BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from North Dakota for allowing me to take a few moments to speak when he was waiting his turn.
I wish to also say Senator Hoeven has been a terrific member of our Agriculture Committee, coming in, in his first term, and has made a significant difference. He and our chairman of the Budget Committee, Senator Conrad, have been terrific powerhouses, and they never let me forget that 90 percent of the land in North Dakota is farmland. I thank him for allowing me to take a moment.
AGRICULTURE AND THE DROUGHT
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I am not sure the House has completed the vote yet on a partial disaster assistance program, but I am rising to urge colleagues in the House to join with us in passing the Agricultural Reform Food and Jobs Act, commonly known as the farm bill.
I wish to commend the chairman and ranking member in the House for doing what we did in Senate, which is to work together on a bipartisan basis. They worked very hard with their committee and reported out a bill. We have some differences with that bill, but they worked very hard together, and I know we can come to agreement on something that is a compromise between the House and the Senate. I commend them for doing that.
I am very concerned and very disappointed that the Speaker and the House leadership did not support their efforts to bring this to the floor in July. I was on the Agriculture Committee in the House. This is my fourth farm bill. I have never heard of a situation where there was a bipartisan farm bill reported out of committee and not taken up on the floor. It is very concerning. But nonetheless, I support the chairman and ranking member in the House and look forward to working with them to actually get this done.
My colleagues, of course, remember the long and intense debate we had on this bill, both in committee and on the floor, with more than 70 amendments. I wish to again greatly thank our majority leader for understanding the significance of this bill to the economy and to rural America and to jobs across the country. The majority leader and the Republican leader both allowed us the time to do that, and I very much appreciate that.
We passed the bill, as we all know, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 64 to 35. The Senate came together and did what the Senate is supposed to do, and we worked very hard together to be able to get that done.
Especially given the drought and the disaster farmers are dealing with--not just drought but other disasters--it is critical the House follow our lead and both pass a comprehensive disaster assistance program but in the context of real reform and a 5-year farm bill.
The House Agriculture Committee passed their bill. I am anxious and I am, frankly, disappointed they did not have the support they needed to be able to bring it up, bring to the Senate, and put us in a situation where we are able to go to a formal conference committee, which I would like very much to do to resolve differences.
But we do intend to begin that process, speaking together, listening to each other, negotiating in the next few weeks to see if we can't come together informally, to be able to offer a compromise bill to the House and the Senate for consideration.
I wish to remind my colleagues that the farm bill is a jobs bill. Sixteen million people work in our country because of our agricultural economy and our food industry. We have the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. The bright spot is agriculture. Export surplus is in agriculture. We should be doing everything possible to support agriculture, our farmers, our ranchers, both in the short term for disaster assistance but also looking down the road on a 5-year farm bill.
Second, the farm bill expires on September 30, less than 2 months away. We need to get it done. We are racing against the clock right now.
We also know that this year our Nation is experiencing the worst drought in a generation. You turn on the news, and you see serious wildfires in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Montana, among others. You look in Michigan and you see a fruit disaster that relates from warmth and then freeze. We have more than half of the counties in the United States that have been declared disaster areas not just because of drought, which is what the House has addressed partially, but because of weather disasters. That is 1,584 counties across the country, 82 of them in Michigan. We have only one county in Michigan that has not been declared a disaster area. Eighty percent of the country is now experiencing abnormally dry, moderate, or extreme drought, 22 percent of the country is facing extreme doubt, and so on.
As an emergency measure, USDA has opened 3.2 acres of conservation land for grazing and haying, but we know there is a lot more to be done. That is what I want to speak about because when we look at this, all the disasters--and we understand we have to address drought. We have to address what is happening to livestock. I am very proud of what we have done in the Senate, what we passed, which is a stronger Livestock Disaster Assistance Program. It is permanent--not just for a couple of months, it is permanent. But we also understood that there are other kinds of disasters. For those fruit growers and cherry growers in Michigan who have no access to crop insurance--it is not available to them--we made sure there was support for them. For apple growers, for sweet cherries, for juice grapes, for others across the country, we have put in place provisions in the Senate bill.
Frankly, I believe we need to do more and can do more as we look at how this has developed. We need to have the next few weeks to fully look at all that has happened, whether it is livestock in the drought, whether it is wildfires, whether it is what is happening to fruit growers, and put together a comprehensive effort in the context of passing a 5-year farm bill.
But when we look at all this, these are the disaster areas, but most of Michigan is not helped by what the House is doing because it does not include the efforts to help those who currently do not have crop insurance, the fruit growers. Michigan is not helped. The Northeast, again, with fruit, or Florida with fruit, or out West, whether it is California or Oregon or in this whole area--not helped by what the House is doing. I appreciate the first step, and I certainly understand that the agriculture leadership in the House is trying to do whatever they can to take a step, and I commend them for that. But it does not cover this. It covers a good share, but it does not cover every kind of disaster we have before us. And frankly, it doesn't cover disasters waiting to happen because of inaction on a 5-year farm bill.
Let me go through the differences right now between what the House and the Senate have done. We passed a comprehensive 5-year farm bill as well as a comprehensive disaster assistance bill. I will underscore again that I believe that after looking through the next few weeks and looking at everything that has happened, we ought to be looking at what else we can do--not less, as the House did, but potentially more.
Both the House and the Senate have extended the livestock disaster program to 2012. We extend it permanently.
