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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, before the distinguished chair of the Judiciary Committee--and former chair of the Agriculture Committee--leaves the floor, I just want to thank him not only for being a wonderful role model for me in chairing the Agriculture Committee, but also for the way in which he conducts the Judiciary Committee. He is evenhanded, fair, and gives every member the opportunity to make their case, whether it is legislation coming through on gun violence, immigration, or judicial nominations. I just want to thank the Senator for being the model of a statesman in all he does.

I agree that we need to move forward in a fair and open bipartisan way in filling the nominations of our judiciary. I just wanted to thank the Senator from Vermont.

Mr. President, we are resuming the consideration of the farm bill, the agriculture reform, food, and jobs bill. Before I address that, I want to take a moment--as many colleagues have already done, and many more will do--to pay a very special tribute to a dear friend and colleague, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

REMEMBERING FRANK R. LAUTENBERG

I was deeply saddened, as we all were today, to learn Senator Lautenberg had passed away during the night. My thoughts and prayers are with Bonnie and the whole family, as I know they are grieving because of the special loss they feel and we will all feel.

He was the kind of Senator we will not see again--a World War II veteran. We have lost our World War II veterans. He defended freedom against
some of the most evil forces of the 20th century, and he was truly a member of the ``greatest generation'' of Americans.

We saw him battle cancer and survive. We have seen him come to the floor time after time on behalf of the people of New Jersey and our country to fight with tremendous courage for what he believed was right.

I daresay he was one of the lions of the Senate. He served for nearly 30 years, casting over 9,000 votes on behalf of the State and the people he loved.

What makes Congress special is that we all come from all walks of life, and as we know that is what makes a great democracy. That is what gives us our strength, not weakness.

Senator Lautenberg was the son of Jewish immigrants. He went to school on the GI bill--as my dad did--after defending our country. He went on to become a successful businessman by developing one of the most successful payroll companies in the world.

We were proud to have Senator Lautenberg speak on what it meant to be a success in creating jobs. He has been a wonderful voice in that regard.

He found his true calling in public service, and we all know that. During his five terms in the Senate he was one of the most fearless fighters on a whole range of issues. He has made a permanent mark on the quality of life of Americans. Among other things, he helped to strengthen drunk driving laws, pass the ban on smoking, prevent those convicted of domestic violence from possessing guns, to author legislation to help the public discover what pollutants were being released into neighborhoods, and to cowrite the new GI bill for the 21st century. I could go on and on with so many other examples.

I am proud to have worked with him to champion cleaning our beaches all along our coasts and Great Lakes, working to increase the awareness and treatment of autism, and fighting to make sure women have access to the health care we need and deserve.

He was a true fighter for the rights of all Americans, and he will be greatly missed.

Once again, I send my thoughts and prayers to his wife Bonnie, who is an amazing woman in her own right, his children, and his grandchildren during this very difficult time.

Mr. President, as we return to the debate on the farm bill today, it is important to note that what we do this week will reflect just how committed we are to 16 million Americans who depend on agriculture for their livelihood. All Americans depend on its success for the safest, most affordable, and abundant food supply in the world.

We have to lead by example. We cannot kick the can down the road. We, in the Senate, have already worked hard together on this farm bill which passed out of the Agriculture Committee with broad bipartisan support. We have had a good debate on the Senate floor and a number of votes. We are close to finishing the bill, and we need to get it done this week.

I will note that it was just a year ago when we were also working on this bill. At that time, after coming out of committee on a strong bipartisan vote as well, we had 73 record rollcall votes. Every one of the substantive amendments that passed on the floor is already in this bill.

So we started with the work we did a year ago and the amendments of colleagues that were passed on the floor of the Senate, and now we are building on that with additional ideas. We know it is time to bring this work to a close and get it done.

We need to move forward in order to take care of the people who rely on agricultural policy, conservation policy, nutrition, energy policy, and rural development. Every community outside of our major cities depends on rural development funds in order to be able to provide economic development, build the water and sewer project, build the road, and provide a loan for a small business. They are all counting on us to get this bill done so they have some long-term certainty.

This is a jobs bill, and the 5-year bill in front of us needs to get passed so they have certainty about how to plan for the future and how to continue to create jobs.

We also need to pass this bill because we need to stop unnecessary spending, and we do that in this bill. We need to also ensure that consumers will continue to have a safe, healthy, and affordable food supply. We need to come together to show that, once again, we can work together across party lines as we have done on this legislation. It is important to get this bill done this week.

I am very proud of the fact that last year we were the only committee that produced a voluntary deficit reduction plan. We went through every single page of the policy under the farm bill, and I asked: Does it duplicate something else? Does it work? Is it needed anymore? Is it worthy of taxpayer dollars?

At the end we had eliminated 100 different programs or authorizations. Some programs were consolidated or strengthened, such as conservation. Others were eliminated because they did not make sense. Things such as direct payment subsidies did not make sense. Last year we were able to produce $23 billion in savings.

This year we were back at it again and looked at a couple of other ideas, and it is $24 billion in savings to reduce the deficit. To put that in some kind of context, under the across-the-board cuts we have all known to be called the sequester--the across-the-board cuts over the next 10 years for every agency--agriculture's across-the-board cut is $6 billion.

We could have said: Well, the sequester is $6 billion, so we will find $6 billion in savings. We didn't do that. We found four times as much in savings. We wanted to come to the floor of the Senate to tell every colleague that there is integrity in every program; that we have done everything we could to cut duplication, create accountability, and provide policies that make sense for the American taxpayer.

