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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, first I want to thank our leader for his strong support and helping us bring this to the floor. We would not be here without the Senator from Nevada, our leader. Frankly, there are many demands, many things on his plate and our plate in the Senate. He understands 16 million jobs are affected by what happens in agriculture in this country. So I thank Senator Reid for his willingness to support us and continue to support us as we move forward to get this bill done.
I also want to thank my partner and my ranking member, the Senator from Kansas, for his continued leadership as we move the bill forward. We would have liked to have begun the unanimous consent agreement to move forward on six different amendments, not the universe of amendments. Certainly, anyone could come down and say: Why isn't my amendment part of the first six?
We wanted to get started as we worked with colleagues to bring up other amendments. So we have put forward something that involves, first of all, a technical amendment we need to do for the bill, a perfecting amendment, and then two Democratic colleagues' amendments and three Republican colleagues' amendments, including the Senator from Kentucky who just entered the objection, an important debate that involves an amendment he is involved in.
So our first step was to try to do this around unanimous consent. But understanding that we do have an objection, Senator Reid has offered us another path to do this by creating a way for us to at least have the debate on two of the issues we had put forward in the six amendments before us.
One involves the Sugar Program for our country, and we have a number of Members who have different amendments. We have one that will be in front of us. It is an opportunity for everyone to say their piece. I can tell you as someone who represents a lot of sugar beets that I care very deeply about this issue and certainly support the Sugar Program. But it is an important debate to have, and Members deserve to be heard on all sides.
The other relates to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Many Members have feelings on all sides about this, and so we think it is an important debate to have to give people an opportunity to give their opinions.
I certainly, as this goes forward tomorrow, will be doing that myself and certainly feel very strongly that what we have done in the bill on accountability and transparency to make sure every dollar goes for families who need it is very important. But we want Members to have an opportunity to be able to debate what is important policy for our country.
As we are moving forward on both of these amendments tomorrow, we will also be working, our staffs and ourselves, to come together on a larger package, a universe of amendments to offer to the body of the Senate to be able to move forward so we can come up with a finite number of amendments that will allow us to complete the bill.
Many amendments have been offered. We are going to spend our time going through those just as we did in committee where we worked across the aisle. We had 100 amendments and whittled that down to a point where we could come forward with agreed-upon amendments. We are going to do the same thing. We are going to put together a universe of amendments to move forward on the bill.
But while we are doing that, we will have an opportunity--we invite Members who care particularly about either of the issues that will be voted on tomorrow--the leader will move forward with a motion to table on those, but we want everyone to have an opportunity to come to the floor and be able to be heard on both of those issues.
So we are moving forward. We would have liked to have done it with a larger group of amendments that we could have started with while we continue through. Our goal is to allow as much opportunity for discussion and debate as possible. But, frankly, I have to say, before yielding to my friend from Kansas, our goal ultimately is to pass this bill.
I mean we have 16 million people who are counting on moving forward wanting certainty. Our farmers and ranchers want to know what is coming for them as they are in the planting season, going into harvest season in the fall. They need economic certainty. We need to make sure we have a policy going forward that makes sense and is put in place before September 30 of this year when these policies run out and very serious ramifications to the budget take place.
Frankly, I think all of us have said at one time or another that we want to
see deficit reduction. I do not know of another bill that has come before this body with $23 billion in deficit reduction, bipartisan, and a number that was agreed to in the fall with the House and the Senate.
We have an opportunity to tell the people we represent in the country that we meant it when we said deficit reduction. We meant it when we said reform. We meant it when we said we were going to work together to get things done. We have been doing that with a wonderful bipartisan vote in committee, with a very strong vote to proceed to this bill last week, and we know the hard part is getting through it and coming up with the list of amendments we intend to do.
We are asking for our colleagues to work with us on behalf of the people of this country who have the safest, most affordable food supply in the world because of a group of folks called farmers and ranchers who have the biggest risk in the country and go out every day to work hard to make sure we have the national security and the food security we need for our country.
They are looking to us to get this done, along with children and families across this country. We will do that. We will begin that process between now and tomorrow with a debate on two important issues.
I see my distinguished colleague and friend here, the ranking member. I also thank another distinguished colleague, the Senator from Iowa, who has made very significant contributions in this legislation on reforms--reforms he has been fighting for for years. We have stepped up to back him up and support him. We need to get this done--these reforms--and get this bill done. We are going to work hard to make sure we do that.
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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I know my colleague from New Hampshire wishes to speak, but for the purpose of Members' understanding, I would like to let everyone know what is happening now.
We do have two amendments that will be voted on tomorrow morning. The majority leader has at his disposal the ability to have a motion to table, which he will exercise in the morning. But we want anyone interested in either of these two topics or amendments to come forward with the opportunity to debate tonight. Senator Shaheen has an amendment that I know is very important to her and many other Members, and we want everyone to have the opportunity this evening to do that.
