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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I am here tonight to talk about agriculture and the 16 million people all across our country who have jobs because of agriculture. What I am very concerned about is the way in which an extension is being talked about as part of the larger package this evening that goes against my wishes, the wishes of our committee, the chairman in the House--Chairman Lucas and I--our four leaders, working together on an extension that works and extends all the programs for agriculture through the end of the fiscal year, giving us time to pass a farm bill. Again, I am very concerned about what I am hearing this evening.

Let me first go back and say how appreciative I am and proud of all of us in the Senate for having passed a farm bill last June. We all know what it did--more reforms than we have seen in decades, $24 billion in deficit reduction. I understand the proposal now--the negotiations going on are attempting to find ways to pay for some provisions in the large package. We sit here with $24 billion in deficit reduction in a farm bill that has reforms in it that support our farmers and ranchers across the country but reforms through consolidation, efficiencies, and cutting subsidies that we have agreed should not be paid, that the country cannot afford to pay to farmers who do not need them. We worked very hard on that. We passed that in June by a large bipartisan vote. We worked together in committee in a bipartisan way.

It is deeply concerning to me that instead of working in a bipartisan way, as we have done throughout this process--even though the House never took up the bill that was passed out of their committee in a bipartisan way, we here have worked in a bipartisan way until now, until this moment, at the eleventh hour, as we are dealing with very important issues--whether we are going to make sure middle-class families do not see tax increases starting tomorrow. And no one has fought harder to make sure the middle-class families of Michigan and across the country get those tax cuts than I have, and we know we need to get things done, but we also need to make sure that in the end we are not putting agriculture farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage in the process.

So we on a bipartisan basis--in the House, in the Senate--worked together, knowing, when it became very clear that the House leadership, the Speaker, had no intention of taking up the farm bill in the House despite the fact that farmers need the certainty of a 5-year farm bill and disaster assistance--when that became clear, we turned to the next responsible approach, which was to work together on how we could keep in place farm programs, making sure we address what is now being called the dairy cliff in terms of milk prices that over time would go up--not immediately but over time--if nothing is done; disaster assistance; and keep in place the provisions of the farm bill that we passed that we agreed were important for rural communities, for energy security for our country, for jobs, for farmers and ranchers.

Now I understand that the Republican leader has insisted in his negotiations that only part of the farm bill be extended for the next 9 months--not all of it, not all of the pieces that affect rural America and farmers and ranchers, but only part of it. They call that a clean extension because of the way the funding and baseline work. I call that--well, I will not say what I would call it, frankly, except to say that this is bad news for American agriculture and certainly for the people whom I represent in Michigan.

Now, why do I say that? Well, first of all, in our extension, we make sure we keep our commitment on disaster assistance. We passed an important disaster assistance bill a few days ago here in the Senate. I supported that, but agriculture was not in it. The majority of the counties in this country suffering from severe drought, cherry growers in my State being wiped out, other fruit growers having problems--nothing for agriculture. Well, we in our extension make sure for this year and next that livestock and fruit growers have the disaster assistance we passed in the farm bill, and we pay for that.

We also make sure we continue to have an energy title in the farm bill. Now, when we look at getting off of foreign oil and creating real competition, advanced biofuels are doing that. We are now creating jobs across Michigan and America in something called biobased manufacturing, using agricultural products to offset petroleum and other chemicals and products, and we are creating jobs. We are doing that in part through support from the energy title of the farm bill.

The Republican leader's way of extending the farm bill would have zero--there would be no energy title, zero. That is absolutely unacceptable. We also would not see the full conservation title extended, key areas involving protecting land and open spaces that I know Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever and others who hunt and fish care deeply about in terms of protecting our open spaces.

Other areas that protect our land and our water would not be extended under this partial farm bill extension. We would not see critical research for organic or specialty crops that are so important that create almost half the cash receipts in agriculture in the country. We would not see that support continue.

There are multiple things that would not continue, not because we have gone through a process to eliminate them--in fact, 64 Senators in this body voted to continue them, and in some cases to increase funding in those areas while cutting back on the subsidies that we should not be spending money on. But here is what happened under this extension.

The subsidies we agreed to end continue. It is amazing, you know, how it happens that the folks who want the government subsidies find a way to try to keep them at all costs. Not in the light of day. They could not sustain a debate in the committee or a debate on the floor where we voted to eliminate direct payments. But somehow they are able to come back around at the end and keep that government money, even when prices are high, even when no one could look straight in the face of any taxpayer and say they ought to be getting that subsidy.

