot more work to do. We have a lot of amendments we will begin tomorrow, I believe tomorrow afternoon, and then we will work on through the week to get this done.

But this really is an example of the Senate coming together to agree to get things done--people of different backgrounds, ideas, and different regions of the country. This is an opportunity for us to show that the Senate can work together--which is what we are doing right now, on a bipartisan basis--and be able to move forward on a very important piece of legislation.

This bill is a jobs bill. This bill represents 16 million people in the country who work because of agriculture in some way. We have had a lot of jobs bills in front of us. I am not sure there has been one that has directly affected 16 million jobs like this does.

We also have an opportunity in this bill to come together and clearly state that we are serious about deficit reduction. We are the only authorizing committee that has come forward in a bipartisan way with a bill that cuts the spending within our jurisdiction--$23 billion in deficit reduction. We have gone through every part of this bill, and we have literally analyzed every page and determined that there were some programs that were duplications or not effective or didn't make any sense anymore, and we ended up with about 100 different programs and authorizations that we eliminated from those items under USDA's jurisdiction. So this really is a reform bill.

I know the Presiding Officer is a real champion of reform and of agriculture. We have worked together, certainly, on fruits and vegetables and organic farming and local food systems and a whole range of things that we have improved upon in this bill. I thank the Chair for his continued leadership on those issues.

This really is an opportunity to come together around deficit reduction, around reform, to focus on jobs and give our farmers and ranchers predictability in terms of knowing what will happen going forward as they make business decisions for themselves.

It is a huge opportunity around conservation. I think most people wouldn't realize at first blush that the farm bill is actually the largest investment we as Americans make in land and water conservation, air quality, related to working lands. Seventy percent of our lands are privately held lands in some way--farmers and others, landholders--and the conservation title affects how we work with them to be able to conserve our land and water and address the air quality issues. We have had two successes there. So this is a real opportunity to build on that certainly for many regions in the country, such as my own Great Lakes region. It is critical in working with our farmers who have a number of different environmental issues to address. On behalf of all of us, this gives us an opportunity to partner with them and deal with soil erosion and water quality issues and runoff into our lakes and streams and Great Lakes and deal with open spaces, protecting wildlife habitat and wetlands, and creating a new easement program that will address urban sprawl so that we are protecting our lands.

I am very proud of what we have done in conservation. We have taken it from 23 programs down to 13 and divided it into 4 topics--a lot of flexibility, locally led, with farmers and ranchers working with local communities. We have saved money, but at the same time we are actually strengthening conservation, which is why we have I think 643 different conservation and environmental groups supporting what we are doing in terms of our approach on conservation. I am pleased with that.

The rural development provisions of this bill affect every community outside of our urban areas. The majority of Michigan--we see support through financing for water and sewer projects, small businesses, housing, working with local law enforcement, police and firefighters, local mayors and city council people, counties all across Michigan and the country, certainly in Oregon, where rural development funding and support for quality of life and jobs and rural communities is very much a part of the bill.

We think of the bill in terms of production agriculture. Obviously, it is critical. I don't know any business that has more risk than a farmer or rancher--nobody. So we all have a stake. We have the safest, most affordable, dependable food supply in the world. We wanted to make sure no farmer loses a farm because of a few days of bad weather. What we do in production agriculture is very important.

We also have a broad role, together with rural communities, with ranchers and farmers, to support our land and our water and our habitat and our air. We do that through conservation. We have rural development. We have an energy title that allows us to take what we do--the byproducts from agriculture, whether that be food or animal waste or biomass from forests or corn or wheat or soybean oil--whatever it is--to be able to create jobs through bio-based manufacturing, advanced biofuels, going beyond corn to other kinds of advanced cellulosic biofuels, which is very much a part of the bill, all of which creates jobs.

We are creating jobs in a multitude of ways in the bill. We are also supporting families who, because of no fault of their own in this recession, have been hit so hard and need

temporary food help. That is also a very big and important part of the bill. For the people in my State who have been hit very hard in the last number of years, it is important that we be there. They have paid taxes all their lives and supported their neighbors. They have been there for other people. Now, if they need some temporary help, we need to make sure it is there for them as well. That is a very important part of the bill also.

In addition, we see a whole range of efforts around local food systems that also create jobs--farmers markets, children's schools being able to get fresh fruits and vegetables, schools being able to purchase locally, things that we can do to support families to put healthy food on the table for their children or make sure it is available in school--very important efforts going on there. We make sure that all of agriculture is included in our local food systems. That is a very important part of the bill.

This is a large effort. We do it every 5 years. It takes a tremendous amount of work. Every region of the country has a different view and different crops that they grow and different perspectives, so it is a lot of hard work to bring it all together.

This evening we have been able to come together on a path to final passage, agreeing to the list of amendments. This is a democracy. I don't agree or support all of those amendments. I know other colleagues don't as well. We will talk about them and debate, and we will vote. That is the Senate at its best. That is what we are doing here by agreeing to a process or list of amendments from every part of the country.

Members on both sides have very strongly held beliefs. We respect that. We respect their right to be able to debate those amendments, and I also thank those for the amendments that will not be brought up, which were not in the unanimous consent agreement. I think we had about 300 amendments when we started. We knew it was not possible to be able to vote on every one of those. So colleagues' willingness to work with us was important, and I am grateful to the people who worked with us on both sides of the aisle and those whom we will continue to work with.

This is another step in the process, as we have put together a bill that we reported out of committee with a strong bipartisan vote. Now we have brought it to the floor with a large majority. Ninety out of 100 colleagues came together to say: Yes, we should debate and discuss and work on this Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act.

Now, with the agreement we have, Members are saying: Yes, we should go forward and work on these amendments and have a final vote. In the democratic process, people of good will are willing to come together and have the opportunity to debate and vote. That is what it is about. I am grateful that colleagues were willing to work with us to be able to do that.

We are waiting for the final wrap-up comments. At this moment, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT