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Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am grateful we finally have been able to get the nomination of Mari Aponte confirmed. I thank Senator Menendez for managing for me.

I thank our colleagues in the Senate for finally getting our nominee in place and confirming her to be the Ambassador to El Salvador. I think it is long overdue. She will do a terrific job, and I am grateful to colleagues that we finally have, in fact, confirmed this nomination.

Mr. President, I understand I can proceed as in morning business.


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I will do so, but I wish to speak with respect to an amendment on the farm bill for when we get back to that.

I wish to call to the attention of my colleagues the fact that in 2008, the farm bill's conferees inserted a provision that transfers authority of the regulation of catfish, but only catfish--it was the only particular item singled out to be transferred--from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The provision was not debated in either body. It is one of those things that, as we all know, people have increasingly gotten incensed about in the public as well as around here, in the Congress itself.

Because it was transferred over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA subsequently published a proposal in order to carry out the new mandate it had been given to regulate catfish. But that proposal has remained, and properly so, stalled in the regulatory process. I say ``properly so'' because it serves no public interest, it is costly for taxpayers, and it is duplicative and confrontational with other entities that are engaged in that kind of oversight. As a result, it will invite trade retaliation abroad and put us on a train wreck, if you will, of sort of excessive regulatory conflict.

Senator McCain and I have joined together, along with a bipartisan group of our colleagues, to offer an amendment, amendment No. 2199, to repeal the 2008 catfish language. If we don't repeal it, the USDA is going to try to continue to proceed forward in this regulatory train wreck.

Let me give a little background. In February of 2011, the GAO cited the proposed catfish regulatory program--cited it as part of its report on those programs that were at high risk for waste, fraud, and abuse. Then, in March of 2011, the GAO again called this program duplicative as part of a totally separate report. Then, just last month, the GAO produced an extensive and detailed analysis of why this program is not only costly and duplicative but why it would have no food safety benefit. If it is not going to have any food safety benefit, it is costly, it is duplicative, the obvious question for all of us is: Why? What is going on here?

All of us care about jobs in our communities. Every State is always vying to find a way to try to guarantee that the jobs it has are protected and that it is creating more jobs. We all understand that. So I don't have any animus against any particular Senator fighting to do that. In this case, a number of catfish producers in the South managed to get protection that takes care of them but hurts a lot of other folks in a lot of other parts of the country. So it may be good for catfish producers in a few places in the South, but it is bad for consumers in the United States generally because it raises costs, and it is very bad for seafood processors and for communities, in my State among others, but in other States in the country on the west coast and east coast. There are employers in my State that would like to process and distribute products that come from various other places, including abroad, and they ought to be able to do so in a free market, in an open market that is not protected and chopped up and diced and sliced in order to protect people inappropriately. Playing protectionist games with the rules and regulations and agencies is bad public policy.

It is bad economic policy, particularly, and it is an invitation to our trading partners to do the same thing. And when they do it, we complain about it, and rightfully.

As Senator Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, has pointed out:

U.S. agricultural products, including safe, high-quality Montana beef, face unscientific trade restrictions in many important markets. If we expect other countries to follow the rules and drop these restrictions, it is critical that we play by the rules and do not block imports for arbitrary and unscientific reasons.

That is exactly what we are trying to undo with the amendment Senator McCain and I are bringing to the farm bill. The only reason this bad idea that was codified in 2008 has not yet become an active program is that--get this, Mr. President--the bill did not define the word ``catfish.'' So as a result, for the last 4 years, lawyers, lobbyists, public relations firms, foreign governments, legislators, and multiple Cabinet officials have engaged in a definitional debate over what qualifies a fish to be called a catfish and, subsequently, fall into this new regime.

Well, it turns out that whether a fish is or is not a catfish is something that experts can actually debate for hours, believe it or not. It also turns out it does not matter because, according to the GAO, the FDA ought to retain jurisdiction over all fish, catfish and noncatfish alike, and that is the simplest solution.

As I mentioned, apparently, you can debate forever about what kind of fish it is, and that is exactly what has been going on, as to whether it constitutes being a catfish. But this is very simple. The GAO put out a report in May of this year, and in the report the GAO could not have been more clear. They made it about as simple as they could in their statement, saying:

Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA.

