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Public Statements

Unfinished Business

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. I thank my friend for yielding.

The thing that I think we need to focus on at the beginning is 62 days. It's been 62 days since the House Agriculture Committee reported a strong, bipartisan farm bill that passed out of committee after extensive debate and numerous amendments, and that's on the heel of the Senate Ag Committee passing a farm bill with strong bipartisan support, that passed the entire Senate where it's incredibly difficult to pass anything these days with a strong bipartisan vote.

So I think the question on the minds of many of my constituents in Iowa's First District is when is the House going to vote on a farm bill, which in the past has always been a bipartisan priority of the House and the Senate.

Now, my district in Iowa has been burning up all summer. Almost every part of the First District of Iowa has been classified as extreme drought conditions. Now, what does that mean? Well, I will tell you what it means to the eye when you go out and visit the farms that I visited back in the First District in July and August.

Corn that normally fills up an entire ear, and the ear is typically about this long, now is coming out on ears that are this long that if you're lucky has a fraction of the kernels per ear that you would normally see in a typical Iowa cornfield. Stalks of corn were burning up in July and had to be chopped because they have no value other than the insurance policy that was in place on those crops because commodity insurance has been available to those farmers.

Soybeans were more fortunate because they weren't burning up and got late rain that allowed them to mature, and we're hopeful that the bean crop will not be as devastated to the extent that the corn is.

This is profound, it's real, it's going to have dramatic implications for the cost of food in this country, for the cost of fuel in this country. And while we sit here and do nothing in the House to get a farm bill reported out into conference committee, farmers back in my district are looking at what's going to happen this fall when they face dramatically reduced yields. Then we roll into the period of time this winter when they're buying crop inputs for next spring. All of these things have enormous ripple effects on our domestic economy.

Then you look at what's happening with our nutrition programs, which will also be expiring on September 30. And we know how many people depend on those nutrition programs. Who are they? Most of them are seniors, the elderly, who depend on those food stamp programs. It's people who are disabled and on fixed incomes and working and are underemployed right now.

So this failure to act is having profound consequences for the people I represent in Iowa. I have done 14 listening posts on the farm, food, and jobs bill in Iowa this summer, and we get people from across the spectrum who will be dramatically impacted if Congress fails to act.

You look at the rural economic development title of the farm bill. It has profound implications throughout this country, and it's not based on whether a district is blue or red or purple. Every single district in this country is impacted by our failure to act.

That's why I'm glad to be here tonight talking about these implications, and I hope to be bringing to the floor soon a discharge petition that has been delayed because of the inaction on this bill but that will give every Member of the House of Representatives the opportunity to go down and record on a piece of paper whether they want to see a farm bill brought to the floor for a vote, an up-or-down vote, and I encourage all of my

colleagues to take a serious look at joining me in signing that discharge petition so we finally get action on the long overdue piece of legislation.

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Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. I think the thing that is so disturbing to so many of us who represent parts of rural America that are heavily dependent on agriculture is this has never been a partisan stalemate in the past. Usually, the farm bill bogs down over regional differences over how you structure a bill that's going to get the necessary support to get the necessary votes on the floor. There is strong bipartisan support here in the House among our colleagues.

Earlier, Congressman Welch initiated a Dear Colleague letter--they got 60 signatures--calling on leadership from both the House Democrats and Republicans to come together, get this bill to the floor, bring it for an up-or-down vote so that people get to see who's willing to put their vote behind crafting a bipartisan bill that can get support and move this country forward. That's the disturbing thing is I'm confident that there would be broad support across this Chamber to get a bill on the floor, to have an amendment process, to allow people to offer amendments to improve the bill. That's what happens in committee. That's what happened in this particular case. But when we can't even get a bill to the floor--and everything we're hearing is that there's no plan to bring a bill to the floor before the election--and then you look at everything that's being pushed back into the so-called lame duck session--which you know, Congressman Courtney, is one of the worst times to bring people together with everything going on--it's very frustrating, because this is a bill that could have and should have been passed before the August recess, and that's why it's so frustrating.

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Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. Well, I think one of the things that's helpful is to talk about some misconceptions about the farm bill. This isn't just something that affects farmers. At every one of my farm bill listening posts, I started off by pointing out that in 1900, my State of Iowa had 11 Members of Congress in the House of Representatives and Florida had two, and there were about 40 percent of Americans at that time who lived on farms. After the next election, we will have four Representatives from my State of Iowa in the House and Florida will have 28; and now, less than 1 1/2 percent of the American population lives on farms. So that illustrates why it's such a big challenge anymore to put this bill together.

But when you look at who showed up at my farm bill listening post, it wasn't just people engaged in agriculture. There were plenty of farmers there. There were representatives from the corn growers, the soybean producers, the cattlemen, and the pork producers, but there were also people there from Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited. There were people from nutrition groups who were involved in providing food to underserved portions of the community. There were people there from school lunch programs impacted. There were people from rural electric cooperatives who serve not just rural America today, but even medium- and small-size cities. You had people there from all these different groups who came together, from energy groups who were part of the energy title of the farm bill.

Everybody who eats in this country is impacted by what's in this bill. Everybody who puts fuel in their vehicles is impacted by what's in this bill. For many people in America, this is one of the most important economic development bills we pass every 5 years.

The reason we do it every 5 years is because when you're involved in the types of operations that produce the food, fiber, and fuel we depend on, you don't just do it on a week-to-week, month-to-month business plan. You have to know right now what you're going to put in the ground next spring and what it's going to cost to do it and what type of risk you're taking on in order to be successful and continue in that operation.

And so you can't just kick the can down the road--which we are so good at in this body--and hope it all works out in the end, because for many farmers that will be too late. That's why it's time to come together and work in a bipartisan manner to solve this problem and get it done, because the American people are depending upon us. If we don't do it until after the election, it's too late.

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Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. One of the other common themes that I heard at all of my listening tours--and this is uniform across the country, whether you're living in Connecticut or Iowa or California or any other part of the country--the average age of the farmers in Iowa is 59, and we have a lot of people who are nearing the end of their farming careers. We need to have opportunities for young farmers and young people who want to get involved in agriculture to get their foot in the door.

So that's one of the exciting things about this farm bill is, for young farmers and beginning farmers who may be doing it as a second career, they may be working at a John Deere factory in Waterloo and farming on a part-time basis because it's in their blood, it's what they love the most out of life, but to give people that opportunity to get started, we have to be focusing on some innovative new ways of allowing them to earn an income from farming.

Whether that's specialty crops, which you mentioned earlier, whether it's dealing with orchards and other types of new and innovative ways of raising money from production agriculture, all of those things are at a standstill if this bill doesn't move. And that is one of the reasons why it's inspiring, at a time when so much that focuses on Congress is about partisan bickering, that there is actually an enormous opportunity here to reach across the aisle to our friends on the other side and say, join us, make this happen, bring this bill to the floor. We will work with you to improve this bill and get it to a conference committee so that we can get an up-or-down vote on the future of agriculture in America.

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Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. Well, I think that one of the things that we need to make sure everybody understands is, as of September 30, September 30, which is just a couple of weeks away, there is no farm bill. We revert back to a 1949 farm bill that nobody in this country wants to see happen, including the Secretary of Agriculture, who would be given extraordinary powers that were given under that old farm bill to determine markets, to determine prices, to select winners and losers.

It would be a horrible situation. And that's why the American people are depending on us to put aside our partisan bickering, to come together and solve this problem. And that's why I'm looking forward to working with my Republican colleagues to get support for this discharge petition and work to get signatures so that we can bring this bill to a vote on the floor, which is what should have happened before August 1.

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