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Public Statements

Unfinished Business in the 112th Congress

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COURTNEY. It is. Thank you for, again, taking the time tonight to speak on the floor of the House.

This is a place where the eyes not only of the country but the world are on us right now in terms of whether or not this body is going to have the strength of will to act and deal with, again, all of the ticking clocks which you've mentioned earlier: the fiscal cliff at the end of this year; sequestration; and at the end of this month, a farm bill reauthorization.

Again, for those watching tonight, I think it's important to have a little context here, which is that up until this year, every 5 years since the end of World War II, Congress has acted to enact a farm bill which is a 5-year policy bill that sets up all of the ground rules for a vast array of issues that surround producers in this country, the folks who get up every morning and milk the cows and plant the crops and harvest the crops.

It deals with issues of rural development. Small-town America depends on USDA rural development funds and programs to build everything from sewers, hospitals, health clinics. Again, all of the infrastructure, which again, small towns by themselves really don't have the financial means to create.

Conservation programs, forestry, food policy, nutrition policy.

Again, the farm bill is a profoundly important measure that sets up both producer and production policies and agriculture but also consumer ends in terms of food safety, food security, et cetera.

Incredibly, we are at a point right now where at the end of this month, at the end of September, the last farm bill will expire. If Congress does not act, then farm policy will revert to what the state of the law was in this country in 1949. Again, that statutory construct is so completely disconnected from the reality of what farms and agriculture is today in the 21st century that it defies, really, the powers of any Secretary of Agriculture to implement.

But, again, as you point out, when you look at the U.S. economy today, agriculture is leading the way in terms of growth, in terms of exports, in terms of renewed activity even in New England, which is not viewed as sort of a big farm State. But the fact is that specialty crops, which I'm sure in upper State New York we're seeing again growing farmers markets, are really the renaissance and movement towards making sure that foods that we serve our kids in cafeterias are on the dinner tables in American homes.

Again, people have just a heightened interest in terms of making sure it's local and fresh, and the farm bill sets up the policies that make that movement continue to grow.

Well, where are we tonight? The Senate passed a farm bill. They passed a farm bill back in June. It was a bipartisan measure, hard-fought. It took 3 weeks to make its way to the Senate floor, getting through all the procedural hurdles. Yet Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together with a farm bill which does great things in terms of reforming agriculture policy in this country. It eliminates direct payments to farmers, which saves the taxpayers $23 billion over the next 5 years. So it actually helps the deficit in this country by passing the Senate farm bill. It reforms dairy price supports, which is critically important right now because, again, the structure that is in place today really was shown to not be adequate in 2009 when milk prices crashed during the recession. It sets up a new risk insurance program, which will allow dairy farmers to actually have some confidence and security about their future.

It does, again, a great job in terms of protecting and maintaining the network of food supply for Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. It's a good, solid, bipartisan measure that really addresses all of the challenges of the 21st century.

In the House, we actually reported out a farm bill out of the House Agriculture Committee with a strong, bipartisan vote. It has problems. Frankly, it cuts too deeply into nutrition. But this is an issue which, again, people who are close to it are very confident can be worked out in a conference committee if the House floor will take up a farm bill. And the Speaker, to this moment, has refused to even signal that he will schedule a vote for a farm bill to move the process along.

So, literally, as the clock ticks towards the end of September, farmers and producers all across America are, in horror, looking at this Chamber, looking at this Speaker, and saying: Are you kidding me? You won't even schedule a vote so that we can work through a bill on the floor and send it to conference committee so that we can actually get real movement and get a farm bill passed?

A couple of hours ago I was with the National Farmers Union just down the block here, where, again, we've got farmers from California to Maine who are gathering here in Washington, D.C., the American Farm Bureau, specific commodity crop producers who are flooding the Halls of Congress saying we need a farm bill.

This should not be a partisan issue that should gridlock, again, one of the most vibrant and critical components of America's economy. And yet to this moment we have still gotten no signal from Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership that they will even schedule a vote. It's incredible. I mean, the Agriculture Committee in the House produced a bipartisan bill. They did their work. Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Peterson--I was there for the 13-plus-hour markup to get that bill through the floor--they did a great job in terms of navigating and getting a bill to the floor. This was done before the August recess. The Speaker refused to bring it up before we went home for 5 weeks. Five weeks have passed. Farmers all across America are demanding action. We're back in town, and yet nothing has been scheduled in this Chamber to bring up a farm bill that we can send to the conference committee and get some real action and results. Totally unacceptable.

