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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss one of the most important and significant reforms of our Nation's agriculture in decades. The Agriculture Reform, Food, and JOBS Act of 2013, known around here as the farm bill, is the product of months and months of policy discussions and late-night deliberations, with special thanks to the chairman of the committee, Senator Stabenow from Michigan, and the ranking member, Senator Cochran of Mississippi. I thank them both for their good work, and also a special thanks to Katharine Ferguson in my office for her good work on this legislation.

There is a reason people across the country--farmers and business owners, faith leaders, and county commissioners--are paying attention to this legislation. It is a farm bill, it is a food bill, it is a nutrition bill, it is an economic development bill, it is a rural development bill, and it is a conservation bill all in one. In my State one out of seven jobs is related to food and agriculture. To keep our economy moving forward, the farm bill must remain a priority in Congress.

We did our job last year on this legislation. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives didn't, but I think this year it will when we pass overwhelmingly a similar bill to the one which passed by a vote of 64 to 35 last year.

The bill saves more than $20 billion while maintaining important investments in conservation and nutrition, renewable energy and agricultural research, which is so important to my State, to rural development, to broadband, and all that farm legislation can in fact do for rural development.

In the last 2 years the Senate has considered reform bills that have done more than any farm bill literally in 20 years. We have eliminated direct payments and recoupled eligibility for crop insurance with the expectation that farmers do right by the land.

The work of Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran in committee to keep that coalition together, linking crop insurance with conservation, was especially important. We set tight limits on the amount of support any individual producer can receive.

There is obviously more that can be done, but this bill takes important strides in reforming our farm program. It will increase efforts to improve water quality in Lake Erie--one of the five Great Lakes with the greatest body of fresh water anywhere in the world. It is even perhaps more important to the State of Michigan, the chairwoman's State, than even mine. It will help small towns such as Bryan, Bucyrus, and Bellaire make strategic economic development investments to jumpstart their local economies.

The bill continues efforts to make sure all Americans have enough to eat and access to affordable, healthy, and fresh food.

This is a forward-looking bill, and I was pleased to support it in committee and hope to work with Senate colleagues of both parties in the coming days to make slight improvements as it moves forward.

The centerpiece of the bill's deficit reduction efforts is rooted in reform of the farm safety net. The era of direct payments made annually regardless of need is over.

Across Ohio and the Nation we have heard crop insurance is the most important tool farmers have for managing risk, so this bill improves and preserves crop insurance. We know what that meant last year, particularly as drought hit States such as Ohio and, more severely, States west of my State.

Farmers have said they want a leaner, more efficient market-oriented farm safety net. Taxpayers deserve that too. Last year, Senator Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, and Senators Durbin and Lugar and I proposed the Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management Program, ARRM, streamlining the farm safety net to make it more market oriented.

Instead, the new Agriculture Risk Coverage Program will work with crop insurance to provide farmers the tools they need to manage risk--making payments only when farmers need them most. This program is market oriented, relying on current data. It is more responsive to farmers' needs and is more responsive to taxpayers.

The bill reforms a number of longstanding unjustifiable practices. For the first time this farm bill ends payments to landowners who have nothing to do with farm management. It ends payments to millionaires and puts a firm cap on how much support any farmer can receive from the direct farm support programs each year. This so-called conservation compliance provision reflects a landmark agreement put forward by a number of key commodity and conservation interests and stakeholders.

People who are going to receive federally subsidized crop insurance need to show they are meeting basic conservation requirements. Again, the days of subsidies without conditions and subsidies without responsibility are over. It is an example of what can happen when groups with different perspectives--the commodities farmers and the conservationists--come together to listen to each other. By relinking crop insurance subsidies with good environmental practices, this bill makes our farm safety net more defensible and protects our natural resources.

As I said, this farm bill takes great strides toward better, leaner, smart farm policy, but it is also a work in process. A key difference between this year's bill versus the one we passed last year is the inclusion of the Adverse Market Payments Program--the AMP Program--that, to be candid, is something important to southern growers but not in line with what I believe Ohioans want to see and what I hear from Ohio farmers.

I worked closely with colleagues from the middle of the country to make sure this AMP Program is as market-oriented as possible, but it was a battle not wholly won and something I want to see modified. We cannot have farm programs in one part of the country become more market-oriented while others do not.

The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act supports farmers but also provide a lifesaving safety net to American families who have fallen on hard times. The SNAP program now serves 47 million Americans, more than half of whom are children and seniors. Along with unemployment insurance, SNAP is the primary form of assistance we provide Americans who have fallen on tough times. Just understand and be certain that many of these families are people with full-time and part-time jobs who simply do not make enough money to get along.

Some of my colleagues will point out the rapid increase in SNAP enrollment over the past few years. This is to be expected since it mirrors the downturn in the economy, the unemployment levels, and the fact that for 10 years most people in this country have not had a raise. As costs go up, it hits the lowest income people the hardest. That is the biggest reason people have relied on food stamps. This is evidence that SNAP is working. As our economy is recovering, SNAP enrollment will decrease.

More telling is that today some 50 million Americans still live under the Federal poverty level. The number of Americans who rely on SNAP tells me we should not be gutting, we should not be undercutting, as a number of my colleagues in the House of Representatives want to do. We should not be cutting Federal nutrition programs. What we should be doing is enacting better economic policies that create jobs and reduce inequality and enable Americans to put food on the table without assistance.

This bill cuts $4 billion from SNAP. That is already $4 billion too much. I appreciate the chairwoman's efforts to make that $4 billion cut as painless as possible in terms of benefits SNAP beneficiaries receive. Again, most of these--a huge number of these SNAP beneficiaries are in working families. A huge number of them are children. A huge number of them are senior citizens. It goes without saying that a bill with the level of the cuts to SNAP--some $20 billion included in the House bill--will not get my support and will not pass muster in the Senate.

While we also work to preserve SNAP, we can make sure our nutrition programs are smarter. The farm bill makes important strides toward aligning our food and our farm and our economic policy. Agriculture has always been an important engine of economic growth. I said at the outset that one out of seven jobs in my State is related to agriculture and food. Shortening the supply chain benefits farmers and families, meaning that the more people eat what is grown locally, the better it is for the economy, the better it is for their health, and the better it is for the environment. It helps keep money in the local economy and helps build the economy, especially of rural communities in my State and across the country.

This farm bill affects every American every day. It is a deficit reduction bill, it is a jobs bill, and it is a bipartisan economic relief bill. I again commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran for their work in drafting this legislation. I especially appreciate the staff of individual members of the committee, their staffs, for their work.

I urge my colleagues to work together and break the impasse that keeps us from making progress on this legislation.

I yield the floor.

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