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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I wish to take a few moments to update folks about what is happening as it relates to the very important effort to pass a 5-year farm bill for our country--for our ranchers, for our farmers, for those who care deeply about nutrition and conservation policy for the country.
We have somewhere between 16 and 20 million people who work in this country because of agriculture--the farm bill and food policy--and I am very proud of all the work we did together to pass a bipartisan farm bill. In doing that, we sent a very strong message on a number of fronts that we were committed to economic certainty for our growers. We said we understand the need to have long-term policies in place, and we also sent a message about disaster assistance.
I have spoken on the floor before, as my colleagues have, about the very serious situation happening all across our country as it relates to livestock and the broad question now of drought in every region of the country. We also have had areas, in addition to drought in Michigan and other places, where food growers have been hit with an early warming and then a freeze again. So we have had multiple reasons to care about short-term disaster assistance, and I am very proud the bill we passed includes a very good livestock disaster assistance program available for this year which will be very helpful for our livestock producers.
We also added provisions for fruit growers that will help those who don't have access to any crop insurance. That will not only include this year, but we looked to the future by putting in new options on crop insurance, new tools for the risk management agency to develop with growers, with commodity groups across the country crop insurance for the future. So as we see these kinds of weather disasters, they will have more certainty because there will be better coverage and broader kinds of coverage for crop insurance for all commodities, which we don't have today.
We definitely need to pass a farm bill. We need the House to pass a farm bill both for long-term policy but also for disaster assistance right now, and we know this is an opportunity to achieve deficit reduction. The only bipartisan effort we have had on deficit reduction on the Senate floor--and I would argue probably bipartisanship on the House floor as well--has been through the farm bill, with $23 billion in deficit reduction, with major reforms, changes in policy, and eliminating four different subsidies that are there when growers don't need them or for things they don't plant anymore and replacing that with a risk-based, market-based system for when farmers truly do need us, as they do now.
So there is a whole range of things we have done--reforms and strengthening conservation efforts in our country, focusing on the right policies around nutrition, around local food systems and so on--and all that is in jeopardy at the moment because the House, rather than bringing to the floor the bill passed out of the House committee, which, even though it is different and I would argue doesn't have all the reforms we have and takes a little different approach on commodities and so on, it is a bill we can work with to come to final agreement on between the House and the Senate. But instead of bringing that to the floor, getting it done, we are now hearing discussions about just passing some kind of a disaster assistance program.
Certainly, we need to do that. We have already passed it and we can strengthen it as we move forward to a conference committee and I would support doing that as well. But instead of having a full 5-year farm bill policy, they are talking about kicking the can down the road one more time. That seems to be a very popular strategy around here. It is not one the public wants us to use. They want to extend the farm bill for another year, with no deficit reduction, no reform, no certainty for farmers, and with policies extended another year that don't work for a lot of industries and then just do some disaster assistance. I think that would be a disaster.
I know we have colleagues on both sides of the aisle--and I am grateful for the leadership of the chairman and ranking member in the House for their advocacy and leadership--who want to get this done, but we need to know the House leadership will allow that to happen so we can get real reform, deficit reduction, and the kinds of policies we need in place that will solve problems and provide the safety net all our farmers need. If we end up in a situation with just an extension, what happens? As our distinguished Presiding Officer knows, it would keep in place for another year a dairy policy that doesn't work.
I remember, in 2009, sitting around the table and talking about what was happening to dairy farmers--folks going out of business, losing their farms because of policies that didn't work. Now the House is talking about extending those policies for another year rather than adopting the changes and the reforms we have put in place that would help dairy farmers all across the country. They are talking about an extension that would eliminate about half the support for fruit and vegetable growers that we put in place. In the last farm bill, I was proud to offer that, and we strengthened that in this farm bill. It is one of the largest areas of commodities, groups of commodities, in the country. So that would not be continued.
There are a number of things that, frankly, would not be continued or available, and there are a number of things that would continue that are bad policy. So if we have a 1-year extension, we are continuing something we rejected and that everybody on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate said they didn't want to do, which is direct payments going to farmers, government payments, regardless of whether the prices are high or low, in good times or bad times, and continuing even on things that aren't grown anymore. We all said that makes no sense.
We all said, instead, that we wanted to move to a risk-based system and have a strong safety net there when farmers and ranchers need us, to strengthen crop insurance and make sure farmers have skin in the game; that they are sharing in the cost on crop insurance.
But none of that happens with a simple 1-year extension.
We continue things we have all said are not good policy, that cost taxpayers money, and that we shouldn't be spending our money on at a time of huge deficits; that we should not have those kinds of subsidies in place. We eliminated four of those, with $15 billion in savings alone in the commodity title. All that would go away under what the House is talking about. We would be continuing things people have said were bad policy. Everyone talks about reforms and changes, but this would continue the old ways.
We eliminated about 100 different programs, duplication, and things that do not work anymore--redundancy, whatever it is. About 100 different programs we eliminated in what we passed. They would all continue--every single one of them--for another year if we just do a 1-year extension.
Let me just say in conclusion that I encourage House colleagues to join with us. We can have differences in what our commodity title looks like, and I respect those differences. We can work those out if we have the opportunity to negotiate in good faith and get things done. We will do that. We can have differences in what should happen in the nutrition title, but we should not be saying to farmers and growers that we are going to walk away from them and put in place another kick-the-can-down-the-road strategy that keeps bad policy or no policy going, no deficit reduction, and puts us in a situation where, frankly, 1 year from now it is tougher and it is a bigger mess than ever, with our growers trying to go to the bank, trying to figure out what they are going to do when planting season comes and making decisions, all the while looking at us and asking: What happened here? Why did you do this?
We did our job in the Senate on a strong bipartisan basis. It was a lot of hard work. We spent a lot of time here. We need to complete the job. If our House colleagues will come together with us; if the Speaker, the leadership in the House, will decide to give us a vehicle with which to do that, I am very confident we can get the job done.
I yield the floor.
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