Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: Dec. 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I also wish to speak about the importance of passing a farm bill today and thank the Senator from Texas for her support as we passed a strong bipartisan farm bill in the Senate back in June when sent it over it the House of Representatives.

We have had 80 days since the farm bill expired. That is 80 days that farm families and small businesses have been holding their breath and wanting to know what is going to happen in rural America and agriculture across the country. I have not given up, nor have other colleagues here. Certainly, my partner here in the Senate, Senator Roberts, and our partners in the House, including Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson, all stand ready if we can get a positive signal from the House Republican leadership to get this done. There is no doubt in my mind that we can do it. For everyone listening, the issue is not differences in the commodity title, which I have every confidence we can come together on and work out; the question is, as we are seeing efforts being worked on for a larger deficit reduction package, whether the House leadership will think rural America and agriculture are important enough to include. That is the question. It is whether the savings we have achieved in deficit reduction by eliminating unwarranted taxpayer subsidies and creating other efficiencies and tackling waste, fraud, and abuse, whether that is worthy of a priority in the effort that is being worked on. We have continued to point out the fact that the 16 million people across America who work because of agriculture deserve to be a priority.

I thank our leadership and the leadership across the aisle for making it a priority of this Senate back in June. I thank my colleagues on the committee in the House for making it a priority and for passing a bipartisan bill in July. For the life of me--I am appalled continually that the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives does not consider the security and the livelihood of 16 million people who live in rural America across this country to be a priority.

We are including a final list of things that need to get done. We are not giving up. We are coming back next week, and we are going to be here, and we are ready at any moment to be able to do what we need to do.

Across this aisle, colleagues have worked in good faith in the Senate, and I am very grateful. I appreciate the support of the Presiding Officer in urging that we get this done. We have colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have come together to make tough decisions. We are willing to make some more, but we are not willing to give up on 16 million people who live in rural communities--small towns such as where I grew up in Claire, MI--who are counting on us to do the right thing and to give them the ability to plan, the ability to get help for the disasters they have seen, and the ability to know they can move forward and care for their families.

We have a disaster bill right now on the floor. As chair of the Agriculture Committee, there is no way I am going to allow a disaster amendment without being able to offer an amendment that relates to agriculture disaster which we have fully paid for in the farm bill.

So we are willing to do two tracks here if we come together, which I hope we will, on a disaster package. Certainly, people in rural America--farmers, ranchers across this country--have felt the disasters other communities have felt. So I am proud to join with Senator Merkley and Senator McCaskill and others in putting forward the portions of the farm bill that deal with disaster relief as part of this package which is now moving forward. I hope we will have an opportunity to vote and come together on that, which is so important. That does not negate the need to get a farm bill done or our desire to do that or the fact that we are laser-focused until the last moment we have available on getting it done.

Let me remind my colleagues that farming is the riskiest business in the world. There are a lot of risky things we can do. There are a lot of disasters that have happened.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to join with our colleague from New Jersey, Senator Menendez, last week to visit some of the coastline in New Jersey and to be a part of a group that looked at the devastation there. And there is no question, it is up to our country at times such as these, when people are wiped out, their homes are wiped out, it is our responsibility to come together and to act on behalf of citizens in those States. I strongly support doing that. It is also our responsibility to acknowledge and recognize and help others around the country who have similar disasters.

As I said before, there is no business that is riskier than farming. Thank goodness we have people who are willing to stay in farming and ranching regardless of what happens with the weather. Thank goodness we have a strong crop insurance system in place, and we strengthened that even more, which is incredibly important, in this farm bill. But we have had disasters happen that need to be addressed for those who farm for us.

In the spring we experienced late freezes in Michigan and in New York and in Pennsylvania that wiped out food crops. A lot of small family farms, farms in northern Michigan, were wiped out. In my home State, late freezes and a spring frost caused them to lose practically their entire crop right off the bat. It warmed up, the buds came out, and then they had a deep freeze that killed everything. Our growers produce 75 percent of the U.S. supply of cherries. That is around 270 million pounds. The cherry producers experienced a 98-percent loss.

In our amendment in the disaster bill and in the farm bill, we give them some help because they spent the rest of the crop year this year having to pay to maintain the orchards and the trees, eating the costs and hoping the trees will bounce back next year and produce a crop. So they have all the costs of maintaining everything but no revenue coming in.

Cherry producers were also forced to fight spreading diseases such as cherry leaf spot and bacterial canker, making the trees even more costly to maintain and at risk of loss. They didn't just lose their crop this year; they had to invest a lot of money to save their orchards without having any dollars coming in. We give them some help. It doesn't cover all the losses but some help to be able to stay in business. We do that through the farm bill.

Apple producers in most areas of Michigan and in New York and in Pennsylvania had about a 40-percent production, so they lost 60 percent. Think about a business losing 60 percent of its income for a year or, in the case of cherries, 98 percent. We have things in place to support them when that happens. That is why we have disaster assistance, and that is why we have other things as well. We have something called the farm bill when things like this happen in agriculture or disaster assistance for agriculture, as we are proposing assistance for.

