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Public Statements

Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I see my distinguished ranking member on the floor. We are proceeding in our work on the farm bill this morning.

As we are moving through, we have a lot of discussions going on, working to get agreement on both sides to be able to offer a number of amendments for votes. We certainly are going to do everything we can, working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. It is critical that we complete our work, ideally, this week.

I appreciate our Senate majority leader understanding what I say over and over, which is this is a jobs bill. Sixteen million people work in this country because of agriculture and the food industry. This is their economic development jobs policy, and it is very important that we complete our work as we have done this last year.

Let me remind colleagues again that 1 year ago--and most of us were here at that time--one year ago we worked very hard. In fact, other than the Budget resolution, I think we may have a record for the most amendments that were voted on, on a piece of legislation. I don't know for sure, but I think it ranks right up there. We voted on 73 different amendments last year. Every one of the substantive amendments that was passed by the Senate is included in the bill that is in front of us, so we start from a bill that was worked on by the entire Senate last year. We are back again working through additional ideas, additional amendments that people are interested in.

It is very important that we complete our work so that, hopefully, when the House brings the bill to the floor--and we are encouraged. We are hearing that within a couple of weeks it will come to the floor of the House--that when they complete their work, we can actually go to conference and get a final bill on the President's desk before September 30, which is what people around the country are counting on us to do.

Farmers and ranchers have to do the job in the morning, whether they feel like it or not, because the job is in front of them. They have to work hard and get it done, and we have to work hard and get our job done. This is the time to complete a 5-year policy, and we intend to do that and get it done in time so the right kinds of decisions can be made.

Let me stress again that this bill is the one bill that has come before the Senate and passed last year that has real deficit reduction in it. We have looked at every page of what is called the farm bill. We have called ours the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs bill because it is just that. It is about reform--reforming policies, cutting waste, fraud and abuse and creating more accountability. It is about food policies for our country, nutrition policies for our country, and it is about jobs.

We have scoured every page and actually in our process ended up cutting over 100 different programs and authorizations by either combining them, cutting down on the duplication and paperwork or eliminating them if they didn't make sense. If it doesn't work anymore, if it doesn't work from the taxpayers' standpoint, if it doesn't work from the standpoint of agricultural policy, we eliminated it.

We took what are currently 11 different definitions of what is ``rural''--we had local mayors, local township officials telling us they appreciate and count on rural development as their economic development arm for grants and loans for small businesses, for water and sewer projects, road projects. Whatever is done in small towns and rural communities across the country, USDA rural development is there supporting those local efforts. But they said could you give us 1 definition of ``rural'' instead of 11, so we can figure out the paperwork and know how to interact with the USDA.

It sounded simple. It wasn't simple. But we have actually gotten it down to one definition, dramatically cut the paperwork and reformed and streamlined the process for local units of government.

We have $24 billion in bipartisan deficit reduction. We have, in fact, put together something that is four times more than required of the across-the-board cuts in what has been dubbed sequestration. So rather than just doing what we are required to do under the law that established sequestration, we have gone four times more and created policies supported by farmers, ranchers, those involved in conservation, and those involved across our country in every part of the farm bill.

We have 12 different titles--and each one could actually be a separate bill if we wanted to--that deal with a wide variety of topics, from our traditional commodities where there is certainly a lot of debate as we have eliminated subsidies called direct payments and moved to crop insurance where it is based on risk. Farmers share in the cost of the insurance. There is no subsidy given. They get help if they have a disaster. If something happens with the weather or there is some other kind of disaster, then, similar to any other kind of insurance, it helps cover the risk, and that is what we are moving to.

Conservation and bringing together 23 different programs; we cut it down to 13, consolidated, streamlined, did a better job with more flexibility for communities and have created a conservation title supported by more than 650 different conservation and environmental organizations across the country.

As to specialty crops, half of the cash receipts of the country roughly are something called fruits and vegetables and other specialty crops. We strengthen those efforts, which are very important--local food systems, farmers markets, areas that are very important in growing and certainly address the health of our country.

I mentioned rural development; an energy title that we have not only focused on in terms of energy efficiency for our farmers on the farm, bioenergy, biofuels, but also a new area of reducing our reliance on petroleum by using agricultural products and byproducts in manufacturing called biobased manufacturing. That is an exciting new area for jobs for us. We are seeing a lot of different possibilities in the area of soybeans. We are seeing soybean oil used to replace petroleum oil in things such as foams. If you buy a number of different vehicles today and certainly in every Ford vehicle I know that is being produced, the new Chevy Volt, and many other automobiles today, you are actually sitting on soybean foam instead of petroleum foam. It is biodegradable. There are a lot of jokes about sitting on soybeans, but the reality is this is something that is creating a market for growers. It is biodegradable, gets us off foreign oil, and is creating jobs. There are a lot of possibilities in this bill for new jobs.

We focus on foreign trade. The one area where we actually have a trade surplus in our country is in agriculture. We are, in fact, feeding the world and working with those around the globe to develop their own food systems. I am very proud of the role American farmers play in addressing hunger around the world as well as international food assistance.

We could go on. The bottom line is that this is a bill with tremendous impact--16 million people in the country directly impacted in terms of their jobs. Every American, if you had breakfast this morning, thank a farmer. If you have lunch today, thank a farmer. If you have dinner today, thank a farmer. We have the safest, most affordable food supply in the world because of a group of people who go out and take the risk against the weather, which is getting tougher and tougher as the climate is changing. They are willing to go out there and continue to be in this business. Our bill supports them with tools to help them manage their risk through insurance, to help them manage their risks on the farm in terms of keeping the soil on the ground as well as protecting our water and protecting our air. Those kinds of tools are critically important as well.

This is a bill we have worked on now twice in the last year--last year, this year--and we are looking forward to having the opportunity to bring this to completion, to work with our House colleagues in a bipartisan way to provide legislation that is good for those directly involved in agriculture and that is good for consumers, that is good for taxpayers as we look at ways to reform our government, to work more efficiently and effectively on fewer dollars.

We look forward to continuing throughout the day working with colleagues. We are hopeful we will have amendments to bring forward, but we do understand we have to move forward and get this done.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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