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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I believe pursuant to a unanimous consent agreement propounded by the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee that I am next up to be able to speak on an amendment. But for a brief moment I want to reflect on what I have heard and the lens through which I see it.

I have been here for 20 years. When I came to the Senate, it was not this way. The rules of the Senate were observed. A small minority never tried to subvert the will of a majority. I think Senator McCain said it well. We stand on the floor. We advocate for our views. We either win or lose. The dye is cast. But we have an opportunity for full deliberation.

It is one thing to have a minority have their rights. It is another thing to have a minority of the minority absolutely try and handcuff a committee of the Senate. I believe that is wrong. Because what is happening here sets a precedent for future answers. And there is no reason not to have a conference committee.

I think the Senator from Utah knows full well these conference committees are open to the public. They are open to the press. They are often long. They can be laborious. But it is a way of reconciling the differences between the House and the Senate.

So to handcuff this Budget Committee and say it can do this but it cannot do that is not the right thing to do. I hope the credibility of the minority of the minority running this body diminishes with this debate.

AMENDMENT NO. 923

Let me now go to an amendment Senator McCain and I are offering to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for tobacco production in the farm bill of America. It is No. 923. I will not call it up because I understand an agreement is--I am just told by the chairwoman of the committee that I can call up the amendment, and to this end I call up amendment No. 923.

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Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I thank the chairwoman. She made a commitment to hold a vote on this amendment on Monday evening, and she has sought mightily to keep her word, and I very much appreciate that.

This amendment is, to my view, about common sense. Tobacco is not just another crop; it causes 443,000 deaths each year. It is the leading cause of preventable death in America. The CDC estimates that tobacco costs the American economy more than $200 billion each year in health care expenses and lost productivity.

A recent study estimates that annual smoking-attributable expenditures add $22 billion each year to Medicaid's bottom line. In other words, Medicaid costs $22 billion more because of tobacco.

In 2004, Congress approved nearly $10 billion--$9.6 billion, to be exact--in payments over the next 10 years to tobacco farmers and quota holders in exchange for ending the tobacco program.

In addition to this $10 billion, tobacco farmers also received more than $276 million in taxpayer-funded crop insurance subsidies since 2004. That is what we are trying to change. Unlike crop insurance indemnities, the tobacco insurance subsidy is not based on losses. The government pays premium support subsidies year in and year out regardless of losses.

In 2012, farmers received $37.4 million in subsidies; in 2011, $33 million; in 2010, $37.1 million; in 2009, $40.1 million. If you add this up, there is $147 million in subsidies given, despite the big tobacco buyout of $10 billion, in subsidies to crop insurance.

If you look at our $642 billion deficit, why would the government continue to subsidize crop insurance for tobacco?

Now that is not to say tobacco farmers should not have access to crop insurance. Insurance is an important risk management tool for any business, and our amendment allows tobacco farmers to continue to purchase crop insurance.

The amendment is specific. It eliminates the government's contribution to the annual cost of tobacco insurance premiums. But it does not impact the ability for crop insurance companies to sell these products. Farmers can manage weather and market risk without the mandatory taxpayer premium support.

Some may say: Well, market rate insurance is not feasible for farmers. I challenge that notion. Carrot farmers do not have access to any crop insurance--federally subsidized or otherwise--neither do spinach farmers, broccoli farmers, or artichoke farmers.

The list of crops with no insurance support goes on: cauliflower, celery, eggplant, cut flowers, Kiwi, kumquats, melons, garlic, raspberries, and pomegranates, to name a few.

Farming without government-subsidized crop insurance is possible, contrary to what some would have you believe.

I also want to remind my colleagues that tobacco farmers have done quite well by the government. In 2014, North Carolina tobacco farmers and quota owners will have received $3.9 billion in buyout payments. In other words, they have taken this money to be bought out. Kentucky quota owners and farmers will have received $2.4 billion from the government. Quota holders and farmers in Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia will each have received more than $600 million in buyout payments by the end of next year.

Evenly divided among the thousands of tobacco quota holders and farmers nationwide, the nearly $10 billion buyout has provided very generous support. We need to remember this is not a struggling industry. Contrary to what some would have you believe, a 2012 University of Illinois study found that productivity on Kentucky tobacco farms increased by 44 percent in the last 10 years.

At the same time, tobacco farmers are seeing some of their best paydays since the 2004 buyouts began. Tobacco is fetching nearly $2 a pound for some farmers. The 2012 crop was valued at $1.579 billion.

To return to the question at hand, should taxpayers continue to subsidize tobacco productions, I believe the answer is no. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. As I said, it kills 443,000 people each year. It costs $200 billion in health care and reduced productivity.

I am not alone. This amendment is supported by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Public Health Association, the Environmental Working Group, Doctors for America, Physicians for Responsible Medicine, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Some would have you believe this is going to affect the small tobacco farmer. Let's take a look at it. There are 16,228 farms that grow tobacco nationwide. Well, I will not get into that. The industry is concentrated. A small number of large farms produces the vast majority of the crop. Two percent of the farms produce 50 percent of the annual tobacco crop; 10 percent, 75 percent of the annual tobacco crop. Twenty percent of farms that grow tobacco are smaller than 50 acres. Eighty percent of farms that grow tobacco are larger than 50 acres.

The bottom line is most tobacco farmers are not relying on tobacco as their primary crop. Thus, it is not surprising that only 4,495--that is 72 percent of farms--have tobacco sales of more than $50,000 a year. A fair assessment shows that about 5 percent of tobacco farmers, 908, do fall into the category of small farmers who rely on tobacco as their primary farm income.

The buyout expires, I believe, at the end of 2014. My point is nearly $10 billion of taxpayer funds is in the process of being expended to buy out tobacco farmers. Why should we then subsidize crop insurance? I very much hope my colleagues will join me in supporting what I think is commonsense reform. We have to say no to tobacco in America. Most of us think we have made great progress. Young people smoke less; older people smoke less; you do not smoke in public places. All of these have had a big impact. I think by eliminating this subsidy on crop insurance, it also can have a constructive impact.

I urge an "aye'' vote.

I yield the floor.

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