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Ms. STABENOW. I first wish to thank Senator Harkin as chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and past chair of the Agriculture Committee for his words of concern regarding the House budget as it relates to agriculture. I share those concerns and I thank him for speaking out on that. It is just one more reason to pass a farm bill. We need to get a farm bill done right now.
Let me say to all of my colleagues, and particularly in the House because we have done our job in the Senate and we are ready to complete the task of getting a farm bill, we now only have 17 days, 17 days until the current farm bill expires on September 30. Seventeen days. We know as a practical matter, because the House says they are leaving next Friday, it is actually shorter, but we have 17 days before the end of the month, before the current policy expires and we begin to see a phase-in of policies that end up going back to 1949 by the first of the year on subsidies and planting restrictions and a whole range of things that cost a lot of money and make no sense.
I am asking that the House come together, as we did in the Senate when we passed our bipartisan farm bill on June 21, and pass a farm bill in the House. We passed the
Agricultural Reform, Food, and Jobs Act by a bipartisan vote of 64 to 35. I believe the votes are there in the House of Representatives if there is a willingness to have a bipartisan vote. I believe that together, Democrats and Republicans, there are enough votes to pass it, and the House has time to act. They are completing the continuing resolution today, and my understanding is there is nothing else of substance that is on the agenda for next week. And even if there was, 1 day--1 day--is all we are asking, 1 day to bring up and do the work for rural America, for agriculture, ranchers across the country, to create a 5-year farm bill policy that includes disaster assistance that will work for all parts of agriculture. We are asking for 1 day.
Farmers across the country have been hit hard by disasters, as we know--very, very hard. It has been devastating for many of our ranchers and farmers between late frosts and the severe drought this year. We need to get a farm bill done. Why is that? Because the farm bill is also a disaster bill.
I can speak from the standpoint of Michigan, where the warmth in March and then the late deep freeze eliminated almost all of our tart cherries. We are No. 1 in the country in tart cherries. We do not have any. Sweet cherries, apples, peaches hit, grapes, and that, along with the drought, means that every single county in Michigan is under a disaster declaration right now. We address that in the farm bill we passed.
By the way, disaster assistance is in the farm bill the Senate passed, fully paid for with savings within the farm bill.
We reinstate the livestock disaster program, and we make it permanent. We make it permanent. We support specialty crop growers who need crop insurance and do not have it now, such as our cherry growers. Tart cherry growers cannot purchase crop insurance because there is no crop insurance. In addition to helping them in the short run, we need to make sure we are ready for the future, and we do that in this bill.
We put in place a new dairy program to make sure we are not seeing farmers go bankrupt. And our Presiding Officer from Vermont certainly understands and has led efforts. I remember 2009, 2010, what was happening, what we had to do. We know the current policy is a disaster waiting to happen for dairy. So kicking the can down the road, doing some long-term extension, and not taking any action on the farm bill is a disaster for diary, which, by the way, is the No. 1 single commodity in my State as well.
We need to get the farm bill done.
We make sure those who have lost crop this year because of the early warm spring and late frost as well as our livestock operators and others get help not just for the future but this year, 2012. That is in the Senate-passed farm bill. It is also, by the way, in the House committee-passed farm bill, which is what the Speaker and the Republican leadership should be taking up on the floor of the House.
We also strengthen conservation, which is so critical because unlike the Dust Bowl of the thirties where soil was swirling around and all that was happening at that time, despite the horrible drought, soil is on the ground. Why? Because of conservation efforts and policies that have made a difference. We need to continue and strengthen that as we do in our farm bill for the future. It is critical that we move forward on conservation.
So the House taking up a farm bill addresses the disaster assistance that needs to be addressed for our farmers and ranchers in a responsible way. It is paid for within the savings of the farm bill. And we make sure we do not have other disasters happening by not moving forward with improvements in policy for commodities such as dairy.
I am proud of what we did in the Senate. It was bipartisan. We tried very hard. I worked very hard to create an opportunity where there was enough time in the summer for the House to be able to take action. We moved, as we all know, quickly, both in committee--Senator Roberts and I and all of our colleagues, with the leadership support on the floor, moved quickly in June to pass a bill so that there would be all of July and the beginning of August until the break for the House to act so that we could then go to conference committee in August and come back right now and pass a final farm bill, which is what should have happened. So now we are in plan B, which is at least--at least the House of Representatives ought to be doing their job in passing the farm bill so we can work on this in October and come back in November before the full Congress.
I commend the leadership of the Agriculture Committee in the House and have great confidence that, working together with them, we can come together on our differences and put together a responsible, effective deficit reduction farm bill in the final analysis.
But we can't get there until the House gives us some kind of a bill to work with.
So I am asking the Speaker, I am asking the Republican leadership to take just 1 day, 1 day for rural America, 1 day for farmers and ranchers across this country so that we can address disaster assistance and long-term economic policy for rural America.
The House leadership, the Republican leadership heard yesterday from hundreds of farmers from all over the country that we need a farm bill now. There were over 80 different groups who put that rally together to make it very clear that they do not want a stopgap measure, that they do not want to kick the can down the road or do another 1-year extension; they just want us to get it done and to get it done right now. Many of these farmers are in the middle of harvest. It is the earliest corn harvest in 25 years because of the drought. They took time from work to come here at their own expense, their own time to give a very clear message to the House Republican leadership. It is time to get this done.