A simple sentence. GAO, as we all know, gives nonpolitical assessments, is a watchdog, if you will, for the actions here in the Congress. In that report, they state:

The proposed program essentially mirrors the catfish oversight efforts already underway by FDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Furthermore, since FDA introduced new requirements for seafood processing facilities, including catfish facilities, in 1997, no outbreaks of illnesses caused by Salmonella contamination of catfish have been reported. ..... Consequently, if implemented, the catfish inspection program would likely not enhance the safety of catfish but would duplicate FDA and NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] inspections at a cost to taxpayers.

So I think that is pretty clear-cut. We need to repeal the 2008 farm bill language related to catfish. We need to let the American consumer decide from all of the safe food options that exist, let them decide what they want to consume. And, obviously, we have nothing specifically against catfish per se in any part of the country, and particularly the jobs. We all want the jobs. But they should not come at the expense of another part of the country, setting up a duplicative, completely wasteful, taxpayer-expenditure-duplicated program.

Mr. President, in addition to that, I want to say a quick word about another amendment Senator Murkowski and I are sponsoring--my colleague, Senator Brown, is also a sponsor of it--and that is to resolve an important inequity that exists in the current law. We need to help provide desperately needed disaster assistance to fishermen in Massachusetts and around the Nation. It is not just for Massachusetts.

I hope the managers of this legislation will let the bipartisan amendment receive a vote during the Senate consideration of this legislation. Everybody knows that in certain parts of New England and in places such as the State of Washington--I was out in Washington last weekend, in Seattle, they have a huge fishing industry--California, San Diego, various parts of the country, Louisiana, we have a lot of fishing. But, increasingly, those fishery resources are under pressure, and increasingly there is regulation in order to try to preserve the stocks.

So fishermen who have fished for a livelihood for a lifetime are being restricted in the numbers of days they can go to sea, restricted in the amount they can catch. People have lost homes. They have lost boats. Whole lives have been turned topsy-turvy because of conditions beyond their control. Whether it is the ecosystem, Mother Nature, nobody knows, but it is no different from a drought in the Iowa cornfields or in other parts of the country. It is no different from a disaster that takes place when crops are wiped out.

These folks are being wiped out. They are the farmers of the sea, the farmers of the ocean, and they farm sustainably. But they need help. Gloucester and New Bedford in Massachusetts are two of the largest fishing ports in our Nation, and the commercial fishing industry supports about 83,000 jobs in the State and $4.4 billion in revenue. But it is becoming harder and harder for these fishing families and for the smaller boats to survive. These small boat fishermen, particularly, are part of the culture of our State and of our region, and we want to try to preserve that.

Last fall, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration announced a reversal in the most recent Gulf of Maine Cod Assessment. Within 3 years of each other, two radically different stock assessments have been issued--one saying the stocks are replenishing, another saying they are disappearing. And fishermen are whipsawed between these stock assessments and are told different things. In one, they think they can invest in their boats and in the future; in the next, they are being told: Sorry, folks, you are out of luck.

Well, it should not be that arbitrary, and it certainly should not just whack them and abandon them.

NOAA is now undertaking a new survey for next year because of the conflict of the surveys. So how are we going to help these people survive until next year? How are we going to help them get through those hard times and keep those boats, so if the word comes back that they can go back out to the ocean and continue their livelihoods, they are actually able to do that?

My amendment simply expands the eligibility for the Emergency Disaster Loan Program--underscore loan; it is not a grant; it is a loan program--to include commercial fishermen and shellfish fishermen. That is all we are asking. It would allow fishermen to be eligible for a low-interest emergency disaster loan, available through the Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. It is my understanding this amendment would have no score.

Fishermen, as we know--many people saw ``The Perfect Storm.'' They risked their lives to go out and put protein, food on the tables of America. All you have to do is watch one of the shows--``Deadliest Catch''--to get a sense of what is at stake. I believe they are agricultural producers, like other kinds of farmers, and they ought to be treated with the same respect.

We have put billions upon billions of dollars, often in grants, in emergency assistance, for one reason or another, to farmers across the States of the Midwest, Far West, and some in the Northeast, where we do have some farming, but usually it is in other parts of the country, and we have consistently voted to do that, to help people.

We are asking our colleagues to treat our farmers of the sea with the same respect that others are treated in this country. We simply end an inequity in the law that does not provide a legal mechanism for people to be able to do what they would like to do, which is being able to legally help our fishermen with these low-interest loans.

With that, Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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