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Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, I would like to ask the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee if she would be kind enough to stay for a few questions.
I came to talk today about the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, but agriculture and food security is very important to this country.
First of all, I wish to commend the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee for putting out an agriculture bill that I think really meets the needs of this country and definitely the agricultural community.
First of all, I just have to ask--the Agriculture bill sent out of the Senate provides a good safety net for those in production agriculture. I know the Senator took that into account. Whether you are a dairy producer, a corn producer, a wheat producer, or whatever, it is there.
The Senator comes from the State of Michigan. That is a little different from Montana, but we both know the Midwest has been under incredible drought. There have been fires all over this country. I talked to the ranking member on the train yesterday, and he was talking about fires in Kansas, and we have had fires in Montana.
Is there disaster assistance in this bill, if the House were to take it up and pass it? Would we have to worry about that being taken care of in the farm bill?
Ms. STABENOW. I wish to thank my friend from Montana, who, by the way, is a farmer. I have called him more than one time in Montana, and he has said: I am in the field. I am getting off the tractor. So he speaks with great authority. And the answer is yes, there is comprehensive disaster assistance paid for in the savings of our farm bill.
Mr. TESTER. So if we combine that with the safety net, if we don't do a farm bill, as the House wants to do, and just have an extension, what will happen to that $23 billion in taxpayer savings?
Ms. STABENOW. It goes away. There is no $23 billion in taxpayer savings if we don't pass the farm bill.
Mr. TESTER. And if it is extended, would it, in fact, cost the taxpayers? That $23 billion would not only go away, but wouldn't the taxpayers have to pay for any kind of disaster extension?
Ms. STABENOW. No question, we would be paying for disaster assistance. By the way, the reforms go away, and I know the Senator from Montana supports the reforms in the bill. We would see those subsidies continue--direct payments and so on--and we would be rolling back to a whole era of planting restrictions and huge subsidies back from the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr. TESTER. One more point. If this farm bill goes away in 17 days, the farmers out there who need help from the bank to get an operating loan to continue on the next year, what will happen to those folks?
Ms. STABENOW. The Senator raises a very important question because economic certainty means that farmers and ranchers are going to be able to know what is happening next year and can go to the bank and get those operating loans and plan for next year what they are going to plant. All that certainty will be gone. Everybody talks about how we need certainty for the future and the economy, and I couldn't agree more. This will do more to disrupt rural America and our ability to have a stable food supply and agriculture than anything else.
Mr. TESTER. Once again I wish to thank the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee for such a great job passing a responsible bill out of committee and getting it through the Senate itself. The only thing I would like to say is, to my knowledge, the House works on majority rule. I doubt it would even take 1 day. If they want to roll up their sleeves and get after this, they could get the Senate farm bill passed there.
Remember, this farm bill saves $23 billion, it provides a safety net for agriculture, has a great disaster component to it, and provides the kind of certainty for people to know, when they go to the bank, which is most farmers, and get that operating loan, they have a backstop that the bankers can depend on to offer that loan. So I thank the Senator for her great work.
VETERANS JOBS CORPS ACT
Mr. President, I rise today to call on the Senate to pass the Veterans Jobs Corps Act. Veterans and their families make great sacrifices so we can live freely in the greatest Nation in the world. Too many of our veterans return home and struggle to find good jobs. Our veterans deserve better. They earn our everlasting respect with their service and our best efforts to help them get good jobs when their service ends--jobs that will improve the communities they live in and jobs that will help us grow our economy.
This bill takes good ideas from both sides of the aisle and does just that. It increases training and hiring opportunities for veterans using proven job-training initiatives, and it will give local governments the resources to hire qualified veterans as police officers, firefighters, and other first responders. At a time when local budgets around the country are tight, putting qualified veterans to work protecting our communities is smart policy.
The Veterans Jobs Corps Act also helps rural America by training and hiring veterans to help restore and protect America's forests, parks, refuges, and veterans cemeteries. This is an important step forward, but investing in rural America must also mean investing in the veterans who are from rural America. That is why I added a provision to the bill that would bring more veterans jobs counselors to rural States across this country, including Montana.
Job counselors work closely with veterans and local employers to connect former servicemembers with good jobs close to home. These counselors develop extensive knowledge of local job and training opportunities and maintain a list of resources that prepare veterans to enter the workforce. Right now the Labor Department allocates job counselors based solely on population without taking into account the distances that folks have to travel in rural America. That often means veterans in my State of Montana travel hundreds of miles for the employment assistance they have earned, and it leaves the six job counselors we have to cover tens of thousands of veterans over an area the size of the entire northeast border.
My provision will fix this imbalance. It will give large and rural States such as Montana enough job counselors to serve all parts of the State and help to ensure that they are developing relationships with veterans and employers that will put more veterans back to work.
The Veterans Jobs Corps Act is fully paid for, and it shouldn't be controversial at a time when our veterans continue to struggle or at a time when more and more veterans continue to return from the battlefields in Afghanistan. Our veterans fought hard for this country, and their families have sacrificed much. We owe it to them to put aside political differences and to pass this bill. It is a responsible measure that will make our communities safer, preserve our most treasured places, and will move this country forward. Our veterans earned nothing less.
I especially want to thank Senator Bill Nelson for his leadership on this important bill. It deserves the support of the Senate.
I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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