Yet under the Republican leader's partial extension of the farm bill, those subsidies we voted to eliminate would be fully continued. Now, in our version, agreed to by Chairman Lucas and me, put on the calendar by Speaker Boehner, on the suspension calendar in the House by the Rules Committee in the House, agreed to on the calendar in the House, we would shave a portion of those subsidies to make sure we continued to fund all of the farm bill for the next 9 months until we can once again come together and write a farm bill.

But I have to say, as someone who has been operating in good faith in the committee and on the floor, to find this situation occurring that is not agreed to on a bipartisan basis, not put forward on a bipartisan basis, I find to be absolutely outrageous. It makes you wonder what is going on here. If in the end, the things we agreed to, the things we worked hard to develop into a farm bill that saves $24 billion, at a time when we are--right now people are sitting in rooms trying to decide how to get deficit reduction. We passed something that saves $24 billion in a fiscally responsible way, cutting programs. We cut 100 different programs and authorizations. We went through every single page of the farm bill, which is what we ought to be doing in every part of government to be responsible, to make the tough choices, to set good priorities. We did that.

Now, at the last minute, none of that matters? They are trying to stick in an extension that only extends part of the farm program and keeps 100 percent of the direct subsidies going. That is amazing to me, I have to say. That is absolutely amazing to me. I want to hear someone justify that on the Senate floor.

We are going to hear all kinds of things. Well, the extension involves possibly a budget point of order. This whole bill coming to the floor is going to have multiple points of order that we are going to have to waive. This is not about procedure or budget points of order, it is about whether we mean it when we say we want to reform agriculture subsidies; whether we mean it when we say we care about rural America and farmers and ranchers who want to know that they can have the certainty of a 5-year farm bill and not just limp along.

I can see it coming, limping along, limping along, extension after extension, just like we seem to see happening everywhere here. I thought agriculture was the one area where we were not going to do that. I was so proud when we came together on a bipartisan basis and worked together. Regular order. The leaders, both sides, this is the right way to do things. It was regular order, 73 amendments. We went through it.

Mr. MERKLEY. Would the Senator from Michigan yield for a question?

Ms. STABENOW. I would be happy to.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.

Mr. MERKLEY. I thank the leader of the Agriculture Committee, my colleague from Michigan, who has steered this Chamber through such a complex set of issues in trying to address the true agricultural needs of our Nation while spending the taxpayers' dollar efficiently, and, in fact, producing a huge amount of savings in the overall bill.

But I wanted to ask a couple of questions in regard to the points the Senator from Michigan is making. If I understood the Senator right, first, the disaster assistance for America's ranchers and farmers and orchardists that has been approved in the farm bill and sent to the Senate is not in the Republican leader's version that he wants to put through the floor of this Chamber?

Ms. STABENOW. Yes, I would say to my friend and strong advocate on these issues, it is not. Those disaster provisions are not in the extension he has arbitrarily on his own put forward.

Mr. MERKLEY. Just a couple of days ago, due to the efforts the Senator engaged in, and I engaged in and others joined us--Senator Blunt was very instrumental--we had a debate about putting those emergency provisions into the emergency bill for Hurricane Sandy. I heard the Republican leader of the Budget Committee stand up and say: Don't worry, farmers and ranchers of America, because we are going to get those provisions passed in the farm bill.

But from what I am hearing now, that promise is being broken tonight by the Republican leader?

Ms. STABENOW. If I might respond, yes, that is exactly what is happening. Without consultation with me or with the chairman in the House, we now have a partial extension of the farm bill. These are complex issues that involve a lot of pieces when you try to extend all 12 titles of the farm bill. They not only do not extend all of the titles, but they do not include critical disaster assistance, which, as the Senator knows, our farmers and ranchers have been waiting for across America.

Mr. MERKLEY. So if I can try to translate this for the farmers and ranchers in my State of Oregon and the orchardists and ranchers in the Senator's State, this Chamber committed itself to restoring the emergency disaster program either through the farm bill or through some other mechanism, but we have left them hanging since the fires and the drought of July and August. Since the cold weather problems that occurred a year ago, we have left them hanging without disaster assistance. Now, the promise made a couple of days ago that we get this done in the farm bill is being broken.

