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Mr. LEVIN. Madam President, if sequestration comes to pass at the end of this year, many of us believe it could derail the economic recovery and do immense damage to important programs throughout the government, making our Nation less safe and our government less responsive to the needs of the people we serve.
But at this point, while our concern is deep and widespread, it is not specific. We know only in the most general terms what impact sequestration might have. And while that is enough to encourage many of us to seek the compromises needed to avoid sequestration, the Congress and the American people deserve a more complete picture of what we face.
That is why I am a cosponsor of the amendment offered by Senators Murray and McCain, which would help give us and all Americans that more complete picture.
I thank Senator McCain and Senator Murray for the leadership and hard work, on a bipartisan basis, that produced this amendment. It deserves broad bipartisan support, and not only because it will provide valuable information to us and our constituents. We must find ways to work across party lines more often and compromise for the common good. I hope this amendment can serve as one step toward the larger and more difficult compromises we must accomplish to avert the deep and lasting damage of sequestration.
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Mr. LEVIN. I am pleased to vote for passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act. The bill before us makes important reforms to farm programs by helping agricultural producers manage their risk, invests funding to protect our natural resources, and provides food assistance to families in need.
America's agricultural economy is responsible for 16 million jobs. There are over 2 million farms in this country that contribute nearly $80 billion to the Nation's economy. Americans and people all over the world depend on America's farms to feed their families. So passage of a farm bill that protects the food supply, gives farmers the support they need, and combats hunger is of high importance.
I want to congratulate Senator Stabenow, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and my Michigan colleague, for managing this important legislation so skillfully.
This bill marks important change in how we assist our Nation's farmers. Instead of making direct and countercyclical payments to farmers, sometimes for crops they haven't even grown, this bill ends those practices and instead focuses on working with farmers to manage risks.
My home State of Michigan is second only to California in the number of crops grown and second to none in tart cherry production. Unusually warm weather in March resulted in an early bloom for many of our fruit crops, including tart cherries. These crops were then heavily damaged by a series of freezes during April and May.
I visited a cherry orchard in northern Michigan last month and viewed the damage. The damage from these freezes is severe; many trees and entire orchards will bear no fruit at all. Growers still need to maintain their orchards, spraying for bugs and disease, but can expect no payment for their crop. I am particularly concerned about tart cherry growers as they cannot currently purchase crop insurance.
The bill we are voting on today directs the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board to develop new crop insurance policies for underserved crops, including specialty crops like cherries. The bill also increases funding to help develop these policies. These new policies are sorely needed in Michigan.
The bill also includes $58 billion over a 10-year period for conservation programs that protect our Nation's waters, soil quality and wildlife habitats, prevent erosion, and help alleviate other natural resource problems. These programs have benefitted Michigan by protecting sensitive lands and waters and preventing polluted runoff and sediments from getting into our precious Great Lakes, where they can create problems such as harmful algae blooms. Preventing runoff and controlling erosion can also lower costs for water treatment and dredging of Great Lakes harbors. To create a more efficient system for accessing and implementing these conservation programs, the bill consolidates more than 20 existing programs into 10 programs.
One new program in the bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, in particular could benefit the Great Lakes. This program would provide funding through a competitive process for conservation projects that improve soil quality, water quality or quantity, or wildlife habitats on a regional or watershed scale. Because the Great Lakes region already has a regional plan in place, our region should be able to effectively compete for the $250 million in annual funding that would be provided for this program. We have made some solid progress in cleaning up our Great Lakes and other waters in Michigan, but there is still much more to be done. The conservation funding provided in the farm bill would help with the efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes, as well as protect sensitive lands and wildlife, conserve open space and forests, and provide economic benefits.
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