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Public Statements

Agricultural Act of 2014

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

I have been in the Congress for a lot of farm bills. I saw "Freedom to Farm.'' I saw the last farm bill, the one before that, and now I am looking at this one. It reminds me of the auto commercial--something's up. Well, it sure is.

Only in Washington can we claim a bill saves $24 billion when it increases the spending 43 percent over the next 10 years. How does that fit? Is that just the language of Washington? In fact, we are going to spend almost $1 trillion over the next 10 years on what should be called a food security bill rather than a farm bill because this is not a farm bill. This is a food security bill.

The language we hear from our colleagues is totally parochial or product based. We hear all the claims that we are thinking about the best interests of the Nation. What we are truly thinking about is the best interests of the parochial values for our own States. That is how we get this conflagration of people coming together to pass a bill that, I admit, has some limited reforms in it.

I just heard the Senator from North Dakota talk about how we create wealth. I could not disagree more. We create wealth by making sure the risk of capital investment is responsive to market forces. This farm bill is anything but that. There is no response to market forces because there is no place else in this country where someone can go into a business or an enterprise and be guaranteed that their revenue is going to be secure. We even added a new supplemental low-cost Crop Insurance Program that all of us who are not farmers in America are going to pay the deductible on. Plus, we are going to subsidize 62 to 63 percent of all the crop insurance in the country.

When we subsidize crop insurance, what we are doing is taking the capital risk and modifying the risk; therefore, markets are not going to work.

We talk about sugar prices. Americans are losing candy manufacturers like crazy. Why is that? Because Americans pay twice as much as the rest of the world for sugar because we are protecting cane sugar and beet sugar farmers rather than letting market forces work.

I am very disturbed at the process of this bill as well. Senator Durbin and I tried to put some income limitations on the benefits to the wealthiest in this country when it comes to crop insurance. It passed this Senate with 64 or 65 votes. It was in the bill when it left here. The House passed the same thing by a voice vote and the conferees took it out.

What is the farm bill about? It is about protecting the well-heeled and well-connected in the agricultural community.

I know a little bit about agriculture. My dad ran a ranch with 5,000 mother cows. I worked on it in the summer and after school. Back then--in the 1970s--there were no benefits for a cattle rancher. That has come into the farm program since the 1970s. It guarantees them that now they will make decisions that are against market forces but will farm the government.

So I say again, only in Washington when we are going to spend $350 billion more on a program over the next 10 years will somebody claim we are cutting spending $14 to $20 billion. Only in Washington will that happen. It is unique Washington accounting.

We have heard all the proponents say what a great job they did. Let me talk a little bit about some of the details of this farm bill.

One of the things the President talked about--he just put Joe Biden in charge of the job training programs. He is supposed to look at all of them to see if they have metrics. The GAO has studied that. I have looked at every job training program--State and Federal--in my State.

They have 10 job training pilot programs in this bill. We don't need any more job programs. What we need to do is make sure the ones we have work and have metrics on them. We need to make sure that when we spend American taxpayers' dollars that we are actually giving somebody a life skill rather than filling the coffers of the companies that contract to do all the job training programs or allowing the small bureaucracies that suck up the grants. Oklahoma's Federal programs are highly ineffective--especially when we compare them to the State-run programs, which are highly effective.

So in this farm bill we are creating more job-training programs. It sounds good. It is a good sound bite on the floor, and it is a good sound bite in the press back home. But something is up, and what is up is we continue to make the same mistakes as a legislative body. That mistake is that we want to please constituents at home more than we want to fix the real problems in front of this Nation.

Let me talk about SNAP for a minute. There is not anybody in this country I want to go hungry. When this country was first founded, we used some very good principles that the Senate and the House have totally disregarded in terms of how to help people.

I reference the historical blueprint from a book written by a man by the name of Marvin Olasky. The title of that book was called 'The Tragedy of American Compassion.'' It talks about how we used to help people versus how we are helping them now; how did we build up people as we helped them versus now; how are we tearing down people as we help them. It talks about creating dependency versus creating responsibility.

He outlines several factors this country has used in the past that we ought to be reembracing. Let me list a couple of them. One is we should give relief to people only after one-on-one personal investigation of their need. Let me say that again. We ought to know they need it. Contrast where the money is coming from. The money is not coming from today's taxpayer when we are running a $640 billion deficit. The money is coming from our kids and our grandkids.

Do we not have an obligation to know that when we give somebody a SNAP card they truly need it versus the fact that the SNAP cards and PIN numbers get sold? The SNAP card is then used by somebody else. That is going on throughout this country. That is not to say that most of the people who are getting this benefit don't need it. Because there is no personal investigation into it and there is no accountability on the part of the receiver or the giver, we are creating a situation in our country where we are undermining self-reliance.

The second point he made was to give necessary articles and only what is immediately necessary. That means you have to investigate it in order to give what is least susceptible to abuse; to give only in small quantities and in proportion to immediate needs and less than might be procured by labor except in cases of sickness. That is a great principle. Let's help people, but let's help people help themselves. Let's don't create a situation of temptation to do the wrong thing; to give assistance at the right moment, not prolong it beyond duration of the necessity which calls for it. We don't do that at all in any of our programs; to require each beneficiary absence from intoxicating liquors and drugs; to discontinue relieving all who manifest a purpose to depend on alms rather than their own exertion for support. I don't have one problem paying my taxes to make sure people don't go hungry and have food on the table for their kids.

