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Public Statements

Unfinished Buiness

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COURTNEY. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Here we are today on September 10, 5 weeks since Speaker Boehner pushed
through a motion to recess for 5 weeks at a time when our Nation faces so many challenges, so many ticking clocks in terms of must-do items, some of which have already cleared the U.S. Senate, like the farm bill. And yet despite that need out there from the country, looking for some action and certainty out of this Chamber, the majority again said, Nope. We're going home for 5 weeks.

And we're going to leave dairy farmers whose price supports expired on August 31 left hanging in the breeze--despite the fact that the U.S. Senate has passed a farm bill with Dairy Security Act provisions that reforms the price structure, saves the taxpayer money, and provides some horizon so that the folks who are getting up every morning and milking cows could have some certainty in terms of whether or not their business, their operations, have any sense of future.

They are losing money every day in New England. The feed costs, the high energy costs. And the Dairy Security Act, which was part of the Senate farm bill, and by the way was also incorporated in the House Agriculture Committee in its committee bill, will, in fact, provide that sense of security and future for dairy farmers. Yet the Speaker put through a motion to recess for 5 weeks.

August 31 has come and gone, and these guys and women are out there and they are faced with total fear, and those are the faces that I saw when I was home in August about the fact that this Congress, particularly the House of Representatives controlled by the Republicans, refused to take up a farm bill despite the fact that we had weeks of time to do it before the expiration of the price supports for dairy farmers.

Obviously, American agriculture is far broader than just the dairy industry. It also includes commodity crops in the great Midwest, which are facing a historic drought right now where the security of crop insurance is so important.

Joining me here this evening to report in from the Midwest is a great Congressman from eastern Iowa, my colleague and friend, Congressman Bruce Braley, and I would like to yield to him to talk about what the lack of a farm bill means in your great State.

Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. I thank my friend for yielding.

The thing that I think we need to focus on at the beginning is 62 days. It's been 62 days since the House Agriculture Committee reported a strong, bipartisan farm bill that passed out of committee after extensive debate and numerous amendments, and that's on the heel of the Senate Ag Committee passing a farm bill with strong bipartisan support, that passed the entire Senate where it's incredibly difficult to pass anything these days with a strong bipartisan vote.

So I think the question on the minds of many of my constituents in Iowa's First District is when is the House going to vote on a farm bill, which in the past has always been a bipartisan priority of the House and the Senate.

Now, my district in Iowa has been burning up all summer. Almost every part of the First District of Iowa has been classified as extreme drought conditions. Now, what does that mean? Well, I will tell you what it means to the eye when you go out and visit the farms that I visited back in the First District in July and August.

Corn that normally fills up an entire ear, and the ear is typically about this long, now is coming out on ears that are this long that if you're lucky has a fraction of the kernels per ear that you would normally see in a typical Iowa cornfield. Stalks of corn were burning up in July and had to be chopped because they have no value other than the insurance policy that was in place on those crops because commodity insurance has been available to those farmers.

Soybeans were more fortunate because they weren't burning up and got late rain that allowed them to mature, and we're hopeful that the bean crop will not be as devastated to the extent that the corn is.

This is profound, it's real, it's going to have dramatic implications for the cost of food in this country, for the cost of fuel in this country. And while we sit here and do nothing in the House to get a farm bill reported out into conference committee, farmers back in my district are looking at what's going to happen this fall when they face dramatically reduced yields. Then we roll into the period of time this winter when they're buying crop inputs for next spring. All of these things have enormous ripple effects on our domestic economy.

Then you look at what's happening with our nutrition programs, which will also be expiring on September 30. And we know how many people depend on those nutrition programs. Who are they? Most of them are seniors, the elderly, who depend on those food stamp programs. It's people who are disabled and on fixed incomes and working and are underemployed right now.

So this failure to act is having profound consequences for the people I represent in Iowa. I have done 14 listening posts on the farm, food, and jobs bill in Iowa this summer, and we get people from across the spectrum who will be dramatically impacted if Congress fails to act.

You look at the rural economic development title of the farm bill. It has profound implications throughout this country, and it's not based on whether a district is blue or red or purple. Every single district in this country is impacted by our failure to act.

That's why I'm glad to be here tonight talking about these implications, and I hope to be bringing to the floor soon a discharge petition that has been delayed because of the inaction on this bill but that will give every Member of the House of Representatives the opportunity to go down and record on a piece of paper whether they want to see a farm bill brought to the floor for a vote, an up-or-down vote, and I encourage all of my

colleagues to take a serious look at joining me in signing that discharge petition so we finally get action on the long overdue piece of legislation.