There will be a vote. I am not sure of the time exactly, but I would think at this point it will be in the morning. So we want those who are interested in debating the Sugar Program or debating the question of whether to block grant the nutrition program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, to come forward to discuss and debate that this evening.
There may be some time in the morning, but we will be moving forward on both of these amendments. So we want to let them know that if these are topics they are interested in, we would certainly welcome them coming to the floor.
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I will take a few moments to speak about the two amendments we will be voting on with motions to table tomorrow and urge that my colleagues, in fact, do vote to table these amendments. I appreciate we have colleagues on both sides of the aisle who care about both of them, but I ask, in the interest of a strong agricultural policy and nutrition policy, that we not support the amendments that are in front of us. But I do appreciate the fact that we are beginning to talk about issues and amendments. This is very important.
We have many amendments and ideas that Members want to bring up. We are going to do our level best, within the framework we have to deal with in terms of procedure, to be able to bring up as many different topics and have as much opportunity for people to debate as possible because we want to move forward on this very important bill that we all know would reduce the deficit by over $23 billion. It has major reforms. Yet it will strengthen agricultural policy--nutrition policy, conservation policy--and maintain and support 16 million jobs. That is why we are here.
I wish to take a moment to talk about our American sugar policy. We grow a lot of sugar beets in Michigan. Our first sugar policy goes back to 1789 in this country. I don't think either one of us was here. The Presiding Officer certainly was not here. Nobody was here. But in 1789 we began the first sugar policy. Our modern policy can be traced back to the Sugar Acts of 1934, 1937, and 1948. Sugar is not similar to other commodities. Both sugarcane and sugar beets must be processed soon after harvest--which is a key factor for them--using costly processing machinery.
If farmers need to scale back production because of a sudden drop in price,
the processing plant shuts down and may never reopen. Because this processing is so capital intensive, it is imperative we give producers a stable marketplace so they do not experience a constant boom and bust, which is what we would see without the stability of the program we have today.
The current U.S. sugar policy has been run at zero cost to taxpayers for the last 10 years. Let me just say this again--zero; zero cost to the American taxpayer for the last 10 years. This policy helps defend 142,000 American jobs and $20 billion in economic activity every year: zero cost, 142,000 jobs, $20 billion in economic activity every year.
Two things come to mind. Even with our sugar policy, the United States interestingly is the second largest net importer of sugar behind only Russia. This is important because our policy has been viewed as a protectionist policy. Yet we are still an importer. We import sugar, the second highest only to Russia. What we are talking about is allowing a stable marketplace for American producers.
The price of sugar for consumers is among the lowest in the developed world. Despite many debates to the contrary, in the European Union prices are 30 percent higher than in the United States. When we look at the retail prices for countries such as France, Finland, Japan, Norway, and so on, U.S. sugar prices are actually very low. Again, zero cost to the taxpayer, and we are maintaining a stable price for our sugar beet growers and protection for our sugar beet and sugarcane growers. We are creating jobs and, at the same time, this is where we fall, with the blue line being the USA.
I know there are colleagues on both sides of the aisle who care about this. I argue our sugar policy is one that makes sense. It has made sense for the last 10 years at zero cost. I hope we will vote to continue to support this policy, which is a very important part to many regions of the country, an important part of the bill that is in front of us. This policy is supported by a host of corporations, including the American Sugar Alliance, the International Sugar Trade Coalition. We have the support of our country's two largest agricultural trade organizations--the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union. It has made sense. It has zero cost, and I am hopeful colleagues tomorrow will support continuing this program.
Let me talk about another amendment now that goes to a lot of discussion on the floor and that goes to the nutrition parts, which is the majority of the bill that is in front of us.
All across the country the recession has devastated families. Certainly, I can speak for Michigan, where we have people who paid taxes all their lives, they have worked very hard, they continue to work very hard, and never thought in their wildest dreams they would need help putting food on their tables for their children. They have had to do that during this recession, in a temporary way, to help them get through what, for them, has been an incredibly difficult time.
We know the No. 1 way to address that is jobs. We want to make sure, in fact, we are creating jobs, supporting the private sector entrepreneurial spirit to bring back manufacturing, making things, growing things, creating jobs. But we also know, as this has been slow to turn around for many families, that we have Americans who have needed some temporary help. That is what SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is all about.
The amendment tomorrow that we will be voting on would turn this program into an entire block grant, making it much less effective in responding to needs--frankly, block granting and then cutting over half the current levels of support and funding needed to maintain help for those who are currently receiving SNAP benefits. Reductions at that level could exceed the total amount of supplemental nutrition help projected to go to families in 29 of our smallest States and territories over the next 10 years. It is extremely dramatic and makes absolutely no sense. I hope we will join together in rejecting this approach.
One of the strongest features of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is that, in fact, it can respond quickly when we have a recession or economic conditions that warrant it, when we have a nationwide recession, when we have a plant closure in a community. We have seen way too many of those, although we are now celebrating the fact that we have plants opening and retooling and expanding. But we have gone through some very tough times with plant closures where families have needed some temporary help.
