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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, today the Senate will vote to move forward on the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, also known as the farm bill. I hope my colleagues will vote to join us and begin the debate officially on this important jobs bill because it is so important to 16 million people who get their jobs from agriculture.

Our economy has seen some tough times, as we all know. Certainly we know that in Michigan. But agriculture has been one of the really bright spots. It is an underpinning of our economic recovery, and we want to keep it that way. If we fail to pass a new farm bill before the current one expires in September, it would cause widespread uncertainty and result in job losses in a very important part of our economy that is critical to keeping our recovery going.

Agriculture is one of the only parts of the economy, if not the only part, that has a trade surplus--$42.5 billion in 2011--the highest annual surplus on record. We know that for every $1 billion in exports, 8,400 people are working. So this is a jobs bill.

Thanks to the farm bill, tonight American families will sit down around the kitchen table and enjoy the bounty of the world's safest, most abundant, and most affordable food supply. I think it is too easy for all of us to take that for granted. The men and women who work hard from sunrise to sunset every day to put that food on our tables deserve the economic certainty this bill provides.

The farm bill before us today makes major reforms. We are cutting subsidies. We are ending direct payments. We cut the deficit by over $23 billion. As my friend and ranking member has said, this is voluntary. This is a real cut, as my budget chairman would say, and it is more than double what was recommended in the Simpson-Bowles Commission. So this is serious. This is real. And we in agriculture--the first authorizing committee to recommend real deficit reduction cuts--are serious about making sure we are doing our part and that the families and ranchers and people involved in agriculture are doing their part as well. They are willing to do that. We have to have economic certainty because we are talking about creating jobs all across America, in rural areas and in urban areas.

This farm bill gives farmers new export opportunities so they can find new global markets for their goods and create jobs. This farm bill helps family farmers sell locally. We are tripling support for farmers markets, which are growing all over this country, and new food hubs to connect farms with schools and other community-based organizations.

This farm bill provides training and mentoring and access to capital for new and beginning farmers to get their operations off the ground. The bill really is about the future of agriculture in our country. As I have said so many times, this is not your father's farm bill. This is about the future.

We had three young farmers visiting with Senator Roberts and me yesterday, and I can tell my colleagues they were so impressive--I feel very confident about the future--but they were saying loudly and clearly that we need to get this done now so they can plan for themselves and their families.

We are also for the first time offering new support and opportunities for our veterans who are coming home. The majority of those who have served us in such a brave and honorable way in Iraq and Afghanistan come from small towns all across America, and they are now coming home. Many of them want the opportunity to stay at home, to be able to go into farming, to be able to have their roots back in their communities. We are setting up new support in this farm bill to support our veterans coming home.

The farm bill supports America's growing biomanufacturing businesses, where companies use agricultural products instead of petroleum to manufacture products for consumers. I am so excited about this because in my State of Michigan, we make things and grow things, and biomanufacturing is about bringing that together. As we move through this bill, I look forward to talking more about that.

This bill moves beyond corn-based ethanol into the next generation of biofuels that use agricultural waste products and nonfood crops for energy. This bill provides a new, innovative way to support agricultural research--the men and women who every day fight back against pests and diseases that threaten our food supply--with a new public-private research foundation to stretch every dollar and get the most results.

We extend rural development with a new priority for those proposing to maximize Federal, State, local, and private investment so that smalltown mayors--such as those who came before our committee--across the country can actually understand and use the programs. We are simplifying it. We are going from 11 different definitions of ``rural'' down to 1 so that it is simple and clear and so that smalltown mayors and local officials have better tools to use to support their communities.

Finally, let me say one more time that this bill is a jobs bill. Sixteen million people work in this country because of agriculture. We are creating jobs. We are cutting subsidies. We are reducing our deficit by over $23 billion. I hope our colleagues will join with us this morning in a very strong vote to move forward on this bill.

Can the Chair announce the time remaining on both sides?

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. There is 18 minutes on the Republican side and 11 1/2 minutes on the Democratic side.

Ms. STABENOW. Let me first yield, if I might--I know Senator Nelson also wishes to speak--7 minutes, if that is appropriate, to our distinguished budget leader.

In introducing the Senator from North Dakota, I wish to say that we would not have the thoughtful approach on the alternative in the commodity title that we have today--we know we are going to be working more to strengthen that as we move through the process, but we would not have the strong risk-based approach we have without the senior Senator from North Dakota, our budget chairman. We also would not have the energy title we have that creates jobs without his amendment and his hard work. Frankly, this is somebody whom I looked to on every page of the farm bill because of his wonderful expertise.

I have to say one more time that I am going to personally and, as a Senator and chair of the committee, greatly miss him when he leaves at the end of the year. I think I may be locking the door so he can't leave.

So I yield 7 minutes to the Senator from North Dakota.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, before turning to the distinguished Senator from Nebraska, I want, one more time, to say what a pleasure it has been--and continues to be--to work with the senior Senator from Kansas. This has been a partnership effort. It has been a strong bipartisan effort. And I look forward to continuing to have that be the case as we move to get this bill done.

Now I wish to yield up to 5 minutes to the Senator from Nebraska. And I thank Senator Nelson for his strong advocacy for rural development, for helping us make these true reforms. He has been a strong advocate for the reforms in the commodity title, moving us to a risk-based system. He has been a strong advocate for crop insurance and for conservation, EQIP--things that are important, I know, to Nebraska.

This is also someone whom we are going to dearly miss on the committee and in the Senate at the end of the year. I think I may put the Senator from Nebraska and the Senator from North Dakota in a room together, lock the door, and not let them leave, because they are both so invaluable.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, as we bring this time to a close, I just once again wished to thank my ranking member and friend Senator Roberts. I wish to thank all the members of the committee. We had some tough negotiations. We had a strong bipartisan vote. As with any farm bill, there are still improvements we can make, and we are committed to doing that as we move forward.

But, overall, what we see before us is a true reform bill, cutting over $23 billion from the deficit, the first authorizing committee to do that, cutting or consolidating about 100 different authorizations or programs. That, frankly, is unheard of. We have done that while strengthening the farm safety net, moving to a risk-based system, strengthening conservation. I am very proud that we have 643 different conservation groups supporting this bill. All together, we are moving forward on a strong agriculture, reform, food and jobs bill.

I hope colleagues will join us in a very strong vote to proceed to this bill.


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