Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: Sept. 10, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, as we come back into session this evening and into September, as Chair of the Agriculture Committee I have one message for colleagues in the House of Representatives--for the Speaker, for the Republican leadership--and that is, we need a farm bill now.

We have 20 days until the farm bill expires--only 20 days. If that happens, if the Republican leadership does not work with us to pass a 5-year farm bill, they are going to reset the clock for rural America all the way back to 1949. Because if the farm bill expires, we go back to Depression-era policies that include government planting restrictions and expensive price supports--absolutely unacceptable.

Some of those policies even reference prices from before World War I. This would be terrible for our family farmers and ranchers. It would throw the markets into complete disarray. There is no reason this should be allowed to happen. The full Senate has worked together and passed a bipartisan farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee worked together and passed a bipartisan farm bill. It is time for the House to complete its work. The House Republican leadership has refused to let the bipartisan bill come up for a vote.

Despite our best efforts in speaking with colleagues and working together over the August break to try to come up with a way to get this done, we find ourselves in a position now where our only opportunity is for the House to take up the bill that was passed by their committee and get this done. I have never seen a situation where a farm bill--this is my fourth one I have been involved with--comes out of committee on a bipartisan basis, and then the House will not take it up, which is exactly where we are.

Instead, they sent us a so-called disaster relief bill that, unfortunately, only helps some livestock producers with the drought this year. It does nothing for the rest of the Nation's farmers who have been hurt so badly this year by frost and freezes. Our farm bill does that. In fact, our farm bill is better for livestock. It is a permanent livestock disaster assistance program with a better structure and support than that which was sent by the House of Representatives.

A full 5-year farm bill gives much more comprehensive disaster assistance to livestock producers and to other farmers who have been hit. Other farmers who have watched as their crops withered under the unforgiving Sun want to know that not only will we have a 5-year policy in place, but that we are going to strengthen crop insurance, which is really the backbone of supporting farmers in these kinds of situations.

We strengthen crop insurance and expand it so more farmers can have access to risk management tools on their farms. That was the No. 1 issue that we heard in all of our hearings, to strengthen crop insurance. And that is what we did. That is one of the reasons we need to get a 5-year farm bill done.

I am looking at my colleague from Iowa, the distinguished Senator who chaired the committee before me. I know he shares the same feeling that I do, that we need to get this bill done in the House of Representatives.

We know our farm bill also fixes dairy support so dairies do not go through what they went through in 2009, when thousands of farms went bankrupt. Frankly, not changing the policy for dairy is a disaster waiting to happen. So we need to get the farm bill done.

We also reform programs. We know we have ended direct payments and altogether four different subsidies, saving $15 billion while strengthening crop insurance. We streamline and address duplication, crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse. In the end, our bill saves $23 billion for taxpayers--$23 billion to pay down the debt. The only real deficit reform we passed in the Senate was our farm bill, which we worked on together.

Unbelievably, the House Republican leadership still stands in the way of passing our bipartisan bill or their own committee's bipartisan bill. On Wednesday we are going to see thousands of farmers around the country coming to Washington with a simple message: We need a farm bill now. Members are going to have visits from farmers and ranchers from their States. House Members will be hearing from members in their districts. They have one simple message. Those farmers knew when there is work to be done you do not put it off to another day. Not if you are going to be successful as a farmer.

And we shouldn't be kicking the can down the road either. They can't say: I don't want to harvest my crops right now. I think I will do it in a few months or next year or tell the banker to wait until later so I can figure out what I have to make decisions on for next year. They know that when the crops need to be harvested, the work needs to get done now.

Well, we have 19 days left. This is day 20. We are going to count it down every day because we have to get this done in the House of Representatives. We did our job in the Senate on a bipartisan basis. I was very proud to join with our colleague Senator Roberts and all of our committee who worked so well together and worked so hard, and I again thank the leadership on both sides of the aisle for giving us the time to get it done. We got it done, and we did it in enough time to give the House time to do it in July before the August break. But that didn't happen. Now it is time to get it done. The House Agriculture Committee did its job. It is time for the House Republican leadership to schedule a vote to get this done, to support rural America--our farmers and ranchers and families who are counting on the safest, most affordable food system in the world to be able to continue. We don't need to kick this can down the road and create another crisis for farm country.

Madam President, I wish to thank my colleagues who are waiting to talk about another very important subject. I appreciate their giving me the time for a few words.

Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, would the Senator yield for a question?

Ms. STABENOW. I would be happy to yield.

Mr. HARKIN. Madam President, I would like to compliment the Senator from Michigan for her great leadership on agriculture policy, food policy. A big part of this bill is making sure that our kids in America get adequate nutrition, that our elderly get good nutrition. Our summer and afterschool feeding programs and feeding programs for our seniors are all wrapped up in this bill too.

I was in Iowa in August and met with a lot of farmers, and they were a little perplexed.

They said: Wait a minute. You passed a bill in the Senate?

I said: Yes.

So I ask the Senator from Michigan, did not that bill have the support of all the major farm organizations?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely. We had the support of farm groups and conservation groups all across the country.

Mr. HARKIN. I ask the Senator from Michigan, did not her bill, the bill she engineered and got through here, have the support of consumer groups and parent groups?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely.

Mr. HARKIN. It had all that support?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely. And because of the wonderful work of the Senator from Iowa on our school nutrition efforts and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, we had the strong support of families, educators, and schools across the country.

Mr. HARKIN. Conservation groups supported the bill?

Ms. STABENOW. Absolutely.

Mr. HARKIN. Well, what farmers asked me was this: If you had a bill that passed the Senate, a bipartisan bill supported by all the major farm groups, supported by consumer and conservation groups, why didn't the House just pick it up and pass it?

I didn't have an answer. Does the Senator from Michigan have an answer? Because I don't understand why the House can't take a bill that is so widely supported and is such a bipartisan bill and just pass it.

Ms. STABENOW. Well, the distinguished Senator is absolutely right. One would think this would be the time to just pass it. And frankly, if not, because we know the House committee has a little different view on commodities, we offered to sit down all through August to work that out so we could come back now and come up with something that was a compromise. But the House committee wasn't able to do that because they do not have the support of the leadership to get that done. So here is where we are. What I know is that we have to have movement. We have to have the House act or we are not going to be able to get this done.


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