On tree assistance, if you lose the entire tree in an orchard, you are helped--not if you just lose the food, like most of our growers, but the entire tree. These things are the same, so we have sort of disaster-lite up here.
Then, in the Senate bill, we increase payments for livestock producers facing severe drought, so we actually have a stronger payment system and safety net for our livestock producers.
As I said before, we help fruit growers impacted by frost and freeze. We create new crop insurance options so that, going forward, we don't have to be back here every year because we strengthen crop insurance and create opportunities for fruit growers who do not have insurance now to be able to have crop insurance--which, by the way, producers pay into, and there is no payout unless you have a loss.
We also address urgently needed dairy reforms to save dairies from bankruptcy. In 2009, under the current dairy policy, we lost farms across the country. If we do not act in a 5-year farm bill, in the area of dairy, of milk producers, it is a disaster waiting to happen. So we need to have a comprehensive farm bill that deals with dairy reforms because that is part of avoiding the next disaster.
There is permanent funding, as I said, for livestock disaster assistance and conservation efforts to prevent another dust bowl. One of the reasons we don't have a dust Bowl in many areas where the drought has been horrible, just horrible, is because of conservation efforts that we put in place that have worked. We need to strengthen those.
We give the Forest Service tools to protect and improve forest health and deal with another disaster not dealt with here, which is forest fires all across the country.
We improve crop insurance to protect against disasters, and finally, we provide farmers and ranchers with long-term certainty. They want to know going forward not only what help they will receive this year--and they need it, and we will make sure that happens--but they want to make sure going forward that they have long-term certainty.
I appreciate in my own home State that the commodity growers are very concerned--strongly supportive of the Senate bill, want to support the Senate disaster assistance efforts. In fact, the Michigan Farm Bureau came out today
opposing what the House is doing because, from a Michigan perspective, it just doesn't cut it. It is just not enough.
We have gone through efforts that, in fact, will allow us to solve the problem long term and to also address the short term. What we need, after hearing from farmers and ranchers across the country, is a bipartisan farm bill that gives producers long-term certainty so they can make business decisions without worrying about risk-management provisions that are going to expire on September 30--which, by the way, is just 58 days away.
I would like all my colleagues to know that we have really a dual strategy right now, knowing how important this issue is all across the country to rural America and really to everybody--everybody who eats. I think that is everybody. We all have a stake in having a strong agricultural policy, nutrition policy, conservation policy that maintains our position as the world leader in access to safe, affordable food. With or without official conferees and so on, it is our intent to have conversations to see if we might come together on something that would bridge the differences between House and Senate agricultural perspectives.
We know there are things we need to work on together. We are proud of the fact that we passed a farm bill on a strong bipartisan basis, but we understand we need to work with our colleagues and listen. It is our goal to do one of two things: to either have the opportunity to come together in September and offer something that would be a compromise with the House and the Senate that we could offer and look for an opportunity to pass--that is the best thing. It includes comprehensive disaster assistance as part of that. That is far and away what we are hearing from farm country and what we are hearing from those across the country whose livelihood depends on agricultural production in the food economy.
If for some reason we are not able to succeed, we need to assess all of what has to happen in the next 4 weeks and come back together and do what we need to do in September to pass a very strong, comprehensive disaster assistance program--not just for livestock, as important as that is, but for all of our communities in every State where there has, in fact, been a disaster.
We will work with colleagues. We will be offering a bipartisan effort. I am extremely hopeful that we can come together around what really needs to get done, which is a 5-year farm bill. If not, we certainly will make sure that in September we have the opportunity to work together.
As I close, let me just indicate the reason--what happens if we do not do the whole farm bill. We lose deficit reduction. The only thing we voted on in a bipartisan way with deficit reduction, we passed here together. I see colleagues of mine who played a tremendous role in this. The former head of the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of Agriculture from Nebraska, the distinguished Senator from South Dakota--North Dakota--we did this on a bipartisan basis, $23 billion deficit reduction. We repealed subsidies that we all agreed from a taxpayers perspective we should not be doing anymore. We made some difficult decisions on that. We want to make sure we support farmers for what they grow but not give a payment for what they don't grow. And the number of reforms we did around payment limits and other things, including going through every part of this bill and doing what everybody says we ought to do, some of which is look for duplication, what doesn't work, what ought to be eliminated--and we actually eliminated more than 100 programs and authorizations.
If we don't do a real farm bill, all of this goes away. I suppose you can say the folks who do not want reform would be trying to stop us from passing a 5-year farm bill--certainly the Senate bill--people who do not want reform, people who would like to keep status quo and would like to continue with a system that has not worked for many growers and ranchers. We in the Senate have come together, and we think that is not the right way to go.
I am committed to working with my colleague, the ranking member from Kansas, who I know cares deeply as well about what is happening to livestock producers in his State. We have talked. I know how committed he is to making sure we have the right help to be able to support them. We are committed to doing that. But let's not do half a disaster assistance bill. Let's not do something short term that is less than what producers across the country are counting on us to do. They have sent a loud message. They want us to get it done. There is no reason we cannot. We did it here in the Senate. I believe that if we work in good faith, if we listen to each other, if we trust each other, we can get the whole thing done in September and have, really, something to celebrate and to offer to all of those in rural America, all of those who count on us, every one of the 16 million people who have a job because of agriculture and our food industry.
Mr. President, I yield the floor. My colleague from North Dakota has been extremely patient, and I am very much appreciative of his willingness to allow me to speak.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT