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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. I am here to talk about two very different subjects, two very different bills. One is the farm bill, and one is the Violence Against Women Act. Both bills are stuck over in the House of Representatives, and both bills should pass. Both bills received significant bipartisan support in the Senate. I am simply asking my colleagues in the other body to get their job done and to get these bills passed.
THE FARM BILL
I will start with the farm bill. Minnesota is fifth in the country for agriculture. It means a lot to our State, it means a lot to the rural areas, but it is also tied to our metropolitan area with our farm businesses, with our food producers, and it is clearly tied in with the rest of the country. This spring's talk of a bin-busting crop has burned away under the extreme summer heat. Farmers and ranchers across the country are experiencing what the U.S. Department of Agriculture is calling the most widespread drought we have seen in decades.
With nearly 90 percent of the corn and soybean crops being grown in areas impacted by the drought, the crop losses are being felt not just by our grain farmers but also are driving up feed prices for our livestock, poultry, and dairy producers. As we well know, dairy producers have already come off some very difficult years.
Higher feed costs for cattle, pork, poultry and dairy impact all Americans at the grocery store. Yesterday the USDA estimated that consumers could expect to pay 3 to 4 percent more for groceries next year at this point.
While some people might think that food magically appears on their tables or in their grocery stores, in Minnesota we know food is produced every day by our farmers. Farmers stand behind each General Mills box of Cheerios or every Jennie-O turkey on the dinner table. That is why when I travel our State I am always reminded of the critical role farming plays in our State's economy and in our country's economy. It has, in fact, been one of the brightest spots. Minnesotans in rural communities and larger cities all benefit from a strong farm economy that provides jobs at farms, mills, processing plants, and equipment manufacturers.
While Congress can't do anything about the lack of rain, we shouldn't make this disaster worse by delaying the passage of the farm bill, which gives farmers and ranchers the assistance they need to help weather this disaster and the certainty they need to make plans for next year and the year after and the year after that. The fact that the 2008 farm bill was a 5-year time period was key to the stability in the rural areas. It was key so farmers could plan ahead. It made a difference during the downturn. We need to do that same thing again.
I think it is a mistake for the House leadership to delay further action on the farm bill. These bills are never easy, but in the Senate we were able to work through 70 amendments before passing the bipartisan farm bill with a strong 64-to-35 vote. Maybe they should do the same.
As part of our responsibility to do more with fewer resources, this bill includes over $23 billion in cuts over the 2008 farm bill. We eliminated direct payments, further focused farm payments on our family farmers, and worked to eliminate fraud and waste through the farm bill to ensure these programs are efficient and targeted.
President Eisenhower was famously quoted as saying this:
Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.
I fear that some in Washington have taken that same position and are content with kicking the can down the road and leaving rural America in the lurch. Well, those of us in the Senate who supported this bill--Democrats and Republicans--were not content with putting our heads in the sand. We weren't content with just letting the crops burn out in the fields. We wanted to get something done.
There are those in the House, such as Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who are trying valiantly to get this farm bill through the House. We must let them do this.
The Senate passed the 5-year farm bill because it is important. It is important because it strengthens the crop insurance program, it funds livestock disaster programs for this year, and continues the program through the end of the farm bill. It ensures that the programs farmers use to get help through tough times, such as the emergency financing credit program or disaster grazing authorities, will be continued with unbroken service.
The farm bill also includes two of my amendments that will help farmers get through these tough times. The first amendment reduces the cost of accessing crop insurance by 10 percent for beginning farmers. This is critical because beginning farmers are less able to afford crop insurance protection and are under greater financial stress because of the drought.
The second amendment eliminates the penalty for beginning farmers that graze livestock on CRP land. This will help beginning ranchers struggling with high feed prices and will also benefit all livestock producers by freeing up the corn to be fed to other animals.
Secretary Vilsack is working at the USDA to help producers with this drought. Under his leadership, the USDA has streamlined the disaster declaration process, reducing the time it takes to start getting help for impacted counties by 40 percent. They reduced the interest rate for emergency loans, as well as reduced the penalty for producers grazing livestock on conservation reserve program acres from 25 down to 10 percent.
While these are important steps, they in no way replace the help farmers in this country will get from this farm bill.