Also, in the summer we saw record-breaking drought, as we know. We heard story after story about families whose crops were left withering in the fields, entire corn crops devastated in Iowa, and wildfires in Colorado killing 2 people and forcing residents to evacuate over 34,000 homes. Drought and wildfires cost the State of Oklahoma more than $400 million this year alone according to a report that has just been produced by Oklahoma State University. That includes crops and livestock, property loss from wildfires, and emergency costs.

I have heard so many times from my friend, the distinguished ranking member from Kansas, about what has happened in Kansas. We had the opportunity to be there and to hear from people directly in Kansas. My staff has walked in the field and seen that there is nothing there because of the drought and what it means.

This year represented the worst drought since 1956. That is a disaster. At the height of the drought this summer, over 80 percent of the contiguous United States experienced drought conditions--80 percent. We still have 11 States with exceptional drought conditions and 17 States with severe drought conditions. Seventeen States across the country, in the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, the Great Plains, the Southwest, and on the west coast--every region except the Pacific Northwest has suffered from long-term drought.

Sixty percent of the farms in the United States experienced drought this year, and we saw severe droughts in 57 percent of farmland acres. By the end of this last October, over half of the pastures and ranges in the United States were rated poor to very poor. And 1,692 counties in the country, spread across 36 States, were declared a primary disaster area because of the drought.

By the way, there are a whole lot of issues around weather that we need to be talking about and dealing with, and we need to be doing that in the new year.

So this is what is happening for farmers and ranchers. On May 20 only 3 percent of our corn crop was rated poor or very poor, but by the end of September over 50 percent was rated poor or very poor. Our cattle inventories were at a 60-year low as farmers and ranchers have had to sell off their breeding stock because they don't have the hay or grazing land to feed them. Low water levels in the Mississippi are affecting grain shipments, threatening to affect shipments early next year as farmers try to plant their crops. We have seen reports that grain is piling up in elevators while farmers try to figure out alternative routes of shipping their products to market.

Hurricane Isaac left hundreds of thousands of acres underwater. Hurricane Isaac caused destruction like nothing we could have imagined. As I said, I saw the damage up close from Hurricane Sandy. Weather disasters have destroyed millions of acres of farmland and affected millions of families in every State and corner of this country.

We are considering a disaster bill today. Well, the farm bill is a disaster bill because it not only has disaster assistance but it creates 5-year certainty for our growers, who deserve it. They deserve to know what is going to be happening. They deserve to know so they can go to the banker and talk about their financing for the coming crop year and be able to plan as well as get immediate help.

I support passing a disaster bill, and agriculture should be a part of this, but it is not enough. We need to do that, and we need to have a 5-year farm bill in order to create the certainty we need.

We have spent so much time focusing on how we move forward with agriculture today and create the right kind of risk management tools for the future. I am very proud of what we have been able to do.

We--the members of the Agriculture Committees--have also been, frankly, the only committee to step up voluntarily and say: We will put money on the table for deficit reduction. We did it during deficit reduction talks. We have done it in the House and the Senate as we have written the farm bills. We are willing to be a part of the solution. We are part of the solution.

One of the things I find very frustrating is that if, in fact, it doesn't get done this year, those who don't want reform, those who want government payments even in good times may very well get another year of government payments that we can't afford and taxpayers should not be paying for. So this really is about reform.

I hear colleagues talking on the other side of the aisle all the time about the things we shouldn't be doing and the things we shouldn't be paying for. Well, I would encourage them to join us in the fight to get a farm bill done to stop an area where we have all agreed we should not be providing government payments in the area of direct payments. I know there are those in the House who want to keep that going as long as possible, but it is not right in an era when we have to make tough choices for families and every other part of the budget to allow that to happen.

We passed a reform bill. We tackled fraud and abuse in nutrition. We consolidated conservation and saved money. We tackled payments that have been given out for years that don't make sense and that the government can't afford. We listened to farmers to strengthen risk management tools, predominantly crop insurance. With all the weather disasters I have described this year, if we can strengthen crop insurance, we are going to give them a better safety net going forward for whatever comes in the coming year.

So there is a lot on the line. There is a lot on the line for 16 million people who have jobs because of agriculture and the food industry. There is a lot on the line for people who go to the grocery store and eat and want to know food prices are not going to go up, that milk prices are not going to go up. There is a lot on the line for people who just want us to come together and work together. In light of everything going on, we did that kind of a farm bill. They did that in the House in committee.

All the Speaker and the leadership have to do is say: We care about rural America. We care about 16 million people who work every day, who are folks who do their jobs, and when the job has to get done, whether it is early in the morning or late at night, they do it, and they expect us to do the same thing.

There is no excuse--none--that makes any sense not to get a 5-year farm bill done, not to make sure we have the disaster assistance that is needed for farmers and ranchers, and not to get reforms that cut back on taxpayer subsidies we should not be providing, and the deficit reduction that is critically important as we come up to this fiscal cliff.

I wish to thank everyone in this body for working with us to get a bill done of which I think we should all be very proud. We are going to continue to push as we go forward, hoping that at some moment the House Republican leadership will look around at the small towns in their districts and decide they matter and that they will pass a 5-year farm bill.

Thank you.

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