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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I rise today to address a critical issue for Oregon's farmers and ranchers.

If we turn the clock back from the most recent national disaster; that is, this terrible Hurricane Sandy that impacted New York and New Jersey and other areas, last summer we had another significant disaster, the worst wildfires to hit the State of Oregon since the 1800s and the worst wildfires in over a century. These wildfires devastated land and livestock. Yet our communities have been left stranded, without the protections they normally have, because of the inaction of the House and the Senate.

The Long Draw Fire in Malheur County burned 557,000 acres. Let's translate that. That is 900 square miles of land. The Miller Homestead Fire burned 160,000 acres or 250 square miles.

We have had many folks coming to the floor to discuss the terrible consequences of natural disasters. It was not long ago that I was on this floor, before Hurricane Sandy, calling for urgent, immediate action. But the challenge is that these emergency programs designed to respond to the ranchers and farmers who have lost so much land, so much forage in Oregon, those measures are in the farm bill.

Never before has the farm bill been unfinished, unaddressed, while Congress took their month-long break in August. Yet there it is. We came back and here we are and we still have no action from the House. We can't have a conference committee because the House hasn't acted. We can't address the changes in the House bill because the House hasn't acted.

And who is paying the price? Farmers and ranchers, devastated by the worst wildfires in over 100 years.

Now, let me be clear. I would prefer that we pass the farm bill. But we have not. And we cannot control what the other Chamber is doing. If we do not get these key disaster relief programs, ranchers and farmers who have lost livestock or grazing land in these wildfires will be left with few options. That is wrong. A rancher in southeast Oregon who has already been devastated by the wildfire should not pay the price because the U.S. House of Representatives will not bring the farm bill to the floor. There are farmers all across the country who have been hit hard by drought. They, too, are held hostage. They need disaster assistance.

Well, very soon we are going to be talking about a very substantial disaster bill, and it is appropriate that we will be doing so. I will be supporting it because the devastation that has been wrought in States such as New Jersey and New York is exceptional, and we as a nation need to hold hands with the citizens of these States. We need to help them restore their lives and rebuild. But we need to hold hands in partnership with the ranchers and farmers in Oregon who have been devastated by these wildfires as well.

So if the House has not acted on the farm bill when we come to this floor to address relief for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, then I am going to ask all my colleagues to work with me in the same partnership in which we supported folks in the South after Katrina, the same partnership we will have in supporting the folks in the Northeast due to the consequences of Hurricane Sandy, to support the ranchers and farmers of Oregon who have been so devastated by these worst ever fires.

I yield the floor.

Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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