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Ms. STABENOW. We are now going to resume discussion on the farm bill, but before doing that I see one of the distinguished members of our committee on the floor who I know would like to make some other comments. But I just wish to thank her in advance for her leadership. We are so excited and pleased to have the Senator from North Dakota on the Agriculture Committee.
Having had a chance to be in North Dakota--and she has said it to me a thousand times, so it is burned into my memory--90 percent of the land in North Dakota is in agriculture, and so she reminds me of that every day. She has been a key person in helping us bring this farm bill to the floor. So before proceeding on the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, I would ask that Senator Heitkamp be recognized.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, we know we have other colleagues who will be coming to the floor to talk about the very important jobs bill, reform bill, and food bill we have in front of us--a conservation bill as well--but I just wish to take a moment to say to our colleagues, if there are amendments they have, as we are moving through the bill--and we are doing our best to finish this by the end of the week or certainly get as close as we can--we are very interested in working with colleagues to get to their amendments. We would appreciate it if they would let us know what they are and bring them down so we can be working with them on any of their amendments.
We are very proud of the product we have in front of the Senate right now. There are 16 million people who work in agriculture. I would say that is a jobs bill. I think it is probably the biggest jobs bill we will have in front of the Senate--agricultural jobs directly with those who are producing the food, who are producing the equipment for our food, and who are doing all the pieces around food production and processing and the efforts in trade around the globe, where we are proud to say agriculture is No. 1 in creating a trade surplus for our country. Other countries are looking to us. There are 7 billion mouths to feed in the world today, and American agriculture is at the front of the line feeding families and supporting efforts around the globe. We know that number is growing every day and the leadership of American agriculture is going to be even more important in that process.
We also know this is a bill that conserves our land, our water, our air, and our forests. This is the piece of legislation that focuses on conservation for working lands--lands that are owned by someone in this country, which is the majority of land, and there are incredibly important partnership efforts that go on. The farm bill improves 1.9 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat. That is why our conservation title is supported by over 650 conservation and environmental groups all across the country.
We have the same conservation title we had last year, and I am very pleased to say the House also has adopted the structure of reform we have in our bill. It is very similar in the House and Senate bills on conservation, and so this is a real landmark piece of legislation as it relates to preserving our soil, our land, our water, our air, and our forests, and it is a commitment we make as Americans to future generations.
We have also added in this legislation a commitment brought to us by the commodity farm groups and environmental and conservation groups to make sure, when farmers are using critically needed tools such as crop insurance--which is the mainstay for farmers now, buying crop insurance and hoping, in fact, they do not have to get a payout because it means they have had a loss or a disaster; that it is now the foundation of what we are doing to support farmers across the country--they have agreed to tie compliance for conservation practices to crop insurance, which is a very important policy. This is a historic agreement between agricultural groups and conservation and environmental groups. As a result of their agreement and their urging, we have added that to this bill, which is a very significant addition and strengthens what we are already doing on conservation.
We make a strong nutrition commitment to families. We make sure every family who currently qualifies for nutrition assistance in our country continues to receive that assistance. We create savings by looking at areas where there has been abuse or misuse by a few States on one policy and by individuals or retailers in other areas and we tighten that up so we have more integrity in the process. We make it clear we stand with families who need help; we stand with families who find their own personal disaster because of the economy, just as we stand with farmers for a strong crop insurance program when a farmer has a disaster as well, but we do make sure there is integrity in the programs, which is very important.
We have had at least two cases in Michigan where two people won the lottery and continued on food assistance--pretty outrageous. And we make sure that cannot happen again. There have been abuses in other areas, where retailers have allowed people to turn in their food assistance cards for money for drugs or other illegal activities, and we make sure we clamp down on that. We have gone through the bill and we address misuse, waste, fraud, and abuse in every part of the farm programs but certainly in this area as well. So we can stand before our colleagues and say this is about making sure folks who have worked all their lives, who have paid taxes all their lives, who suddenly find themselves, through no fault of their own, in a situation where they need some temporary food help are able to get that help for their family.
The good news is those dollars--that part of the farm bill--are actually decreasing. The costs are going down and not because we are cutting back on support for families but because the economy is improving, so more people are going back to work and don't need the temporary help. That is the way we should be reducing the costs, and that is in fact what we do.
I am also very pleased with the fact we focus on rural development and reforms that are very significant and very important. Right now, there are actually 11 different definitions of the term "rural.'' We had local mayors and county supervisors and village residents come to us and say: We appreciate the fact that rural development funds allow us to provide financing for our businesses and water and sewer projects and housing projects and road projects, but could you just give us one definition, rather than trying to figure out 11 different ways to define rural. It may sound simple, but it wasn't simple. But we did actually get it down to one definition, and we have streamlined the process and the paperwork so communities, small towns, and folks who support and need rural economic development help can get that with a minimal amount of paperwork.
We have done that through this entire bill. Frankly, I truly believe that if, in every part of government, we did what we have done in agricultural programs, we would not only be doing what the public wants but we would balance the budget. We have 100 different programs or authorizations we have eliminated because they didn't make sense anymore. They were duplicative, not wise spending for taxpayers--things such as direct subsidy payments for farmers that did not make sense, cutting from 23 conservation programs to 13 and putting them in 4 different subject areas with a lot of flexibility so we can stretch it out and get more bang for our buck and do a better job without in any way reducing the commitment to conservation.
We have gone through the entire farm bill and made tough decisions, smart decisions. We have saved about $24 billion--more than even we did last year--while having a set of policies that is broadly supported in the conservation community and the agricultural community and the energy community and those who represent small towns across this country. We did it, again, by making tough decisions and by working together on a bipartisan basis.
I am proud that even though these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts called sequester, cuts that make no sense--even though those cuts would require $6 billion in cuts in agricultural programs, we have been willing, voluntarily, to come up with four times that level of cuts. We ask for your support for a set of policies that works better, that streamlines the system, that cuts back on that which does not make sense to do but strengthens the priorities that are important for economic growth, for families, for conservation, for communities all across this country.
We are willing and have done our part to step up and meet the challenges of deficit reduction, of balancing our Federal budget, but keeping our commitment to our farmers and ranchers who have the most risky jobs in the world. As I said yesterday, nobody else has to worry about whether it is going to rain or not rain--too much rain, no rain; whether it is going to freeze, as it did in northern Michigan after the cherry blossoms came on the trees and the freeze wiped everything out.
Nobody else is in a business where they cannot control the most important factor, which is the weather. We have certainly seen the havoc the weather has played on families across this country, including what happened yesterday in Oklahoma.
We stand here proudly to say we support an effort that is creating reform, that is saving money, that is standing up for the folks who have helped create the most affordable and safest food supply in the world--America's farmers and ranchers. We stand here supporting American families who need to make sure that when times are tough the very best of America's values are in place, which is to make sure they have the ability to put food on the table for their families.
I believe we have others who will be coming to the floor. At the moment I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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Ms. STABENOW. We are also working on a Sessions amendment No. 945, which we had hoped to line up as well. I understand there is an additional modification being made. If that modification is agreeable to both sides, it is our intention to adopt that amendment, as modified, prior to the caucus meetings.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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