Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: June 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, unfortunately, I would urge my colleagues to vote no on this amendment. It cuts in half funding for a program that helps food entrepreneurs--small businesses and farmers who want to create new kinds of products and to commercialize them and get them to the marketplace.

This is really what we are trying to do--to leverage more dollars in this bill to support not only the farmer on the farm but also to move into commercialization and to create new food products and jobs. In fact, we have created hundreds of jobs at wineries. We have done this all across the country--created jobs by helping small businesses and entrepreneurs to take a great idea and to move it to commercialization and add value to their product.

I would strongly urge a ``no'' vote, and I would ask for the yeas and nays.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, if I may take a moment to thank Senator Bingaman and Senator Hutchison. Both New Mexico and Texas have strong and passionate advocates. They are lucky to have them, and we are looking forward to working with them to make sure the issues they have raised are addressed.

Also, just for those following along in order, I would just indicate that Senator Collins, in light of the passage of the Snowe amendment, will not be proceeding with her amendment, just for the information of the Senate.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, let me add my strong support for the amendment. We have reformed this title on rural development. We have eliminated 16 different authorizations, tightened it up. The amendment stays within our parameters of $23 billion in deficit reduction. In effect, this benefits every small town and community across America that counts on rural development. I would strongly support this amendment.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I strongly urge a ``no'' vote. We actually rejected this amendment last fall. I ask that we do it again.

It is true that food assistance has gone up as the economy has had a rough time. As unemployment goes up, food costs go up. Unemployment is coming down, and in this bill we reflect savings. As the economy is getting better, food help goes down. It is no different than crop insurance helping the farmer in a disaster. This helps families in a disaster.

Unfortunately, this amendment would completely change the structure of food help. It would dramatically affect children and families. For example, it would affect someone's ability to get to work because the value of their car would somehow be reflected in a way that would require them to possibly give up their car when they are trying to get to work in order to be able to put food on the table for their families. It makes no sense.

This bill has commonsense reforms to make sure every dollar goes where it should. I urge a ``no'' vote.

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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I strongly oppose this amendment. We are talking about improvements in managing errors, reducing errors in the nutrition program. The amendment of the Senator would eliminate the error-reduction bonuses that go to State governments.

We have seen a 43-percent drop in payment errors as a result of the program Senator Nelson has now strengthened with his amendment. In his amendment, he would ensure that all of the additional funds that go to States are used only to carry out improvements in SNAP, to lower the error rates. Those savings to taxpayers dwarf the costs of this incentive to States to improve their processes. It is working well.

In addition, in this bill we eliminate any lottery winners or students living at home with their parents from receiving assistance. We crack down further on trafficking in retail establishments.

I urge a ``no'' vote.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I would urge a ``no'' vote on this amendment. The good news is, the people who were mentioned will no longer be able to get farm subsidies under this bill because of the reforms we have already put in place. We have already lowered the adjusted gross income. We have put a $50,000-per-person cap on payments, which is less than half than what farmers currently receive.

Let me say, this would cap across the board, including conservation, and conservation of land and water is critically important to us as a country.

I yield now the remainder of my time to my ranking member.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I wish to take a moment--the ranking member has yielded some time to me--to thank Senator Feinstein. This is an excellent amendment. She has done a tremendous amount of work on it. I urge a ``yes'' vote.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to oppose this amendment. I appreciate the interest and concern of the Senator from Tennessee. Let me just say that this amendment would cut off access for farmers and small businesses that are looking to develop wind energy projects that will create jobs. I have to say, as someone coming from Michigan, when I look at one of those big wind turbines, I see 8,000 parts, and every single one of them can be made in Michigan or across the country--we would prefer Michigan. But the reality is this is about jobs.

We are in the middle of a global clean energy race with countries such as China, and this is about giving our businesses a leg up to be able to win that race. Frankly, it is about getting us off of foreign oil. This is one way to do that and to create jobs.

Since 2005, wind energy companies have contributed more than $60 billion to the economy, with over 400 facilities in 43 States. It is about jobs. It is about manufacturing.

I would urge a ``no'' vote.

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Ms. STABENOW. I rise to oppose this amendment. One of the important principles in this bill is that we support the great diversity of American agriculture. This particular amendment would go after a very small part of this bill--a provision to support the fastest growing part of agriculture, which is organic farming.

We have reformed this bill, as we have every other part of the bill. We continue what has been in the farm bills of the past.

I might add this amendment would also reduce funding available for conservation and risk management assistance for States that have been underserved by crop insurance.

I urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I must, regretfully, oppose this amendment. I deeply care about protecting nutrition assistance programs. I hope that is not in doubt. But here is what is going on. In a handful of States, they have found a way to increase the SNAP benefits for people in their States by sending $1 checks in heating assistance to everyone who gets food assistance. Now, it is important to consider what a family's heating bill is when determining how much help they need, which is why the two programs are linked. But sending out $1 checks to everyone is not the intent of Congress. For the small number of States that are doing that, it is undermining the integrity of the program, in my judgment.

I appreciate we have turned down those amendments that would, in fact, change this structure and lower benefits. But this is about accountability and integrity within the program, and I must oppose the amendment.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to oppose the amendment that would cut funding for critical programs for small businesses in rural communities across the country. In the 1930s and 1940s we made a commitment to rural electrification and extended what was a fairly new technology to communities across the country. We had a boom in innovation and economic growth.

Our country no longer has a divide between urban ``haves'' and rural ``have-nots'' as a result of that. Today, the Internet is the new dividing line. Too many communities still don't have access to high-speed broadband Internet for businesses in these locations. It is a real competitive disadvantage for them, especially in a global economy.

I urge that we support what we have done to invest in small businesses and the ability to connect. We don't need the new urban ``haves'' and rural ``have-nots.'' This is about investing in rural communities.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to oppose this amendment. The FDA loan guarantees are critical to our farmers, our rural small businesses, and community banks in small towns across the country. The loan guarantee programs help support commercial and farm credit lending when farmers and ranchers face tough times. It is also an important program to help beginning farmers and ranchers who don't have a long history of credit but who are certainly qualified to receive loans to start their operations.

We know that the average age of an American farmer is 57 years and that one-quarter of our farmers are 65 years of age or older. If agriculture in America is going to survive, we need to have young people engaged in farming. This amendment would make it much harder. So I oppose the amendment.

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I would urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment that would prohibit the zero cost check-off programs. These programs are funded by the private industry, not taxpayers. They are incredibly beneficial to farmers and businesses who want to help market their products. For example, the ``Got Milk'' campaign came from a check-off program used by the dairy industry. The ``Incredible Edible Egg'' is another one. No single egg farmer is going to have the resources to run a national television ad encouraging folks to eat more eggs.

Let's be clear. This is a program that commodity groups vote on and agree to. The ``Got Milk'' campaign happened because dairy farmers got together, voted, and decided they wanted to go ahead and do research and a promotion program. Let's not take the ability for the industry to come together, pool their own money, and market their product.

I would urge a ``no'' vote and ask for the yeas and nays.

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