Mr. COURTNEY. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. BRALEY of Iowa. I'll be happy to yield back to my colleague.

Mr. COURTNEY. I think your last point about the fact that we are now at a place where the Democratic minority is finding itself in a position where they really have almost no choice but to seek a discharge petition.

The fact is is that this week the majority, Speaker Boehner's office and the House Majority Leader, Congressman Cantor, issued their agenda for the week which lists the bills that they are proposing to take up for votes. And for those listening around the country, I think it's important to remember that the Republican majority controls that agenda. I mean, that is something that we have no control in our caucus of adding or subtracting.

Looking at that agenda this week, I was hoping when I got back from the 5-week break that the Speaker's office would have responded to what is happening all over the country, which is a hue and cry demanding action on a farm bill.

But the fact is, as I think the gentleman from Iowa knows, is that there is nothing on that agenda that indicates we are going to take up a farm bill this week. Incredible. I mean, just amazing, that, you know, at a time when the American Farm Bureau has been doing a circuit throughout the Midwest holding hearings, holding events, drawing attention to this fact. Even in New England and Connecticut, which is not viewed as a sort of agriculture powerhouse, I mean the fact is I had roundtables with the Connecticut Farm Bureau who are just dumbfounded that an issue like this could get sort of swept up in just sort of the do-nothing record of the Republican majority in this Congress.

I also think it's important for people to remember the Senate farm bill which passed, as the gentleman indicated, on a bipartisan basis actually saves the taxpayers $23 billion over the next 5 years.

It came in with a lower cost than the baseline from the last farm bill, so it actually helps the deficit situation.

The House Agriculture Committee bill that you mentioned that got reported out also reduces the deficit. Again, I think it went a little too heavy in terms of the reductions on the nutrition side, but I am confident that that can get worked out in a conference committee if the House would take up a bill and send a bill to a conference committee.

But the fact of the matter is is your leadership, in terms of bringing out a discharge petition, is probably not something that you woke up thinking you'd love to do 6 months from now, but it's really an act of necessity because this majority will not even send a signal that anything is even being planned to take up a bill this week.


Mr. COURTNEY. This week, I think we are going to see the impact outside of the beltway, because it's my understanding that over 30 to 50 groups are going to be converging on Washington, advocates of American agriculture ranging from the real traditional American Farm Bureau to the Farmers Union, to specific commodity crop groups who, as you point out, sometimes have some pretty heated disagreements about regional issues and about allocations within the farm bill; and they may still have some today in terms of the way the Senate bill was voted out in the House committee, but they all agree on one item, which is that it is time for this House of Representatives to act.

This is not a debate club here that people were sent to, and it's also not a place where political strategists can sort of play games with people's lives about how the agenda is handled. I mean, this is a place where so many sectors of American society depend on us, again, at the end of the day, rising to our constitutional duty, sometimes having to really compromise on some very difficult measures, but, nonetheless, we have a duty to act. We have a duty to really make sure that the people who sent us here can rely on the fact that we're not here just to fight and sort of try and get political gain out of every issue that comes to the floor.

Again, what the Connecticut farmers were saying to me when I was back home is that they just cannot believe that the farm bill has now become a partisan issue, but the Republican leadership controlling this House apparently believes it is. They won't even bring up a bill for a vote.


Mr. COURTNEY. To follow up on that point, one of the aspects of this farm bill which I think is actually so exciting is that there's a major reform in terms of how we're going to reduce, to some degree, the American taxpayers' liability for crop production in this country. We are definitely eliminating crop subsidies once and for all, direct cash payments to farms, in both the Senate bill and in the House Agriculture Committee bill. We are eliminating direct payment subsidies. That's where the largest portion of savings are actually being generated, the $23 billion in the Senate and the roughly $33 billion in the House bill. We are basically going to be using much more of a crop insurance, risk insurance model where the farmers have a little more skin in the game. The producer is going to have a little more skin in the game and the taxpayer is going to have a little less.

From almost every angle, when you look at the hard work that's been put into the measure this year in terms of, again, lowering costs, trying to wean the system away from direct cash payments, doing some important, I think, exciting reforms in terms of promoting farmers' markets and marketing specialty crops--which, again, I'm sure Iowa is just like New England and California and other places where there has just been this renaissance of local agriculture. Food security issues and the growing awareness about the fact that healthier foods for school cafeterias or family dinner tables is something that people are just really engaged in as almost never before.

