HIGHWAY TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 17, 2008)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
EXTENSION OF THE FARM BILL
Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, I am on the floor to speak about something the majority leader proposed and that we have accepted by unanimous consent; that is, a 1-week extension of existing farm policy, the existing farm bill.
I come to the floor to speak because last night I put a hold on that UC request. I, similar to many Senators--and especially American agriculture--am growing very frustrated and restless about the reality that we don't have a farm bill. As we know, across America and in central parts of our country--certainly in the South--spring is here and it is planting season. The farm bill that is current law, which we extended a few moments ago, actually expired on September 30 of 2007.
It was in July 2007 that the House passed their version, and on December 14 we passed ours. Now, we have offered several extensions so the principals--the House and Senate Ag committees--could work on their differences with the administration and solve these problems. Yet they have not been able to do it.
Is this symbolic of a dysfunctional Congress that we have been experiencing for the last several years, where we simply cannot grapple with the big and responsible basic public policy issues of our country? It appears to be that way. I will blame both sides on this issue. It is both sides that are at fault that they cannot come together and, if you will, split the difference and solve a problem that is the basic public policy for American agriculture. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, opposes the tax provision within the bill. Why? She isn't a member of the Finance Committee or a member of the Agriculture Committee. Yes, she is the majority leader and, therefore, if she opposes it, she could certainly block it, and she can kill farm policy.
I have worked with Senator Harkin and Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS for the last month, and I know they have worked overtime. This is not a criticism of our colleagues; it is a criticism of a dysfunctional system that no longer can cut a deal and make basic and important public policy. So here we are, with one more extension. SAXBY CHAMBLISS called me this morning and said: LARRY, would you give us another week? I said I would give them 1 more week, but, frankly, this is it; I will not accept another extension next week on the farm bill, unless the deal has been cut, unless the agreement has been made and it is simply the procedure of putting it in writing and getting it to print and to the President.
The President, when he signed the extension last time, said: ``Enough is enough.'' Even this week, he softly talked about vetoing an extension. So I guess the point I am trying to make is, what is at stake? Why are we bickering over the fine points, when the fundamental policy points are in place?
Let's look at what we have done, because we ought to be proud of the work of the new farm bill: Significant increases in conservation funding for our working farmlands, including conservation, stewardship, and environmental quality incentive programs. These are programs that encourage farmers and ranchers to incorporate better tillage practices, thereby sequestering more carbon and doing their part as it relates to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have added, for our dairies, better manure management practices to reduce methane gas emissions. Here we are talking about climate change. The President spoke to climate change yesterday. Yet we cannot come to an agreement on something that would allow American agriculture to advance their practices to make it work, in their instance, and allow a contribution to the climate change carbon emissions issue.
There is a provision within the new farm bill that I and Senator Stabenow have worked on--literally for 5 years--to get a new provision in the farm bill to recognize the near 50 percent of gross revenue coming out of agriculture today, known as specialty crops. For the first time, we have a new title on specialty crops. If I say at the end of the week--and their work is not done--I am not going to extend it any more, I am going to have to forgo this. I am going to forgo it and say to the farmers in Idaho and across America: Let's do a 2-year extension on existing policy, or at least 1-year extension so you know where you are when you get to planting season, instead of watching Congress fall all over itself because they cannot cut a deal.
Isn't it about time we settle our differences and show America we can function, that we can work the process? Have we truly become so dysfunctional and partisan on these fundamentally bipartisan issues that they simply cannot be resolved? On our side, there is a bipartisan effort. I cannot speak to the House side. I have not been in the negotiations. I can only see the results. The results simply don't exist. That is why this Senator is on the floor today speaking with considerable frustration over why we have a Congress that, months after the expiration of the law, simply cannot get its work done. Commodity programs maintain a safety net. Yes, commodity prices are high today and farmers are profiting. What goes up clearly can, and does, come down in the commodity markets. A property safety net for wheat and barley was in there. It is extremely important we do that.
There are nutritional program increases, making the school snack program nationwide to deal with better health, and fresh fruit availabilities for our schoolchildren. That is different and better. The disaster assistance program will help aid our farmers and ranchers in a more efficient fashion in periods of serious drought and fire and other whole farm types of disasters.
There is an issue in agriculture and beef production that has been an issue of considerable contention over time. It is called country-of-origin labeling. The American consumer today, when they go to the shelf and pick up a commodity and look at it, wants to know where it comes from. Is it a domestic U.S. product or was it produced somewhere else in the world?
We know we have concern today about certain types of products coming out of China and other areas, and the consumer's right to know the marketing certainly is important in country-of-origin labeling. We finally acquiesced to implement country-of-origin labeling by September of this year. I don't know if we can do it if we keep shoving the farm bill out, keep extending it and not allowing the operative language to come in place.
There are critical tax provisions within this bill. My colleague, Senator MIKE CRAPO, has an Endangered Species Act compliance in reduction and credits. There are wind energy credits and production tax credits for cellulosic ethanol. Once again, as a nation that has grown increasingly dependent on foreign energy sources, we are saying to American agriculture in this farm bill: Here are some incentives for increased production.
I was recently in Ottawa, Canada, looking at a cellulosic ethanol production plant, hoping it will be brought south of the border into the United States so we can begin to use agricultural residues for the purpose of making ethanol, lessening the pressure on some of our grain crops, especially our corn crops.
There are provisions in the bill to incentivize biodiesel. Yet those incentives are the kind Speaker Pelosi says are nonstarters, they are deal breakers. How can making our country energy independent, how can incentivizing the promotion of the Endangered Species Act within private lands and giving folks the benefit of doing that be a deal breaker? It simply demonstrates how this Congress cannot function today. We are basically on hold right now. We are not getting our work done in a variety of areas, and agriculture and the farm bill is simply a very tragic example of that type of effort, or lack thereof.
As I have said, September 30 of last year the policy expired. Current law was extended until March 15 and then again until tomorrow, and that is why the leader was on the floor today advancing it for 1 more week so that agriculture is not without policy in place.
This is the 17th. The work has not been done. This Monday, Chairman Harkin said he was fed up. If he is fed up and he is a prime negotiator, what do we get? How do we deliver an ultimatum? I am not sure. But I am sure we will not, nor should we, allow American agriculture to be without policy.
All of the gains I have talked about, all of the gains that were negotiated inside the Senate Agriculture Committee and inside the House Agriculture Committee could simply be wiped away because there is no willingness or ability to come together and work together in behalf of American agriculture.
So I agreed on a 1-week extension. This is not an ultimatum, this is simply a statement of fact. I cannot agree any longer. American agriculture and Idaho's farmers need to know. They deserve to know. They should not be kept in limbo bouncing on the end of a string because the politicians in Washington cannot get their act together and simply cannot agree. We have always come to an agreement on agriculture. It has always been a bipartisan policy. I hope that practice of the past is a practice that ultimately can dominate the negotiations over this coming week.
I hope my colleagues will keep their lights on during the weekend. It is time we work a little overtime to get this done because I am one of several Senators who are simply at a point of saying: Can't go there anymore; time to finish it; time to tell American agriculture: Here is the new policy. And if we cannot, then let's extend the old policy and give them certainty for a minimum of at least 1 year.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.