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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROBERTS. Mr. President, first, I would like to thank the distinguished Senator from Michigan for her very kind remarks. This has been a team effort. She has been a very strong leader to try to put together a bill. I thank her for her very detailed summary, title by title, of the farm bill--something a lot of us probably couldn't do, but at any rate, she has done that, and it is in the Congressional Record. I urge my colleagues to really take a look at what the distinguished chairwoman has said today because she has literally gone down every title in the farm bill. So if anybody has any questions, it is right there, and, as she has indicated, if anybody has questions of either of us, please be in contact with either us or our very able staff.

I rise today in strong support of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, the farm bill, and I am privileged to stand here today with Chairwoman Stabenow, who led this reform legislation through the Agriculture Committee. It has truly been a bipartisan and a team effort. It represents the final product of numerous hearings and months of discussions as we worked to write a new farm bill during the most difficult budget climate in our Nation's recent history.

I am proud to say that we have put together a bipartisan bill that strengthens and preserves the safety net for our farmers and ranchers in rural America, while providing $23.6 billion--$24 billion, as a politician's counting--in deficit reduction under this bill reported by the committee on a bipartisan vote of 16 to 5.

Let me repeat that. The Senate Agriculture Committee voluntarily wrote and reported a bill that provides $23.6 billion in deficit reduction. It is a bill that represents real reform. We are the first authorizing committee to produce those kinds of mandatory budget savings, and it was voluntary.

We all remember the supercommittee that tried very hard to achieve deficit reduction. The supercommittee was really not that super--not because of those people individually but because of the circumstances. Well, we are a supercommittee. We came up with $23.6 billion. I don't know of anybody over on the House side--perhaps I am wrong, but in the Senate we are the only folks who have really come up with real budget savings.

It also represents, as I have indicated and as the chairwoman indicated, real reform. Just listen to this. We have eliminated four commodity programs that caused farmers untold hours of preparation--go down to the Farm Service Agency and talk to the folks down there, who are hard-pressed anyway, and ask: ``Which program do I sign up for? How can I plan down the road?'' We rolled all of these commodity programs into one, while saving approximately $15 billion from the farm safety net programs. That is truly remarkable.

Twenty-three conservation programs are streamlined into 13, while saving nearly $6.4 billion. Approximately $4 billion is saved in the nutrition title, while at the same time expanding our efforts to root out fraud and abuse. Sixteen program authorizations are eliminated in the rural development title, eliminating over $1 billion of authorized spending over 10 years on top of the mandatory. Two programs are combined and another two eliminated in specialty crops. Over $200 million less in mandatory money is provided in the energy title compared to the 2008 farm bill. Five programs are eliminated in the forestry title, reducing authorizations by at least $20 million. Over 60 authorizations are eliminated from the research title, reducing authorizations by at least $770 million over 5 years. Again, that is $23.6 billion in tough mandatory savings, at least $1.8 billion in reduced discretionary authorizations, and at least 100 programs or authorizations that have been eliminated.

This is a reform bill. No other committee in the House or Senate has voluntarily undertaken programmatic and funding reforms at this level in this budget climate--no other committee. Believe me, it would have been much easier to write a baseline bill with no change in CBO spending projections. We could have fulfilled everyone's request on the committee and in the Senate, but we would not have performed the duty that we were elected to perform and that our constituents expect in this budget climate and that farmers and ranchers expect and their lenders expect and all up and down Main Street throughout rural and smalltown America or, for that matter, any taxpayer or any citizen of the United States. We have reduced spending, and we have reformed programs. That is what they want, and they want us to work together, and that is what we have done. At the same time, it is a bill that strengthens and preserves our farm risk management, conservation, research, and rural community programs.

We have strengthened and preserved the Crop Insurance Program--as pointed out by the distinguished chairwoman, the No. 1 priority of virtually every producer who testified before our committee. Why? Because their banker or their lenders say: You have to have crop insurance, and you have to strengthen it, and you have to improve it. In the past, we have been using crop insurance as a bank. No, we are not going to do that anymore given the circumstances our farmers face even today in Kansas as we go through another dry spell, and also in Texas, Oklahoma, and the High Plains.

We have streamlined our commodity programs, while reducing the complexity for the producers. We have updated the acreage upon which support is based to reflect more recent cropping patterns. That is a point I wish to discuss just a little bit more.

In recent days and weeks, it has seemed there has been just a little bit of confusion here in the Capitol region. It seems that some think we should write a farm safety net program and allocate their funding by commodity group or organization, sort of like a pie chart. If all you did was listen to these groups, you would think we were robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I understand that the elimination of direct payments is a big deal to many commodities. If anybody should understand that, it should be me. As a key feature of the 1996 act, I originally authored the program at that time. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the program has been wheat, especially in Kansas. But the taxpayers have been clear in this budget climate: Why should Congress continue and defend a program based on planting acreages established over 25 years ago? That doesn't make any sense.

Yes, the elimination of direct payments means the end of many wheat payments in Kansas, but that does not mean Kansas producers will no longer have a farm safety net--quite the contrary. They will have a strong risk management program. It will just be for different crops.

Why? Because when base acres were established over 25 years ago, Kansas planted over 2.8 million acres of corn, 4.2 million acres of sorghum, 1.6 million acres of soybeans, and 12.1 million acres of wheat.