This farm bill promotes all of that positive change in terms of nutrition habits all the way to school cafeterias, but also, again, helping producers deal with a different structure in terms of how their business model is going to run. As you point out, you can't do that with a 3-month extension or a 9-month extension or a 12-month extension. We need a 5-year farm bill. We need something exactly along the lines of what the Senate produced on a bipartisan basis.

Again, it is just incredible that this leadership, the Republican leadership, doesn't hear what is out there right now both on the producer side and on the nutrition side. People want this Congress to get this item done, and it just should not be a partisan issue.


Mr. COURTNEY. Just to kind of put the period on that is that right now the House Republican leadership is looking like we've only got 8 days of real, full floor action for the whole month of September. Again, incredibly, after basically leaving town and passing a motion to recess, the Republican leadership, now that we're back, has only scheduled 8 full session days, which, again, really shows why your discharge petition for the farm bill is so critical in that we really need to get this thing moving, because there clearly will be a conference. There's going to be some disagreement with the Senate. But on the fundamental structure of the bill there really isn't. I mean, the reform of subsidy payments, there's overlap in both bills.

The savings that that will generate, the dairy issue which I mentioned earlier, how we are again going from a historic change in terms of an industry that's had total cash payment subsidies to a risk insurance model, which, again, commodity crop folks like yours have dealt with that for decades. We're now putting dairy into that same model.

But 8 days does not give us much margin for error in terms of the way this place operates. And again, that's the Republican schedule which came out.

I know, as far as yourself and myself and our colleagues on our side of the aisle, you know, we're prepared to roll up our sleeves and stay here as long as it takes, and frankly, we've got other issues which I think all of us would be more than happy to plunge into, whether it's the fiscal cliff, whether its sequestration, whether it's the postal reform bill, which the Senate has passed, whether it's the Violence Against Women Act that again, incredibly, even though law enforcement leaders all across the country are imploring Congress to move on the Violence Against Women Act, the leadership hasn't set a conference group to get that bill done.

This is stuff that should be just baseline givens, in terms of just running the country. And yet we have got an agenda this week which, other than maybe doing a CR to keep the government from closing on October 1, that's it in terms of what the Republican leadership has put forward.


Mr. COURTNEY. And it is a shame because really, if you look at the U.S. economy right now, particularly in terms of balance of trade, agriculture is probably the brightest spot, even with all the challenges that have happened this summer. I mean, export of American farm products, whether it's beef or commodities, is actually really helping the balance of trade for this country.

There was a story this morning in The New York Times about Mexico, about how their rising middle class now--I mean, made in America, particularly for food products, is something that the consumer market is really stampeding towards.

And again, to allow this September 30 deadline to happen and to suddenly, you know, have complete almost chaos in terms of pricing mechanisms, in terms of, again, insurance payments, in terms of cash payments, which, presumably, would somehow have to continue, really would hurt growth in this country, which American agriculture has actually been helping sort of pull up for other sectors.

I want to thank the gentleman for joining me here this evening to talk about that point.

Again, there was a Bloomberg News report also earlier today that said that telemarketers now have a higher approval rating than the U.S. Congress. And again, the colloquy we just listened to this evening about the farm bill, it's no wonder. The work schedule which the Republican majority has put forward over the last 18 months would make Homer Simpson blush.

I mean, the fact of the matter is we've had repeated recesses. We've had a work product, in terms of actual numbers of bills that have been discussed and brought forward on the floor, at historic lows. We've had a shutdown crisis in April of last year where, literally, the country was on the edge of its seat in terms of whether or not the U.S. government was going to shut down last April of 2011.

We had, for the first time in American history, the prospect of a default on the full faith and credit of this country, when the debt limit issue was run up to, again, the final seconds before Treasury would have no authority to sell bonds to pay the bills for this country. First time in American history we confronted that prospect.

Under Ronald Reagan, the debt limit was extended 18 times with little or no fuss, yet this majority has

intentionally sort of pushed these sorts of pressure points over the last 18 months, 2 years, to score political points. And that's something which Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority Leader, made very clear was the number one priority of the Republicans in Washington: to cripple this President and to deprive him of reelection in a second term.

And now, as we stand here on September 10, we are now looking at another cliff that's facing this country, the fiscal cliff which is at the end of December, the Tax Code reverts back to pre-2001, raising taxes for middle class families all across the country.

