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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, in a short while--I think this afternoon--we will officially be back on consideration of what is dubbed the farm bill--the Agricultural Reform, Food, and Jobs Act. This is something we do every 5 years to secure the safest, most affordable, reliable food supply in the world. We are very proud of what our farmers and ranchers do.
The largest investment in land and water conservation we make as a country on working lands is made through the farm bill--protecting our Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, and supporting farmers who have environmental challenges and managing those on their lands. So these are very important investments.
We also make important investments in nutrition for families who need temporary help, as many families certainly have during this economic downturn, and many other exciting opportunities that create jobs.
The Presiding Officer, I know, cares very deeply about manufacturing, as do I. One of the areas in which we are growing the economy is by making things, growing things, and bringing those together in something called bio-based manufacturing, which I will be talking more about as we proceed, but the idea is to use agricultural products to offset chemicals, to offset oil and plastics. This is an exciting new opportunity for us. We expand upon that through opportunities in what we call the farm bill.
The bottom line is this is a jobs bill. There are 16 million people at work in this country--and there are not too many bills that come to the floor that have the number 16 million--that are in some way related to agriculture and food production. It may be processing, it may be production, it may be in the sales end, but 16 million people work in this country because of agriculture in some way, and so it is important we get this right.
We also have a major trade surplus in this country coming from agriculture. So we are producing it here and then we are selling it overseas. I certainly wish to make sure we are focusing on exporting our products, not our jobs. The shining star of that is in agriculture, where we have seen just in the last few years a 270-percent increase in agricultural exports. So this is a big deal for us and it is part of why this is a jobs bill and very important.
We also know we need to reform agricultural production policies. This bill is very much about cutting subsidies as well as creating jobs. So what are we doing? We have taken the view in this farm bill where rather than focusing on protecting individual programs that have been with us a long time, we have focused on principles: What is it we need to do to have a strong economy, to support our farmers? Whether it is a weather disaster, such as we have had in Michigan, or whether it is a disaster in markets and prices, we don't want our farmers losing their farms because of a disaster beyond their control. We all have a stake in that. There is nothing more risky, in terms of a business, than agriculture, where one is at the whim of the weather and other market forces. So we want to make sure we are there.
We also know that for too long we have paid government money to folks who didn't need it for crops they didn't grow. We are not going to do that anymore. This is a huge reform in public policy, where we are moving to risk-based management. We are focusing on what we need to do to cut the deficit and strengthen and consolidate and save dollars but also provide risk management. In fact, in this bill, we are reducing the deficit by $23 billion.
We have not had the opportunity to have in front of us a bill on the floor that cuts the deficit, with strong bipartisan support around policies that make sense and that we agree to. This is an area where we have come forward. In fact, I am very proud of the fact our Agriculture Committees--in the fall, when the deficit reduction effort was going on--came forward with a House-Senate bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. In fact, if every committee had done that, we would have gotten to where we needed to go.
I wish to thank my friend and ranking member Senator Roberts for his strong leadership, as well as the chairman and ranking member in the House for their joint efforts in that way.
But when that didn't happen, we decided we would keep our commitment to deficit reduction and move forward on policies that would achieve that and we have done that with $23 billion in cuts. We do that by repealing what is called direct payments that go to a farmer regardless of what is happening, whether it is good times or bad.
In fact, we replace four different farm subsidies with a strengthening of crop insurance and additional risk-management efforts when there is a loss by the individual farmer, at the county. We focus on loss. As I indicated, we will support farmers for what they plant.
We strengthen payment limits in terms of where we focus precious taxpayer dollars, and we also took a scalpel as we looked at every part of the USDA programs. We looked for duplication, what made sense, what was outdated, and we eliminated 100 different programs and authorizations within this farm bill policy. Again, I don't know many committees that have come forward with that kind of elimination.
That doesn't mean we are eliminating the functions, the critical areas of supporting farmers and ranchers or conservation or expanding jobs through renewable energy or our nutrition efforts or so on--farm credit, other beginning farmers, and all the efforts we are involved in. We are just doing it in a more streamlined way. We are cutting paperwork.
In rural development, which affects every single community, every town, every village, every county outside our urban areas, we want to make sure a part-time mayor can actually figure out rural development and use the supports that are there to start businesses, to focus on water and sewer infrastructure or roads, that it is actually simple and available and doable from their standpoint. We have spent our time working together to come up with something that makes sense for taxpayers, for consumers of food, for those who care deeply in every region of our country about how we support farmers and ranchers and for those who care very deeply about our land and water and air resources on working lands and how we can work together to actually do that.
We are moving forward now to the next phase on our farm bill consideration. Senator Roberts and I are working closely together to tee up some amendments--both Democratic and Republican amendments--so we can begin the
process of voting. We know there is a lot of work to do. Colleagues have a lot of ideas. Certainly, some of those ideas I will support, some I will not support, but the process of the Senate is to come forward and offer ideas, debate them, and vote.
So we are working hard, hopefully to tee up some votes this afternoon or tomorrow that would give us the opportunity to move forward. We know there is a lot more work to do. We have a lot of ideas that colleagues have, and we will continue to negotiate moving forward on a final set of amendments. But we think it is important to get started.
I wish to thank all our colleagues who came together on the motion to proceed. It was extraordinary. After a strong bipartisan vote in committee, we are very appreciative of the fact our colleagues are willing to give us the opportunity to get this done with such a strong bipartisan vote on the motion to proceed.
Also, before relinquishing the floor, I notice my colleague from South Dakota is here, and I wish to personally thank him for his leadership on this bill, with extremely important provisions in the bill, both on risk coverage. The proposal to support farmers who have a loss came from a very important proposal Senator Thune and Senator Sherrod Brown put forward, along with other colleagues, which is the foundation of what we are doing to work with crop insurance to support farmers. Also, Senator Thune has been pivotal in a very important part of conservation that ties what we call the sodsaver amendment to the protection of prairie sod, prairie land, to crop insurance. If someone is breaking up the sod, there would be a penalty on the crop insurance side. So it is an important way of bringing together accountability and crop insurance and protecting our native sod. This is something, among many other things, Senator Thune has been involved in and shown real leadership.
As I said, this has been a strong bipartisan effort. Again, I thank my colleague from Kansas who has been a partner in this effort.
I look forward to having the opportunity to bring all our amendments to the floor and to give people the opportunity to move forward in good faith. It is going to be critical that we move forward in good faith so we can begin to debate, to vote, and to get this bill done.
All the policies we have talked about actually end on September 30 of this year, with very disastrous results for farmers and ranchers if we don't get this done. They need economic certainty. The 16 million who work because of agriculture are counting on us to get this done so they can make their
decisions on what they are going to plant and how their business is going to work.
I am proud of the effort so far, our coming together and having folks join in this wonderful bipartisan effort to get to work.
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