Now, in the most recent 3-year period, Kansas farmers planted 4.6 million acres of corn, 2.6 million acres of sorghum, 4 million acres of soybeans, and 8.8 million acres of wheat. Why? That is 4.9 million fewer acres of wheat and sorghum and 4.2 million more acres of corn and soybeans.

Why did that happen? Why did these acreage shifts in Kansas and all over the country change like that? It occurred because farmers made those decisions, not Washington. Our producers have planted for the domestic and international market, and we have done so in a way that we do not encourage a WTO challenge. The cropping changes are much the same all throughout the Nation, especially among States represented on the Agriculture Committee.

Money is shifting among commodities because farmers are farming differently. They are becoming much more diversified throughout the States on this committee and the Nation. It is not shifting because we in Washington are intentionally picking winners and losers.

I understand some are frustrated with the decisions and changes we have in this bill. That takes place in any farm bill. Quite honestly, there are things that, if we had the funds available, the chairwoman and I both would have preferred to have done differently. But let's be blunt. This is not the 2002 or 2008 farm bill, and we do not have extra funds available.

This is not my first trip to the farm bill rodeo. I have written bills in times of budget surpluses and extra spending, and I have written farm bills in the middle of deficit cutting exercises--seven of them. Make no mistake about it, it is much easier to write a bill when we are adding money to the baseline--a whole heck-of-a-lot easier.

Nutrition groups, conservation organizations, our commodity groups, our Members of Congress want to stand by you and take the bows when you are adding money to the programs. But when it comes time to make difficult decisions and do what is right for the country by reducing spending and reforming programs, sometimes they are just not even in the same room. They are hiding in the weeds.

American agriculture today is a modern-day miracle. Every American farmer feeds you, Mr. President, and 150 other people. In America today our consumers spend less of their disposable income on food--and their market basket, OK?--than any other Nation in the world. America's farmers and ranchers provide us with the most abundant and affordable and safest food supply on the planet. That is a speech every farm organization and commodity group and farmers and ranchers have heard over and over, but it is a speech that deserves repeating to all my colleagues over and over so they get it.

They feed our Nation. Our producers feed our country. They feed the world, a troubled and hungry world. They provide food for the food aid programs that help countries around the world send young girls to school. Sending those girls to school helps feed hope and a belief in our American ideals rather than hatred and radicalism toward our Nation. The American farmer and rancher do provide stability in a chaotic world, and in doing so national security as well.

Show me a country that can't sustain itself in terms of food supply, I will show you chaos. Read about the Mideast, Syria, Libya and what is going on over in that part of the world. So the farm program is not only a farm program, it is a program to achieve stability in the world because of the productivity of the American farmer, and our ability to do it is also a national security program.

Every year America's farmers produce more on less land using less water and fewer inputs with ever-stronger conservation practices. It is truly a modern-day miracle what the agricultural sector in America does today.

I understand some are unhappy with some of the proposals put forward in this bill. It is a farm bill. I wouldn't expect it to be any different. But I can assure you, however, if I thought we were in any way writing a bill that would make it more difficult for my State of Kansas or for the State of Michigan or any American producer to feed this Nation and this world, a bill that eliminated their safety net which destroyed their ability to protect our natural resources while also feeding the most needy in our country, I would not be standing here today supporting it. I would not do that.

If I thought it in any way could keep us from feeding 9 billion people--note that, 9 billion people who will walk this Earth in just a couple of short decades--I would oppose this bill. We are going to have to double our agricultural production to help in a humanitarian way and prevent chaos all around the world, 9 billion people.

Agriculture is the backbone of the Kansas economy, employing more than one in five Kansans. More than 65,000 farms dot the Kansas landscape with an average land size of 705 acres. These farmers and ranchers do a tremendous job of feeding a troubled and hungry world. In fact, Kansas ranks No. 1 in the Nation in the production of wheat and grain sorghum, second in cattle farms, and third in sunflowers produced. We expect that, being the Sunflower State. Cash receipts from farm marketings were greater than $12 billion, and farm product exports were in excess of $4.8 billion.

Farmers and ranchers in my State truly help feed--what we have said again and again--a troubled and hungry world, which is why I am proud of this legislation. We have worked hard to put this together. It may not be the best possible bill, but it is the best bill possible given the circumstances we face. We have performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America.

Again, we have cut mandatory spending by $23.6 billion. We have reformed, eliminated, and streamlined USDA programs to the tune of more than 100 programs and authorizations eliminated. And we have done it on a voluntary basis because in rural America you make the tough decisions. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and you do what is right when it needs to be done. When we have done it in a bipartisan fashion, that is the best way to do it.

How many times have we heard this: What on Earth is wrong back there? Why can't you join together and work together and do what is right for America and for the people? This is what this committee has done under the leadership of the chairwoman.

So I thank the chairwoman for bringing us to this point today, and let's pass this farm bill. It is good for the country, it is good for the world, it is a good bill, and we need to proceed.

I hope every Member could vote for the motion to proceed. If they have amendments they are interested in, please come to us. It is like Bob Barker said: Come on down. Come on down and talk to us. If you have a problem with the bill, we will work with you. Just let us know. OK.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the distinguished Senator from Tennessee, Mr. Alexander, be recognized for 10 minutes when he appears on the floor. I thought he would be here by this time but he is not. At the appropriate time, I ask unanimous consent that he be recognized.


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