President Obama has put out a plan which would protect the income of all Americans up to $250,000. And I want to repeat that. Every American would still retain their tax cuts from 2001 up to $250,000. For those who are fortunate enough to be above that threshold of adjusted gross income, then the rates would revert back to the Clinton era for people to pay a little bit more. And the Congressional Budget Office has scored that change as helping the deficit by roughly 800 to $900 billion.

You know, a couple of nights ago we had an opportunity, as a Nation, to listen to William Clinton, to President Clinton talk about his record in office, when his fiscal policies put the Nation's public finances in the black for the first time in decades.

I mean, a lot of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties could not sort of remember a time when America was paying its bills and paying down its debt. President Clinton presided over policies which got us to that point.

It was also an economy which produced 22 million jobs. We had unemployment rates below 4 percent in many States like my own, in the State of Connecticut, where unemployment was between two and three percent in 1998 and 1999. And he did it in way that was fair and balanced.

And the speech that he gave in Charlotte the other night reminded us that when you actually invest in the middle class, when you make sure that middle class families have the tools to raise their family, to educate their children, to cover their health care needs, to buy a house and afford a house, to provide the means so that seniors over 65 won't be bankrupted by health care bills, the fact of the matter is that's the formula for success for growth in this country.

And, again, the 1990s is Exhibit A for the success of those policies, which the President, when he gave his acceptance speech, reemphasized that, again, he is willing to extend the tax cuts for income up to $250,000 for all Americans, rich and poor, that we would revert the rates back to the Clinton era, which now even Mr. Romney is talking very positively about the Clinton years and praises President Clinton's tenure in office.

Well, he ought to adopt the plan that President Clinton is suggesting.

That's a plan which will put the public finances of our country back into better balance and which will provide a more solid footing. Even more than that, if we were able to come together with that reasonable compromise--averting the fiscal cliff--it would give this country and particularly the business community the confidence of knowing that their tax exposure--that the fiscal status of this country--is not literally going to be driven up to the cliff, up to the brink, over periods of short, monthlong time periods, just as it was in 2011 and 2012.

That really, unfortunately, sadly, is the legacy of the 112th Congress under Speaker Boehner's tenure. That's why telemarketers are more popular than Members of the U.S. Congress, which is according to the Bloomberg News report that came out earlier today. We have a leadership which has shown itself quite willing to defy all of the hopes of the American people that we would get people working together and compromise and extend a horizon for people so that they can make decisions to invest and to hire. Rather, we have seen under the direction of folks like Mitch McConnell that the number one priority is not what matters for the American people; the number one priority is to bring down this President.

That was the number one issue everywhere I went when I was home over the last 5 weeks: When are we going to see some compromise out of the Republican leadership to come together for fiscal policies that will avert the fiscal cliff? When are we going to come together to diffuse the sequestration chain saw that's sitting out there on January 1, which is going to cut through the Federal Government both on the defense side and on the nondefense side?

I think it's important to remember nondefense interests, whether it's hospitals or medical providers, are looking at a 2 percent across-the-board cut in Medicare payments if sequestration goes into effect. Education, whether it's K through 12, whether it's student loans, are also going to get hit with that chain saw. We're going to see it with the National Institutes of Health, which is doing incredibly exciting work in terms of coming up with cures for cancer by using genome research. That chain saw is going to cut through NIH in terms of the great research projects that are going on in that institution. We would also see the chain saw hit defense.

In industry after industry in which you need to have a horizon, whether it's building F-35 fighter planes, whether it's building surface ships down in Virginia or nuclear submarines up in the State of Connecticut, the fact of the matter is the sequestration option, as Secretary Leon Panetta--the Secretary of Defense--has said, would be catastrophic for the national defense of this country. There are proposals on the table which would avert the implementation of sequestration. I sit on the Armed Services Committee. We had a hearing with leaders from the aerospace industry. We had leaders from the administration--the head of the Budget Office, the Undersecretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, who handles budget policy.

If you look at the budget which President Obama put out in January and if you look at Paul Ryan's budget resolution in 2011, what you will see is, in fact, there is overlap between the two that could easily get us to the point of diffusing the sequestration chain saw that I mentioned out there. We have to hit a target of $1.2 trillion in terms of deficit reduction to avert sequestration from going into effect. If you look at the savings from the drawdown in Afghanistan, which Paul Ryan and the Republican majority put in their budget resolution in 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it totals roughly about $800 billion, and that's post-2014. That was in the Ryan budget. President Obama, in his budget plan, had exactly the same measure, which would save roughly $800 billion. If the two sides would come together and agree that we could pass a measure that locks in those savings, then you've really gotten to about two-thirds of the sequestration target set up under the Budget Control Act.