The important thing about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is that it is timely, it is targeted, and it is temporary. Approximately half of all of those new families who have needed help are getting help for 10 months or less, so this is actually a temporary program.
We have seen over the years that families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance are much more likely to be working families. This is important. We are talking about working families who are working one job or one, two, or three part-time jobs and trying to hold it together for their families while working for minimum wage. By about the second or third week of the month, there is no food on the table for the children. So being able to help families who are working hard every day to be able to have that temporary help has been life and death, I would suggest, for many families. This is actually a great American value to have something like this for families who need it.
According to the CBO--the Congressional Budget Office--we know the number of families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance is actually going to go down over the next 10 years. It is going to go down because we are seeing the unemployment rate go down, and it tracks the same. In fact, in this bill we build in savings over the life of the farm bill because it is projected that the costs are going to go down--not by some arbitrary cuts but by actually having it go down because the costs go down. When people go back to work, they don't need the temporary help anymore. There are savings in this bill by the fact that the costs are going down because the unemployment rate is going down, and that is the most significant thing.
Turning supplemental nutrition assistance into a block grant won't make the program more efficient or more effective. Instead, we are likely to see States shifting dollars out of SNAP to look at other budget priorities in very tough times. If it is a block grant, they are not required to use it for food to help families. We all know that States are under tremendous pressure on all sides, so it is not even clear--it wouldn't be accountable in terms of where those dollars are going in terms of food assistance.
It is also harder to fight fraud and abuse across State lines with this kind of approach. The Department of Agriculture has been working hard to accomplish this. We have already reduced trafficking by three-quarters, 75 percent, over the last 15 years, and we want to be able to continue to do that as well.
So we know that nutrition assistance is a lifeline to the families who need it, but let me conclude by saying that I also want to make sure every single dollar goes to the families who need it. That is why this reform bill, this bill that cuts $23 billion on the deficit, also focuses on waste, fraud, and abuse in the nutrition title because we want to make sure every dollar goes to those families. It is to ensure that every family and every child who needs help receives help, and we want to make sure that not one dollar is abused in that process.
So what do we have in the underlying bill? Well, we have had at least two cases in Michigan where we have had lottery winners who, amazingly, continue to get food assistance, which is outrageous. We stopped that, period. Lottery winners would immediately lose assistance. And hopefully we wouldn't have to say that, but the way it has been set up, we have to make that very clear. It would end misuse by college students who are actually able to afford food and are living at home with their parents. Students going to school are not those who would be the focus of getting food assistance help, so we would end the misuse by college students. We would cut down on trafficking. We don't want folks taking their food assistance card and getting cash or doing something else with it that is illegal. We prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers because we want people going into the grocery store or farmers market and being able to get healthy food with their dollars. We also deal with a gap in standards that has resulted in overpayment of benefits as it relates to States. So we deal with what has been an effort by some States to go beyond legislative intent, and we address that in a very strategic way.
The bottom line is that we are making sure we increase the integrity in the food assistance program. We increase the integrity and the accountability because we want every single dollar to go for help for those families who worked all their lives, paid taxes, and now find themselves in a place where the plant closed or where they lost their jobs and need some help on a temporary basis to put food on the table.
Let me just share one more time where the dollars go in terms of children and adults. Nearly half of those who are getting help right now are children; 47 percent of those who get food help are children. Then we have those who live with children, who are another 24 percent, senior citizens are 8 percent, and disabled people are another 9 percent. So the vast majority we are talking about are children, families, parents caring for children, the disabled, or seniors.
The amendment we will be voting on tomorrow is an extreme amendment that would take away temporary help for families and children who need it. Rather than taking that approach, we take the approach of accountability. So as we look one more time at accountability, we can see we are tightening all of the areas where there has been abuse. We want every dollar to go where it should go, but at the same time we don't want to forget the children or the families of this country who are counting on us.
We have several different kinds of programs that relate to disasters in the farm bill. We have one called crop insurance where if there is a weather disaster or price disaster, we want to be there. We don't want any farmer to lose the farm because there are a few days of bad weather or some other kind of disaster beyond their control. It is called crop insurance, and we strengthened risk management tools in this bill.
Well, there is another kind of disaster assistance in this bill, and that is for families across this country. It is for children, it is for seniors, and it is for the disabled. It is called the nutrition title, and that is why it is there in case of a family disaster. We have too many middle-class families who are asking for help now. They are grateful, didn't want to ask, and mortified they have to ask, but they are in a situation where they need temporary help, and that is why it is here.
The good news is that with the unemployment rate going down, the assistance is going down. The budget will be going down through the life of this farm bill and the costs will be going down because people are going back to work. That is the way it should be.
I would urge tomorrow that we vote against what I consider to be a very extreme amendment that would cut and block grant the nutrition program and vote instead to support what we have done to increase the accountability and integrity of our food assistance programs.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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