Let me just finish before I throw the baton back to you. At the end of August, dairy price supports expired. Again, the last farm bill had a measure, it was called a Feed Adjuster Index, which would basically allow farmers who were facing high feed costs to get help and relief. Anybody who looks in the financial pages can see that corn prices are hitting record highs because of the drought out in the Midwest; feed costs have gone through the roof; fuel costs are going through the roof. All the input costs for running a dairy farm are at record highs, and yet, as of a couple of weeks ago or a week and a half ago, the dairy farmers of America had basically the rug pulled out from under them because this Chamber did not move and do its job back in July and get a farm bill passed out of this Chamber and sent to conference committee.

So they were sort of the first wave of victims of Republican inaction in this House to move a farm bill. At the end of this month, it will be the rest of American agriculture that will have the rug pulled out from under it and revert back a statutory structure to 1949, which is the state of the law, if we don't move forward and get a farm bill done.

So I'm glad you scheduled this session tonight, Congressman Tonko, because I think the American people need to hear that Democrats stand ready to roll up their sleeves, get to work on this floor, pass a farm bill, send it to the conference committee, work with the bipartisan majority in the Senate to pass a farm bill, and help the American farmers and producers who every single day are making sure that the system of food production and supply works. It is a very fragile system, as we're seeing with the drought out in Iowa, and people in this Chamber are treating it with just, in my opinion, outrageous neglect by not really doing their constitutional duty, showing some leadership, and bringing a farm bill up for a vote in this Chamber.

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Mr. COURTNEY. And just to follow up on that point, again, the Senate farm bill included within it disaster relief assistance--not just for a short period of time, but for 5 years. Again, the House did bring up a so-called ``disaster relief'' bill right before the August break--something which the American Farm Bureau dismissed as inadequate in terms of actual agricultural policy in this country--used as a pay-for taking money out of conservation, which, again, as critical a priority as almost anything else in the farm bill. Again, it was just an almost pathetic attempt to provide political cover for people who knew that, again, with the catastrophe happening out in the Midwest, they couldn't possibly leave town without at least trying to make some small gesture towards acknowledging that that was actually happening.

But, again, the Senate measure includes a full disaster relief. The House committee bill which came out has full disaster relief. That's what, really, the American agriculture community is looking for.

Tomorrow, on the steps of the Capitol, there will be a huge rally with farm groups from all across America gathering on the steps. Senator Stabenow and Congressman Collin Peterson from Minnesota are going to be out there leading the charge. We understand that some Republican Members are going to show some courage and get out there on those steps and join those farmers in saying we need a farm bill now to be voted on in the House of Representatives. And it's time for the Republican leadership to listen to the people who, again, are out there busting their tail every single day making sure that there's food on the table for this country.

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Mr. COURTNEY. It is of course. And again, another example of a measure that really is just teed up and ready for action in the House is the postal reform. We have a postal system right now which is both technically and substantively in bankruptcy. The obligations of the postal system in terms of its expenses and pension costs now exceed the revenue that's coming in.

And once again we have a situation where the Senate has already acted. They passed a bipartisan postal reform bill. My colleague from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, Senator Joe Lieberman is the chair of the committee that put together, again, a significant bipartisan coalition to get a postal reform bill through which would provide stability in the finances of this system, which, again, is in bankruptcy.

Nothing has happened on this side of the campus, of the Capitol in terms of any action in terms of bringing a bill to the floor to make sure that, again, the postal system, which goes back to the birth of our country, is not going to capsize into hopeless bankruptcy. I mean, just totally inexcusable to have an issue like this, which, I challenge anyone to point to any time in American history where the postal service has become sort of a partisan political football. Yet this Republican leadership has done nothing to bring a postal reform bill to the floor.

Violence Against Women Act, again, a measure which is really a law enforcement measure in terms of giving our police and court systems and victim advocates the tools they need to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence in this country. My wife is involved, actually, in multidisciplinary teams back in Hartford, Connecticut, in terms of dealing with this issue as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Again, the Senate passed a good, strong bipartisan bill. We had a partisan measure that just turned the clock back in terms of protecting victims who, again, are here on temporary visas, again, as some kind of statement, I guess, about immigration. And yet this is a measure which has not been sent to conference by this side of the Chamber, and we have a situation, a priority such as domestic violence which has traditionally been completely nonpartisan since it was first enacted back in the 1990s, and no action is being taken by this Republican leadership who seems intent on going home pretty soon and just basically leaving town until election time.

I mean, it's just stunning that, you know, farm bill, postal reform bill, violence against women, we should be able to do these things tonight and give this country some confidence.

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Mr. COURTNEY. And I would just say that the inaction of this leadership--today we received an ominous warning from Moody's Investor Services which warned that basically that Congress's failure to strike a deal on the fiscal cliff some time within the next 6 months or so will lead to a downgrade of this country's financial rating. Again, Moody's preserved the Triple A status last August when we had the last self-induced crisis by the Republican majority on the default issue. And so the warning is out there. Incredibly, the Speaker, when he was asked about this later in the day today, basically said he has no confidence that we can strike a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.