We don't do subsidies anymore, we do insurance. We partnered with farmers to buy insurance so they have skin in the game. They don't receive a check, they get a bill for the insurance. But just like any other insurance, there is no payout unless there is a loss. So that is the basic structure.

We have done a tremendous amount to also hone in on areas of, frankly, misuse or abuse in policy as it relates to the commodity title as well. For instance, this bill caps payments in the commodity program to half of what they currently are. So we cut in half the current limit on what may be received by an individual farmer.

Senator Grassley and Senator Tim Johnson deserve tremendous credit. Senator Grassley, as a member of our committee, has championed these reforms in payments for years, and this is the first farm bill that has that in the base bill. We are cutting the payments in half.

We closed something called the manager's loophole to ensure that so-called farm managers actually have to be farming. They have to actually be farming to get a farm payment.

Today the Washington Post has an article that I would encourage folks to read. It talks about folks who are in Manhattan and Georgetown, living in multimillion-dollar homes, receiving these payments, and they are not farmers. Because of the current structure and lack of accountability and focus, they are actually getting paid. They do not get that anymore under this bill. We have important reforms.

This bill saves money by tightening rules to prevent fraud and misuse in our nutrition programs. Our nutrition programs are critical and essential. Just as crop insurance is there when a farmer has a disaster, food programs are there when a family has a disaster.

We know, as in anything else, there are areas where there can be abuse or waste.

In my own home State, much to my chagrin, we have seen lottery winners continue to receive food assistance. We stop that. We crack down on retailers engaged in trafficking of benefits, and we prevent States from allowing some individuals to claim expenses they don't really have in order to increase their benefits.

By ending the misuse but making sure we keep the standard benefit for every man, woman, and child who deserves some temporary help, we are putting more integrity into the food program. I would argue we need to make sure we stand strong against the cuts coming from the House of Representatives when we talk about food assistance for folks who have paid taxes all of their lives, who never thought in their wildest dreams they would ever need help, who are mortified and who suddenly find themselves out of work and need to know somebody will be there to help them put food on the table, help them get back on their feet. Our bill does that while creating accountability. I am very proud of the work our committee has done.
We also have streamlined programs not only to save dollars but to create more flexibility.

We have done a tremendous amount of work in the area of conservation. We have over 650 conservation and environmental groups across the country endorsing our work in conservation. We took 23 conservation programs and cut them down to 14 and then put them in 4 very different and flexible areas. These conservation groups see that as an improvement because we are cutting down the paperwork and making it more flexible for farmers and community groups to be able to access conservation programs, and we are actually saving money as we are doing that.

In this bill, as the Presiding Officer knows, we have also codified a very important agreement that environmentalists, conservation groups, and farm commodity group leaders have come to in supporting crop insurance and making sure those who receive crop insurance are compliant with conservation. It is a very important policy, and I commend everybody who worked so hard on it.

Once again, as we go into this week, I wish to remind colleagues this is a jobs bill. Agriculture is a bright spot in our economy. It is the only area in which we actually have a trade surplus. The farm bill invests in a number of areas to boost exports and to help family farmers sell more goods locally. We make some changes. While we are cutting in certain areas, we actually increase in others. That is what we ought to do when we make good policy decisions. So we have increased funding for farmers markets, local food hubs, the ability for schools to be able to purchase more fresh foods and vegetables locally--things that create jobs locally.

We have spurred innovations in new biobased manufacturing--not just bioenergy, but we can replace chemicals and petroleum with things such as soybean oil and other agricultural byproducts that are actually cleaner, biodegradable, create jobs, and get us off foreign oil. So there are new initiatives in the farm bill that allow us to do that as well.

It really is a time for reform of the policies that fall under what we dub the ``farm bill.'' This bill, I believe and I think it is safe to say, is the most reform we have seen in decades. We have done it on a bipartisan basis. We have had tough votes and made tough decisions, but I believe they are the right decisions in terms of reform. This is a bipartisan effort, coming out of committee 15 to 5, and I hope for and expect a strong bipartisan vote as we had a year ago.

This really is a jobs bill. It really is a jobs bill, and in order to keep it a set of jobs policies, our farmers and ranchers need to have the economic certainty of getting this work done and having a 5-year policy that will allow them to plan and to continue to create the safest, most affordable food supply for Americans of anyone in the world. So it is time to get it done. We are anxious to work with colleagues this week to do that.

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

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I urge adoption of the amendment. The Moran amendment follows the philosophy of this farm bill of moving from direct subsidies to crop insurance. It is an important crop, and it is important to make sure that we do have crop insurance tailored to alfalfa growers.

I urge colleagues to support the amendment, and I ask for the yeas and nays.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, this simply increases the authorization for the local and regional procurement program from $40 million per year to $60 million per year. It is based on a pilot project from the last farm bill to test various options on food aid for hungry populations, how to do it faster and more efficiently.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I would simply say that this is an amendment we are happy to accept on behalf of Senator Coons, Senator Johanns, Senator Durbin, Senator Isakson, and Senator Leahy. It would modestly increase the authorization for the local and regional food procurement program. I ask that we accept it on a voice vote.

I yield back the remaining time on both sides.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I see colleagues who wish to speak. I wish to thank colleagues for their diligence as we work through amendments on the farm bill. Our goal is to complete this by the end of the week. It is important that we complete this jobs bill. Sixteen million people work in agriculture and are depending on it, and they are depending on us to get it right, as we did a year ago. So I look forward to working with colleagues as we continue to work through the amendment process. I appreciate everybody's hard work.

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