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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. THUNE. Madam President, I had hoped to be able to come down today and call up an amendment to the pending legislation, the farm bill. I understand we are not currently on the bill but, rather, in morning business. I hope to have the opportunity to try to get an amendment pending.

We have been trying now for several days to have amendments considered to the farm bill. This is a germane amendment. It is very relevant to the bill. It is one that I think the Senate, the full Senate, ought to have an opportunity to debate and ultimately to vote on. It is very unfortunate, in my view, that we are where we are on a piece of legislation that has this much consequence for our economy, for farm country, and for consumers across this country.

This is a bill that is a major piece of legislation. Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity in the course of the days that we have been on the bill to get up amendments pending, debated, and voted on.

I can't tell you how disappointing that is to those of us who come from farm country and wish to try to shape the best farm bill we possibly can in the Senate, so that when we go to conference, which I hope we will, with the House of Representatives, we would be in the best position possible to have a bill that addresses the important needs of farmers and ranchers across this country with regard to certainty from a multiyear farm bill. This would also be a bill that we can defend to the American taxpayers, a bill that is reform oriented. It moves us into the future of agriculture, not the past.

The amendment I had hoped to offer today, amendment No. 1092, amends the commodity title of the farm bill that we have been debating. Last year the Senate passed its farm bill by a vote of 64 to 35. Sixty-four Senators voted for a farm bill that most of us believe offered a level of reform that we could support and defend to the American taxpayer.

As several of my colleagues and I pointed out during the debate on the farm bill in the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, we have deep concerns over what we believe is a step backwards in the commodity title with the creation of the adverse market payments, or what we refer to as the AMP Program. This program takes a step backwards from last year's farm bill by recreating a program with countercyclical payments and fixed target prices.

In fact, I would argue this is a policy that goes back. This policy predates cell phones. This policy predates the Internet. This is going back to 1980s-type farm policies. Last year's Senate farm bill completely eliminated this program, which meant we could honestly say we had passed a reform-minded farm bill, a farm bill that is more interested in policies that are about the future rather than the past, that are about the market, that are about making sure we have a necessary safety net in place for our farmers but doing it in a way that is defensible to the American taxpayer and moves us on the path to reform.

Our concerns are not crop specific. There has been a lot of discussion about this being something between the Midwest or the South or regional. This is not a crop-specific concern; this is a policy-specific concern. An outdated target price program is not--is not--what most producers in this country asked us for in a new farm bill--just the opposite.

Almost every member of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee was told by our producers that a sound crop insurance program is a much higher priority. Amendment No. 1092 is simply a response to the wishes of most farmers in the United States. This amendment strikes the newly created AMP Program and places peanuts and rice back into the ARC Program or, to put it simply, this amendment replaces the commodity title in the bill that we have before us and replaces it with a reform-minded, market-oriented commodity title that was included in the farm bill that we passed last year.

I do not believe Congress is capable of setting accurate fixed prices for the next 5 years because that is precisely what the commodity title is in this bill. The House bill commodity title is even much worse in that respect. It has Congress setting, by statute--we, as Members of Congress are basically setting fixed prices for the next 5 years.

The market, not Congress and not the USDA, should be setting prices for title I commodities.

If fixed target prices are set too high and commodity prices drop, history has proven farmers will once again begin planting for a government program rather than in response to market signals. This not only creates a potential unnecessary liability for taxpayers, but it also increases the risk of overproduction and negative impacts on global markets, making certain crops subject to possible WTO disputes.

This amendment not only moves us to the reforms we included in last year's farm bill, it also saves taxpayers more than $3 billion. That increases the total savings in this bill by more than 12 percent. That is $3 billion that most of our farmers have told us we don't need to spend. This is something the American farmer, the producers out there have made very, very clear and of which I would argue the American taxpayer would be very supportive.

I urge my colleagues, if we get the opportunity to debate this, to ultimately support this amendment because it would recapture the level of reform we had in last year's farm bill and save $3 billion at the same time.

There are many amendments that were filed to this bill that are not getting debated, that are not getting voted on. This is one in particular to the commodity title of the bill that saves over $3 billion from the bill before us today--over $3 billion in savings--by moving toward a market-oriented policy as opposed to a high fixed target price policy where the Congress sets in statute the target prices rather than having the market determine what those prices ought to be. That is one amendment I have offered to the commodity title of the bill.

I have another amendment to the SNAP or food title or nutrition title of the bill which would save $2 billion out of overhead administrative costs. It doesn't affect beneficiaries or income or asset eligibility standards; it simply finds savings in the food stamp program that are related to overhead administrative costs and saves $2 billion. We ought to be voting on that.

We ought to have an opportunity to debate these things and vote on these amendments. I know colleagues of mine as well have offered amendments that save dollars and make this a more responsible farm policy--a policy that is oriented toward reform and that achieves a significant amount of savings for the American taxpayer.

So I want to say again what I said at the beginning of my remarks; that is, it is unfortunate that we are where we are--debating a bill that over a decade will cost nearly $1 trillion. Of course, about 80 percent of that is in the nutrition title of the bill. But we have an opportunity to actually improve this as it moves across the floor of the Senate and proceeds into a conference with the House of Representatives, where they will have passed a bill out of the Agriculture Committee which will head to the floor and has high fixed target prices--higher fixed target prices than are included in the Senate bill--and high fixed target prices for all commodities, as opposed to the Senate bill, which has them simply for rice and for peanuts.

We are looking at heading down a path that takes us not to the future but to the past--to a time when farmers were farming for the government program rather than farming for the market; to a time when there were lots of potential disputes because these are trade-distorting, market-distorting policies that are driven by government as opposed to being driven by the market. We can do so much better, and we should do so much better for our producers across this country and for the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.

The amendment I have would do that. It would save over $3 billion in the commodity title of the bill, it is market-oriented reform, and it is something we ought to be considering and debating in the Senate. It is incredibly unfortunate that we are not having that opportunity.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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