How can I possibly explain to my farmers and ranchers that when they had the worst fire in a century, larger than the State of Rhode Island, that burned their fences, burned their forage, burned their cattle, when others had some of the coldest weather that destroyed the crops, how can I explain to them that not only do some of our Republican colleagues, and apparently the Republican leader, consider

that not to be a disaster, but the very argument made a couple of days ago to not put it in the Sandy bill is now being thrown aside?

Ms. STABENOW. I would say to my friend and colleague from Oregon, there is no way to explain this. None. There is absolutely no way to explain this other than agriculture is just not a priority. I mean, despite our best efforts and our working together to get something done, it certainly has not been a priority in the House with the Republican leadership. It has been on the committee. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my counterpart in the House. We have worked together on a bipartisan basis. But we could not even get a bill taken up in the House.

I do appreciate the fact that when they did not act in the House, that they have agreed to do the extension that we put together. At least that is what they were willing to do. I honestly never thought the problem would be here in the Senate because we had passed a farm bill. We passed a farm bill. We passed a farm bill with disaster assistance, with $24 billion in deficit reduction, in a strong bipartisan way, with supportive words in terms of the process from the leaders.

I am so shocked to see that the problem now is here in the Senate with the Republican leader. There is just no excuse for this.

Mr. MERKLEY. The Senator from Michigan has worked over the past year to find a bipartisan strategy to reform elements of the farm bill that we were spending too much money on in certain places and to reform those overly generous subsidies, if you will, and make them kind of fit the circumstances. The Senator saved a lot of money in the process. Am I to understand that the Republican leader has taken those reforms, designed to wisely spend the taxpayers' money in the right places, and has thrown them out the window?

Ms. STABENOW. In this extension that he has proposed, the subsidies, called direct payments, that we have all agreed should not be given during high prices and good times to farmers, extend with absolutely no reductions. They are fully extended for the next 9 months, and who knows how much longer. I am sure the folks who want to have them are going to try to just keep blocking farm bills and doing extensions as long as they can in order to get the money--$5 billion a year--$5 billion a year that we have agreed in taxpayer money should not be spent.

Now, I also want to say, it is not that we do not need to support agriculture. I know my friend agrees with that. Whether it is disaster assistance, whether it is crop insurance, we need to give them risk management tools, conservation tools. We need to make sure we have strong crop insurance. We need to make sure that there is disaster assistance there. But in good times you should not be able to get a government check when prices are high, which is what some in agriculture have been doing and getting and it is wrong, and it is fully continued in what the Republican leader has proposed.

Mr. MERKLEY. I would say to my colleague, I have sat on this floor and listened to lectures of fiscal responsibility and the need to move things and work things in committee before they come to the floor. Now, the work that the Senator did was the best of those two qualities: Everything being done in committee, being in open conversation, dialogue, working on it, bringing it to the floor, having a debate on the floor in front of the American people, in front of our colleagues, complete openness and a complete sense of fiscal responsibility. So are those lectures that I have been hearing about fiscal responsibility and committee process, are they just lectures but no real belief in them?

Ms. STABENOW. If I can say to my colleague, I certainly cannot indicate what the intent is of another colleague. But I will tell you that my mom always said: Actions speak louder than words. So I can tell you that the actions here, the actions that have been occurring, go in the opposite direction, both of supporting farmers and ranchers in a comprehensive way by fully extending the farm bill for the next 9 months and by allowing the complete, 100 percent extension of subsidies that we voted to eliminate.

I can tell you, that does not make any sense to me. It certainly goes against what I have heard over and over on the floor, and I also find it just amazing to me that when we--by passing the farm bill, if the farm bill were included in this agreement, we would have $24 billion more in deficit reduction to be able to report to the American people.

They are saying no. I do not understand that.

Mr. MERKLEY. There is one more piece of this I want to clarify because I am not sure where the minority leader's version came out on this; that is, our organic farmers have gotten a very unfair deal, and that deal was that they were going to be charged extra for their insurance. In exchange they were supposed to get the organic price of a particular crop. We fixed that on the floor of the Senate. We addressed that. We said, no, the Department of Agriculture that was supposed to get the studies done to get the organic prices in place so that the upfront price had the back side as well, we gave them a confined number of years to get that done, to rectify that injustice. Is that now missing from the proposal from the Republican leader?

Ms. STABENOW. Yes. In fact, the organic provisions are not funded, are not extended. So, again, when we look at the future of agricultural choices for consumers, this is not extended.