We can do this. We can do this this week if people would actually, basically, put down their cudgels--again, 8 weeks away from an election--and say: Let's do something that's for the benefit of the country; let's eliminate that uncertainty that's hanging out there; let's tell those firms that are wrestling with whether or not they have to issue WARN notices, layoff notices, to their workers because of sequestration sitting out there on January 1.

Let's come together. Let's get this thing done. Let's look at the President's budget, and let's look at Paul Ryan's budget. Let's find the areas of common agreement, which do exist, and let's get this thing fixed so that the American economy is not facing another one of these runups. Unfortunately, the majority back in April of 2011 was willing to push this country to a government shutdown, and later, in August, was willing to default on the full faith and credit of this country. Let's not do that. Let's allow the American people the opportunity to have some security, which is that their jobs, that our national defense, that health care providers, that educators, that people who are in the critical areas of research and development over at NIH are not going to have the rug pulled out from under them because of sequestration, which was part of a package from which Speaker John Boehner proudly announced he got 98 percent of what he wanted. Again, when the Budget Control Act passed, the Speaker was interviewed, and he was boasting about the fact that the Republicans got 98 percent of what they wanted. Within that package was the sequestration mechanism. Mr. Ryan, the candidate for Vice President, actually also publicly boasted about the fact that sequestration was a compromise which the two sides agreed to.

So everybody has got their fingerprints on it. The fact of the matter is that it's sitting out there, and it's creating uncertainty in the U.S. economy. There are measures that are both within the Ryan budget and the Obama budget which overlap and from which we could easily implement a compromise to diffuse that sequestration

chain saw that's sitting out there. All it takes is the willingness of this Chamber, led by the Speaker, who is now trying to distance himself from the deal that he embraced back in August of last year, to come forward and say, okay, let's sit down and hammer this out. You could do it on the back of an envelope within a matter of a day or two in terms of the areas of agreement that exist between the Obama budget and the Ryan budget.

The failure to do that--the failure to bring up a farm bill, the failure to bring up a postal reform bill, the failure to bring up a Violence Against Women Act for conference and for final resolution, the failure to implement budgets on the health and labor and education subcommittee, which the majority just basically, I guess, decided they're just not going to do--is why Bloomberg News came out with their report today saying that Congress is now less popular than telemarketers.

This is one of the most despised Congresses in American history, and it has been led by Republican leaders who, again, have shown that they are more interested in trying to weaken this President than in trying to strengthen our country. This is with regard to issue after issue, whether or not it's the farm bill, whether or not it's the postal reform--where we have a system that is literally now technically in bankruptcy--whether it's the Violence Against Women Act, whether it's getting budgets done in regular order, whether it's diffusing sequestration, whether it's averting the fiscal cliff.

We went home for 5 weeks without acting on any of these measures because of a recess motion that the Speaker put forward. The country is basically sitting there, waiting to see whether or not we have either a short-term future or a long-term future, which all of these issues are so critical to determining. We are going to be watching this agenda over the next few days. What we saw today from the majority leader's office indicated no farm bill, no postal reform bill, nothing related to any measures to try and deal with sequestration. We have seen a do-nothing agenda this week by the majority following 5 weeks of being back in the districts.

The American Farm Bureau was doing a cross-country barnstorm about the fact that we need to get that measure passed so we can create some certainty and horizon for the men and women who are getting up every morning and milking cows and planting crops and harvesting crops, those who desperately, particularly with the drought conditions in the Midwest, need to have some certainty that there is going to be crop insurance in place to make sure that they are not going to go bankrupt.

We have a measure which passed in the U.S. Senate--it's a bipartisan bill--which saves the taxpayer $23 billion, and yet we have a leadership which won't even bring up a farm bill for consideration. The bill that came out of committee wasn't perfect, but it is a measure which we need to act on to send to conference so that the agriculture sector of this country can have some confidence about what kind of future they're going to have beyond the next few weeks or until September 30, which is when the law of this country reverts back to that of the 1949 farm bill.

So that's the message which I certainly heard on my break and that Mr. Braley heard on his break. I think we're going to hear it this week when representatives of commodity crop groups--the American Farm Bureau, the American Farmers Union--are going to be gathering in the U.S. Capitol and demanding action so that we can at least allow one sector the ability and the confidence to know that they have some future, both short term and long term.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time, Mr. Speaker.

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