I just watched a documentary my daughter referred to me. I have to say, as a physician, I understand the scientific tests and the great research that went into this. It is called "Forks Over Knives.'' It makes the case that most of our health care cost is based on our diet. It is very accurate and well done--except we have no limitations.

Senator Harkin and I have tried for years to get limitations on how food stamps and SNAP cards are used. We can't budge anybody to say we ought to limit it to healthy foods, because for every $1 we spend on food, we are creating $1 in health care costs down the road.

I recommend that my colleagues watch that study. It is unbelievable in terms of heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. No medicine, just a change in diet, and all of a sudden those things go away. They go away because we take Big Agribusiness's push to use what is profitable out of the food chain and then start supplying foods that are actually good for us.

It seems to me Congress looks backward instead of forward when it comes to the farm bill. One of the things we ought to do is look at the world and what the population is. I also wish to say that some of the hardest working people in this country are the people who are in agriculture. I don't say these things to demean them, but markets do work.

We hurt our farmers when we take them away from market forces because that will cause them to make decisions that are false choices when it comes to capital investment, and those are false choices for our country because that means capital is going into something that is subsidized by the government rather than going into something that is not subsidized that will create a greater good and more wealth for our country.

This bill does exactly that. You realize in this bill you are guaranteed 86 percent of your revenue. Let me think about that. Do you know anywhere else where you can get your revenue on your crops guaranteed at 86 percent and the Federal taxpayer is paying most of the cost of the insurance for that?

Individuals in Oklahoma, Maine, and Virginia are paying higher tax dollars so we can create a system where we are investing in crops that are not necessarily good for us and causes us to pay a higher price for a domestically produced crop versus world markets; whereas, we could direct the same inputs into a product that is much better for us and we would be much more competitive.

One of the points I wish to make is that in 2013, net farm income was $131 billion. That is 16.5 percent over what it was the year before, in an economy that is only growing less than 2 percent. Yet we are going to spend almost $100 billion a year in the future, of which only 18 percent of that will be for agricultural programs, outside of the Food Stamp Program. We are going to spend $18 billion to misdirect capital in a way that, in the long run, we won't see that kind of growth.

I will finish with other commentary. It is necessary that we have a farm program, but there is one little trick in this farm bill that everybody ought to be aware of. It is the pressure for the next farm bill that is put in this farm bill, and my colleagues know what it is. They didn't eliminate any of the permanent law that is on the books; they just let it stay there, and then we created the farm bill for 5 years. What is the purpose of that?

The purpose is so that in 10 years, and in 5 years when we come to another farm bill, the default position will fall back to 1940s-era agricultural law, which will create pressure to do a farm bill again. If we do the same next time, it is going to cost $1.5 trillion over the following 10 years.

My best friend is a feed corn, soybean, and wheat farmer. The farm is in excess of 2,000 acres in Oklahoma. On breaks, when they are harvesting, I go down there and drive a grain buggy. I have only bent the auger on it once. I hear it from a farmer's perspective. Do my colleagues know what he tells me? He tells me we don't need this anymore. We don't need it. We need decisions on capital investment to be made on risks and markets. No one can tell me, when we have $131 billion in net farm income this year, that we need to be subsidizing 86 percent of everybody's product, guaranteeing them, no matter what happens in yield or price, they are going to get 86 percent.

The cost of this bill isn't just the $1 trillion we are talking about; it is going to be much higher. We have had historically high commodity prices. They have moderated somewhat, but if they go back anywhere close to historical prices, this bill is going to cost at least another $100 billion, just in one program alone. CBO's assumption is that we are not going to do that. But most of the leading agricultural economists in this country think corn is going to be under $4, it is going to be $3.75, and wheat will decline and soybeans will decline. So the score we have on this bill is nonsense because it doesn't reflect the reality of what is happening out there.

I appreciate the hard work people did on the farm bill. I am highly critical of adding new job programs. I think we have missed it completely. We don't even know what the real problem is in terms of job training in this program, and the 10 pilot programs aren't going to make a difference anywhere. What we ought to have is real programs that are WTO-compliant, that reconnect capital investment with the real world forces of market prices and markets.

We spend $200 million a year just on one program--assisting farmers selling their products overseas. Do we know what sells products overseas? Price, quality. But we have a little $200 million program that everybody in organized agriculture gets to take advantage of. They get a couple of trips a year on the Federal taxpayer. It ought not be so. If we want to promote products, we ought to be out promoting them. We shouldn't be promoting private brands with Federal Government money. We ought to create the opportunity to promote it, but we shouldn't be doing it.

Needless to say, I will not be voting for cloture. I will reemphasize that Senator Durbin and I had a great amendment. Those who signed the conference report and took that out can't stand up and say anything about anybody who is wealthy in this country or the tax rates or anything else, because they just gutted one of the things that would have put back equality in terms of the farm program for the very wealthy in this country. We are continuing to pay hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars monthly to the most well-connected, well-financed, wealthiest people in this country because they are farming the farm program. By taking that out, those who did lost all moral authority to ever say anything again about income inequality in this country, because those who signed the conference report chose to take that out.

We understand how politics works. I understand how politics works. But credibility is important in our country and we are losing it. We are losing it here. Look at the polls. We have lost it in the Nation's Capital as far as the American people are concerned. We haven't just lost credibility; we are losing legitimacy, because we wink and nod to do the parochial vote, even though in the best long-term interests of our country we are doing the wrong thing. But it sure sells well at home.

I yield the floor.

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