I mean, again, we're talking--it is September 11, a day when we should be coming together and reflecting on our unity as American people. And to have that kind of negativity at a time when we've been, the same day we were warned that the country could capsize into a downgrade, and just basically throw up his arms and say, well, he has no confidence we can put that deal together, I'm reminded of the old military saying, which is, you know, lead, follow, or get out of the way.

And really, for a Speaker to basically say, at this early stage, that he has no confidence that this body, which has gone through world wars, depressions, a civil war, and has always been able to really show that the genius of the Founding Fathers to create a structure where decisions can be made is somehow incapable of dealing with the issue that we're confronted with today
is just a, really, just shocking admission of abdication of leadership. And really, it just--it signals that, you know, we need to have a change here in this Chamber, one way or another if we're going to deal with the problems that are looming on the horizon, which was your opening comments.

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Mr. COURTNEY. I think, as Moody's indicated, with the fiscal cliff at the end of this year and with the sequestration on January 1, there really is only one place where this can get resolved, and it's right here in this room. There are ideas that are on the table which, I think, clearly show a middle ground--in fact, more than a middle ground--as a way of solving these problems.

The President has put on the table an extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans that would entirely protect their present tax status with no increase in taxes. Obviously, the cliff will cause middle class families all across America to pay more if there is no action in this Chamber. In fact, it provides for 100 percent of all Americans the extension of the Bush tax cuts on incomes up to $250,000. Any income above that would revert back to the Clinton era rates. That change would provide about $1 trillion of deficit reduction for our country at a time when the structural deficit that the Bush tax cuts created is obviously scaring investor services like Moody's.

This is a proposal which is not a 50/50 deal. It's a 98 percent deal in terms of protecting those existing tax cuts, and it's a 100 percent deal in terms of protecting people's taxes up to $250,000.

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Mr. COURTNEY. Six nights ago, we saw someone get on the floor of the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and very methodically and with great clarity explain exactly the points that we're talking about here tonight.

President Bill Clinton, someone who today enjoys a 69 percent approval rating, got on the floor of that convention. While he was President, the public finances of this country came into balance for the first time in over a generation, and 22 million new jobs were created under his watch. If anyone has credibility in terms of a perspective on economic and fiscal policy in this country, it's President Bill Clinton.

What we have talked about here tonight is about reverting to the Clinton era rates on incomes above $250,000. We know as a Nation that that does not smother and punish success. It will not smother and punish our economy. Those rates were in place when 22 million jobs were created in the U.S. economy in the 1990s.

Today, what's interesting is that Mr. Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, is very careful not to criticize President Clinton. In fact, he tries indirectly sometimes to even embrace him. Well, he ought to embrace his positions on fiscal policy because, if he did, we could pass a bill on this floor in no time flat, solve the fiscal cliff, defuse sequestration, and get this country back on track with more than just policies: with a new infusion of confidence, both within our country and, frankly, in financial markets around the world, that this place is capable of actually making some decisions and that this place is actually capable of action.

The former President's comments in Charlotte obviously got a rock star reception all across the country because that's what people are hungry for--reasonable solutions coming from people who have demonstrated that they actually can administer and be good stewards of the U.S. economy. I think that, for the Republican leadership of this Chamber to ignore that type of compromise and reasonable approach to solving the fiscal problems we face today is politically very dangerous.

Again, if you really look closely at the Romney campaign, they are loath to even say anything negative about Bill Clinton or his time in the White House. Do you know what? They're very careful also to avoid talking about his policies, which basically President Obama and the minority here, even with some significant modifications to accommodate the other side, are prepared

to move forward on. Let's really, I think, heed the advice that he gave this country six nights ago and move forward with these policies.

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Mr. COURTNEY. Thank you for taking the time tonight to really set the record straight on a lot of these issues. I would note that Bloomberg News actually did a fact check of the Clinton speech the other night and basically came back and gave it a clean bill of health. Frankly, if you contrast that with the speeches that took place in Tampa and if you go to PolitiFact and go through some of the remarks that were analyzed by that Pulitzer Prize winning service and the number of pants-on-fire lies that they ascribed to some of the comments that were made on the floor of the Tampa convention, there is a sharp contrast.

Again, I just want to thank you for taking the time to remind the American people this evening about the fact that there are items that we can move forward on today. Literally, we could reconvene the House here at a quarter of nine on 9/11 and pass a farm bill, pass the postal reform bill, get moving on the Violence Against Women Act, and we could deal with the fiscal cliff if people with reasonable and nonpartisan scorched Earth partisanship came forward and saw what is obvious, which is that the tools are there to fix these problems. Thank you for your leadership and for holding this session this evening.

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