Mr. MERKLEY. How can one possibly justify charging organic farmers more because they are going to get a higher insurance compensation, but then say they will not get a higher insurance compensation? We are going to take that away?

So it operates as a structural effort to basically take money away from the organic community and give it to the nonorganic community--I mean, complete unfairness in a competitive marketplace. How can one possibly justify stripping that from this extension?

Ms. STABENOW. I would just say to my friend from Oregon that it makes no sense. This is certainly not about fairness. It is not about an open process. I mean, when the Senator mentioned earlier that we had worked in a very open and transparent process, we did. Throughout the committee, throughout the floor, even those who didn't support the farm bill indicated they supported the openness, the due process, the ability to provide amendments, to have them voted on up or down.

Now to take what was the consensus view of what things should look like and basically throw it out the window at the last minute makes me wonder what the motivation is here. What is really going on? All I can see is that in the end, what we have is a situation where the government subsidies we eliminated are extended 100 percent, and those who behind the scenes have been trying to continue to get the government money appear to have been successful, at least with the Republican leader.

Mr. MERKLEY. In closing my part of this colloquy, I want to thank the Senator for clarifying those three points--that the disaster relief is out, that the pork is in, and that the organic farmers are going to continue to get the short end of the stick. It seems to me that is three strikes and you are out. And I didn't even address many of the other points I heard the Senator raising.

The Senator's outrage about this is so deeply justified, and I am certain I will be standing with her as we try to make sure that the good work done in committee and on the floor of the Senate for fiscal responsibility, for fairness to farmers, for fairness to those who have suffered disasters, for fairness to those who are in the organic or the inorganic world or nonorganic world--that these mistakes, these three strikes-plus, do not carry forth through this Chamber.

I thank the Senator for her leadership.

Ms. STABENOW. Again, I thank the Senator from Oregon for his leadership on disaster assistance, on support for the organic agriculture community, and for others that benefit from his leadership, forestry and other areas. The Senator from Oregon has been a very, very strong leader, and I thank him for his words and for his actions in standing and fighting for the people we are supposed to be fighting for. I mean, the farmers and ranchers across the country, like every other American right now, are shaking their heads: What is going on?

I know there is a lot of work going on to come up with a larger agreement, but for those of us who care about many things but want to make sure agriculture is not lost in this, I am deeply concerned. This is the second largest industry in Michigan. It is the largest industry for many places in the country. Yet I don't see agriculture being the priority it needs to be either on disaster assistance or help for those who have been hit so hard by drought or by an early warmth and then a freeze in the orchards. Where is the willingness to stand and support farmers and ranchers across the country?

Well, I used to be able to say and I have said up to this point: Well, the support was in the Senate, where we passed a bipartisan farm bill and we worked together very closely to do that. But tonight I find that rather than proceeding in a bipartisan way, which has been what we have done, rather than consulting with myself as chair in the Senate and Chairman Lucas in the House, we see that a proposal which neither one of us has put forward or supported and which is adamantly opposed by many people is now being offered as the approach to extend part of the farm bill, picking and choosing arbitrarily what should be extended and not, not doing disaster assistance, and not being willing to shave off even 2.5 percent of these government subsidies in order to be able to fully fund an extension for the next 9 months--2.5 percent. Mr. President, 2.5 percent is directing us, is what we are talking about in order to be able to extend critical, important priorities for people across the country. This is for consumers, for farmers, for ranchers, for people in this Chamber. I can only assume, based on what I see, that this is the effort of the group that has been trying very hard to make sure that their subsidies continue and that they continue unabated 100 percent, and this is their opportunity.

When we are trying to do deficit reduction, which I find amazing this is in the context of a deficit reduction package--and I am still going to be looking to see where the deficit reduction is. But the deficit reduction package--it will not accept $24 billion in savings in agriculture. Now, instead, it puts in place policies that will take us in the exact opposite direction. It is very, very unfortunate.

I have been spending the day expressing grave concerns. I will continue to do that. There is absolutely no reason this can't be fixed before the proposal comes to this body. It absolutely can be fixed. People of good will in agriculture have worked together every step of the way, certainly in this Chamber. We can continue to do that if there is a desire to do it. I hope there is because there is a tremendous amount at stake.

Let me say again that 16 million people across our country pay their bills because of income they receive through agriculture or the food industry. Small farmers and large farmers want the certainty of a 5-year farm bill, and they also want to know we are working together with their interests in mind. I hope we can still see that happen.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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