Frankly, it is past time to get it done. We have heard that the House wants to do a 1-year extension of current policy, but we are not going to support that. Do we really want to continue for another year the subsidies, such as the direct payments we eliminated in the Senate farm bill, the subsidies that go to people regardless of whether they are even growing the crop for which they are getting the subsidies? We eliminated four different subsidies and instead listened to farmers across this country to strengthen crop insurance. That is what we heard from Michigan to Kansas, from California to all across this country, that we need to strengthen crop insurance, and that is what we have done.
Do we really want to be in a situation where one more time there is not action on deficit reduction? The one piece of legislation we have passed in a bipartisan way that reduces the deficit of this country is our farm bill. Amazingly, we have $23 billion in reduced spending, in deficit reduction, which goes away with an extension. It won't happen if we kick the can down the road, so we need to get this done.
I understand there are some in the House who don't believe we ought to invest in any kind of agricultural policy. I know there are those who think we shouldn't invest in nutrition or conservation of land and water or agricultural policy or energy jobs or a whole range of things, such as rural development, supporting our small rural towns. I understand they do not want to do a farm bill. I also know there are some folks who don't like the reforms we have. They want to continue those payments. I understand that. But I believe the majority of people in the House, just like the majority of the people in the Senate, will come together if given the opportunity and vote for reform, for deficit reduction, for a strengthened crop insurance program, other risk management tools for our farmers, a disaster assistance program that is permanent for livestock producers, help for our food growers, strong nutrition policy that includes focusing on waste, fraud, and abuse, rural development, and a streamlined, more effective conservation policy that creates flexibility and tools for our farmers as well as those who want to hunt and fish and protect our open spaces. I believe a majority of the House wants to get that done.
I think it is very important, with 17 days left, that we remember what this is about. There are 16 million people in this country who work because of agriculture--16 million people. We talk a lot about jobs and job policies. I don't know of any we have debated on this floor that have impacted 16 million people and their families, and we came together to get this done because we understood that.
Right now, despite the best efforts of the Committee on Agriculture in the House on a bipartisan basis to report a bill, the House leadership--the Republican leadership--will not take 1 day--1 day--to focus on 16 million jobs, economic development, quality of life in rural America for those who have been hit so hard by this economy, and the jobs of the future we have in this farm bill. Time is running out. Time is running out. We need to get this done. We understand that.
Farmers know that when there is work to be done, they can't kick the can down the road. When a crop is ready for harvest, a farmer can't say: Gee, I am tired; I will do it next week. When the crop needs to be harvested, they have to get up and go do it. They do what needs to be done. And we had folks who came here yesterday, who left their fields and who basically said: Even though I have a lot of work to do at home, I have to go to the U.S. House of Representatives to tell the Republican leadership that it is time to get the job done.
Mr. President, I would like to put into the Record a letter that was sent from 13 different leadership organizations on agriculture in this country. I will explain what is in it, but I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter dated September 7, 2012, to Senators Reid and McConnell.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD,
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this letter was sent to Majority Leader Reid and Republican Leader McConnell on behalf of the American Farm Bureau, American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Association, Northarvest Bean Growers Association, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Canola Association, U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council, and the Western Growers, all saying: Don't do something short term; do the farm bill. They are all saying: Don't do some short-term effort that is only focused on disaster. Don't do an effort that does not complete the job.
In regard to consideration of the House-passed disaster measure, they say:
We strongly urge you to refrain from this as we fear that passage of a bill similar to the House bill could result in further delays in completing a full 5-year farm bill.
These provisions retroactively are in the Senate-passed bill and the bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee. They are paid for within the context of the farm bill. And they know, as we know, that in the final bill we present, they will be included. We certainly are going to include comprehensive disaster assistance, but they are asking us to do it in the context of a 5-year farm bill. That is what everyone is saying in farm country, in rural America, that it is not enough to just do a little bit here and there. And on top of that, it is not necessary. It is not necessary. We have a comprehensive disaster assistance bill within the contents of the farm bill. So does the House committee. We just need 1 day. There are 17 days left, and we are asking the House Republican leadership to invest 1 day in American agriculture, and I hope they will do it.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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Ms. STABENOW. I wish to thank my friend from Montana, who, by the way, is a farmer. I have called him more than one time in Montana, and he has said: I am in the field. I am getting off the tractor. So he speaks with great authority. And the answer is yes, there is comprehensive disaster assistance paid for in the savings of our farm bill.
Mr. TESTER. So if we combine that with the safety net, if we don't do a farm bill, as the House wants to do, and just have an extension, what will happen to that $23 billion in taxpayer savings?
Ms. STABENOW. It goes away. There is no $23 billion in taxpayer savings if we don't pass the farm bill.
Mr. TESTER. And if it is extended, would it, in fact, cost the taxpayers? That $23 billion would not only go away, but wouldn't the taxpayers have to pay for any kind of disaster extension?
Ms. STABENOW. No question, we would be paying for disaster assistance. By the way, the reforms go away, and I know the Senator from Montana supports the reforms in the bill. We would see those subsidies continue--direct payments and so on--and we would be rolling back to a whole era of planting restrictions and huge subsidies back from the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr. TESTER. One more point. If this farm bill goes away in 17 days, the farmers out there who need help from the bank to get an operating loan to continue on the next year, what will happen to those folks?
Ms. STABENOW. The Senator raises a very important question because economic certainty means that farmers and ranchers are going to be able to know what is happening next year and can go to the bank and get those operating loans and plan for next year what they are going to plant. All that certainty will be gone. Everybody talks about how we need certainty for the future and the economy, and I couldn't agree more. This will do more to disrupt rural America and our ability to have a stable food supply and agriculture than anything else.
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