Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: June 20, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. This is an amendment that falls in line with the recommendation of the administration as well as every outside group that has ever looked at this program.

The Department of Agriculture has five access to marketing programs. This is just one of them. The administration recommended a 20-percent reduction. We have put forward an amendment to reduce it by 20 percent. We spend $2 billion over the next 10 years on market access. American contribution of total world agricultural products is on the decline in spite of these programs, and the waste in these programs--if we look at where the money is spent--is unbelievable.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I assume by the chairman's response that she supports the $20 million that went into a reality TV show in India to purchase cotton other than ``made in the United States.'' That is where $20 million of it went. That is what is wrong with this program.

I am not objecting to the fact that we ought to have market access programs. But when we are wasting $20 million on something that has no connection whatsoever with American agricultural products, we ought to reduce or eliminate it.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, reducing our national debt--which now exceeds $15.8 trillion--is the most critical issue facing our nation. Our country simply cannot survive if we continue down this unsustainable course. Every area of the Federal budget should be examined to determine, which programs should be priorities.

Federal conservation programs are a good place to start. These programs pay farmers and ranchers to either implement conservation measures on their farms, ``working lands'', or to idle their land for conservation purposes, and ``land retirement''.

Oftentimes, the financial assistance offered by these programs incentivizes what is already in the best financial interests of farmers. Natural, market-based incentives already exist to achieve the efficiency and conservation purposes of these programs without taxpayer dollars. Not only that, but these programs also pay farmers and companies that have adjusted gross incomes, AGI, of $1 million or more.

Special rules allow the USDA to waive income limitations for certain programs, which it does on a regular basis. The result is millions paid to otherwise ineligible millionaires each year.

In fact, over the past 2 years, USDA waived the $1 million AGI cap for the programs discussed below and paid a total of $89,032,263 to individuals or entities with an AGI of $1 million or more. Allowing federal conservation programs to make payments to those with an adjusted gross income, AGI, of $1 million or more is simply not a priority for taxpayers.

This amendment would prevent USDA from paying millionaires by eliminating the ability to issue waivers that exempt program participants who have an AGI of $1 million or more from adhering to the program's payment limit rules.

In total, over a 2-year period, USDA waived program requirements and awarded over $84 million to individuals and entities with an AGI of $1 million or more.

In 2009, the USDA waived program requirements and paid two millionaires a total of $10,234,520, which consisted mainly of a $10 million payment to an investment company in California for restoring wetlands to protect the Riparian Brush Rabbit.

In 2010, the Wetland Reserve Program, WRP, program paid eight individuals with an AGI of $1 million over $74 million. These included almost $22 million to a ranch in Florida. The company that owns the ranch describes itself as a ``privately held, family-owned company with agricultural, commercial real estate, and asset management operations.'' That company also states that it owns a number of commercial real estate properties in New Jersey and Florida. The company also claims holdings that include multi-tenant office buildings, parking lots, a for-profit educational institution, restaurants, and retail property.

In 2010, USDA also paid over $31 million to another ranch in Florida. The payment was part of an $89 million purchase by USDA of an easement that places deed restrictions on the use of the land along 26,000 acres of the Fisheating Creek Watershed, partially located on the ranch. USDA claimed that the easement purchase would provide support for the crested caracara, Florida panther, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Recently, the owners of the ranch listed 2,600 acres for sale for $18.2 million. The property is described as a working ranch with ``tremendous recreation and hunting attributes.'' The local newspaper has also reported that same ranch was slated for a new 12,000 unit planned community.

Other entities and individuals with an AGI of $1 million or more that received WRP payments in 2010 include:

$7.92 million to a company in Texas for ``restoration and protection of critical and unique wetlands'' on a property known as East Nest Lake and Osceola Plantation; $5.8 million to a farm in North Carolina to promote a ``habitat for migratory birds and wetland dependent wildlife;'' $5.4 million to a ranch in Florida for land with ``high potential to significantly improve waterfowl and wading bird habitat'' $900,853 to an individual in Kansas to ``protect and [for] restoring ..... valuable wetland resources ..... for migratory birds and other wildlife;'' $227,203 to a company in New Hampshire for ``wetland restoration;'' and $80,000 to two individuals in Mississippi to ``restore, protect and enhance wetlands.''

In 2010, USDA waived the $1 million AGI requirement and paid a ranch holding company over $2.7 million through Grassland Reserve Program, GRP, for ``protection of critical and unique grasslands.''

Last year, USDA paid four millionaires a total of $592,097 through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP, $299,847 of which was aimed at protecting the Sage Grouse by a ranch in California; $50,000 went to a farm. That farm is owned by the W.C. Bradley Company, which is best known for producing Char-Broil outdoor grills and Zebco fishing supplies; remaining amounts of $35,250 and $210,000 went to two family trusts.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program paid $737,000 to three millionaire recipients, with the majority of the funds $449,662 going to protect the Sage Grouse by a family trust in California. A farm in Georgia also received $100,000 through WHIP for ``promotion of at-risk species habitat conservation.'' The remaining $187,540 went to a company in New Jersey.

Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, FRPP paid $630,000 to a company in 2009 to protect Raspberry Farms in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. Raspberry Farms formerly operated as a ``popular pick-your-own berries and retail farm stand'' in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The former farm was scheduled to be developed for housing, but instead, NRCS, in partnership with local entities, paid a total of $1.6 million to ensure the land will never be developed.

In 2010 USDA paid four individuals and entities with an AGI of $1 million or more a total of $75,540.

Again, this is a very straightforward amendment. Last year the Department of Agriculture paid $10 million to two different individuals, who had an adjusted gross income of over $1 million, through a waiver granted by the Department of Agriculture. Both of these were ineligible, but we give the Department of Agriculture the right to waive that. This amendment would restrict that right for a waiver for people making more than $1 million a year in terms of conservation payments.

There is nothing wrong with conservation programs, but most often these payments are paid in addition to what people are going to do anyway. So what the Department of Agriculture has done is given well over $180 million to millionaires through our conservation payment on programs they would have otherwise done themselves.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is an amendment that both Senator Durbin and I have offered. It is not nearly as severe as the GAO's recommendation for this program.

The very wealthiest of farmers, in terms of income in this country, are the people most likely to buy less crop insurance, not more. Yet we subsidize them at the same rate as we do the middle-income and lower income farmers.

This is straightforward. If you want to save $1 billion, if you want to tackle the debt, here is a way that will allow us to save $1 billion and not put anybody at risk. Highly capitalized farmers don't insure at the same rate as lower capitalized farmers.

This will be the only program, if this amendment doesn't pass, that doesn't have a payment limitation on it in terms of adjusted gross income. So there should be no question we should do this just in terms of fairness of all the sacrifices we are going to ask everybody else in this country to make in the coming years. This ought to be part of this farm program.


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