We all know it is not just a farm bill, it is a food bill. Only 14 percent of this that we look at is farm programs. The rest are conservation programs. The rest are important school lunch programs. This is a farm bill for the country not just the rural areas. But we can see--anyone who drives through Wisconsin, anyone who drives through Indiana or Missouri or Iowa can see--firsthand why we need this safety net for our farmers, why we need this safety net for our country.
We plead with the House to get this done, to follow the leadership of Collin Peterson and those of us in the Senate who, on a bipartisan basis, got this farm bill done. They need to take it to the floor.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT
Madam President, as I mentioned, there is a second bill that has also been hung up, a bipartisan bill that received significant support in the Senate--in fact, it got the support of every single woman Senator in this body, Democrat and Republican--and that is the Violence Against Women Act.
Here in the Senate we passed that reauthorization bill in April on a bipartisan 68-to-31 vote. Getting to that point was a tough road. It was not always clear we were going to pass the bill. Just like the two reauthorizations from 2000 and 2006, our bill strengthens current law and provides solutions to problems we have learned more about since the Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994. Ever since then, this bill has been able to get through both Houses on a bipartisan basis without significant controversy.
We do not want to go back in time. We do not want to go back to a time when we treated women who were victims of domestic violence like they were not really victims, like it was something they should just expect to happen. We do not want to turn back on the great strides we have made.
One of the improvements in this current bill focuses on a particularly underserved community: women living in tribal areas. We have a number of reservations in Minnesota, and it is a heartbreaking reality that Native American women experience rates of domestic violence and sexual assault that are much higher than the national average.
Our committee, the Judiciary Committee on which I serve, worked closely with the Indian Affairs Committee to come up with some commonsense solutions to the horrific levels of domestic violence and sexual assault in tribal areas.
One of the problems on tribal lands is that currently tribal courts do not have jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants who abuse their Indian spouses on Indian lands, even though more than 50 percent of Native women are married to non-Indians.
The bipartisan Senate bill addresses this problem by allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians in a narrow set of cases that meet three specific criteria: the crime must have occurred in Indian Country; the crime must be a domestic violence offence, and the non-Indian defendant must live or work in Indian Country.
That is the way we get these cases prosecuted. I do not think we believe the Federal courts are going to come in and handle all these domestic violence cases. This is the pragmatic solution that protects these Native American women.
As we were considering the Violence Against Women Act on the Senate floor, many of us had to work very hard to get the message out there that VAWA was and always has been a bipartisan bill--one that law enforcement and State and local governments strongly support.
Throughout this entire process, under the leadership of Senator Leahy and Republican Senator Crapo, who did this bill together from the beginning, I have found it very helpful that whenever I needed to tell people why we needed to pass a reauthorization bill, I could point to the great work that my State is doing to combat domestic violence.
There is the legacy of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, who were there at the beginning ushering this bill through in 1994.
Minnesota is the home to many nationally recognized programs.
The Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center that I was honored to be in charge of during my 8 years as county attorney in Hennepin County is a nationally recognized center. We opened one of the first shelters in the country in 1974, and the city of Duluth was the first city to require its police officers to make arrests in domestic violence cases.
I have learned about a unique domestic violence court that Stearns County--that is the area around St. Cloud--has implemented using money from VAWA grants. The partnership, which involves trained people from all levels of the criminal justice system, has allowed 58 percent of the victim participants to separate from their abusers.
Washington County relies on cutting-edge research to provide direction for officers to take appropriate action when responding to domestic violence calls. It is the only program of its kind in the entire country.
These are the kinds of innovative initiatives from law enforcement that are especially critical to combating violence and are directly a result of the Domestic Violence Against Women Act that we have worked so hard to pass in past years in this Congress.
I want to stress just how crucial it is that we get this bill signed into law. We have made a lot of progress over the years, and we have been able to work together across the aisle to build on VAWA's successes. But we should not just send any bill to the President. As you know, the House has passed its own reauthorization of VAWA, which, unfortunately, does not include many of the improvements the Senate bill includes, including the one I mentioned on tribal courts. It also rolls back some of the important improvements that have been made to VAWA in the past.
I am hopeful we will be able to iron out these differences as we move forward, but I strongly believe the improvements that were included in the Senate bill should remain a part of the bill that gets sent to the President. I hope our colleagues in the House will follow suit with the Senate on this domestic violence bill, pass a bipartisan bill, get this done, and get it done soon. It simply is not that hard. Just look into the eyes of a domestic violence victim, look into the eyes of the children, and you know it is not that hard.
I yield the floor.
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