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Public Statements

Default Prevention Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, my friends in Vermont watch what is going on, and it is hard to explain it to them--especially people who are hard working, who rely one way or the other on government programs and they do not come through.

It was in the press today about the polls, saying how angry people are at the small group in the other body who has held things up. And I understand that. It is probably difficult for those people, who work hard every single day, pay their bills, trust in their government, and then see what is happening.

I appreciated the meeting with the President yesterday. The distinguished Presiding Officer was there. I know how much President Obama wants to have the shutdown end, have people go back to work, have the United States pay its bills. And I agree with him. I think the vast majority of Americans agree with him. Now he has to get a tiny minority in the Congress to agree with him. It is unfortunate--it is unfortunate--that they do not because ultimately we should be serving the best interests of our country, not what might work at a tea party rally or a fundraiser to get one's face on television.

I will give an example. When September 30 came and went, it was not just the Federal Government that shut down. The farm bill extension also expired. I can speak to this with some sense of knowledge of how that works. I have been able to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee for 38 years. I have served as the chair of it. We have a superb chair now in Debbie Stabenow. But I have seen both Republicans and Democrats in that committee traditionally over the years come together, work closely together.

I think of two people who were nominees of their parties for President who were miles apart in political philosophy--Senator George McGovern, a Democrat, and Senator Bob Dole, a Republican; one a liberal Democrat, the other a conservative Republican--but on the farm bill, on the nutrition programs, they worked closely together for what was best for America, what was best for the country.

We passed an excellent farm bill, a bipartisan farm bill in this body, in the Senate. But because the other body would not take it up and either pass it or vote to improve it, the farm bill extension expired. This one-two punch of political reality is needlessly harming our Nation. It is leaving farmers with great uncertainty about the future of vital farm programs, all the while with no staff at USDA to answer farmers' questions.

I know the distinguished Presiding Officer has a lot of agriculture in his State. His State is much larger than mine. But we also have a lot of agriculture in the State of Vermont.

There is a basic essential responsibility of Congress to fund the government. Why has that been ignored? Regular business is replaced by bumper-sticker politics. This shutdown is and was entirely avoidable. It is perpetuated by the reckless leadership of the House that is willing to imperil the economy and negatively impact every single American family.

They are not asking for compromise. Compromise has already happened here in the Senate. We conceded to the House terms. We adopted and leader Harry Reid had to fight to get the votes to give the House what they had asked for by adopting an appropriations bill at the funding level the House wanted, which maintains sequestration.

But even though he had been told by the House leadership that would get us back, that would have the government stay open, after we did it they said: Oops, we changed our mind. They moved the goalposts again.

You cannot run government like that. That is by whim. That is not by commitment. That is by changing your views by the moment. It is not by keeping your word. Anyone claiming that the Senate has been unwilling to compromise has conveniently ignored the fact that the Senate came forward and passed a continuing resolution at the level the House requested.

So I, like the American people, certainly like my fellow Vermonters, am tired of having a political process obstructed. It is time to reopen the government for business. Stop the silly season. Stop the games. Stop rushing to the TV cameras to get your face on there and say: I am the only person serving America, as I try to destroy America.

Let's reopen. For the farmers in Vermont who have found their local USDA office dark, they know the shutdown is even more troubling, because it has diverted attention from the now-expired farm bill. This manufactured crisis is making it next to impossible to reach compromise on this important agriculture, rural development, and nutrition legislation.

The bipartisan Senate farm bill would provide $25 billion in savings. This is a bill both Republicans and Democrats voted for in the Agriculture Committee and on this floor--$25 billion in savings that could be applied toward reducing the federal deficit.

But no; instead, the House forced us into the shutdown, which is costing the Federal Government hundreds of millions of dollars a day, $1.6 billion a week, for nothing. So they can go on television and say: Look at us. Rally to us because we are standing up for America.

No, you are costing American taxpayers $1.6 billion a week. That is straight to the taxpayers. But more and more of the damage of the government shutdown is spreading across the Nation. In every city and every community, with each passing day, the State governments, local governments feel the pinch and may go bankrupt.

We heard last week that the CME Group, the world's largest futures exchange, informed their customers that the shutdown and USDA furloughs could affect dairy and livestock contracts. While much of Wall Street is worried they will not have the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment numbers this month, on Main Street and our Nation's farms, our agriculture businesses, the concerns are growing about missing agriculture pricing information that impacts dairy and livestock futures contracts and options for milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products. That may sound esoteric to some, but if you are one of those farmers who gets up before dawn, works hard all day long, until after dark, 7 days a week, paying your bills, paying your mortgage, being an integral part of the community, this is real. The farmers are doing their work and their job. We ought to do ours.

Let me give you an example of the uncertainty the shutdown is imposing on farmers and businesses from coast to coast. Vermont's own Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which makes some of Vermont's award-winning cheeses, could be hit by the missing pricing information. In recent years, Cabot, being good business people, has increased the use of futures contracts as an active part of its risk management effort. It makes sense. We have seen many farmers and food companies and dairy cooperatives across the country do the same after the disastrous collapse in milk prices in 2009.

But the USDA staff is furloughed, and farmers and businesses like Cabot can no longer have a daily or weekly report of cash prices for agriculture products. These are the benchmarks of these futures contracts that are used to hedge against risk and big price swings.

To make matters worse, the entire USDA Web site is shut down, keeping farmers from seeing and using previous agriculture reports from the agency. These are the same people who are working long hours. They are obeying the rules. They are doing what is expected of them. But suddenly they are having their legs taken out from under them.

I have heard from the Vermont Economic Development Authority. We call it VEDA. It is Vermont's statewide economic development finance lender. They are focused on supporting Vermont industrial, commercial, and agriculture enterprises. Nearly their entire agricultural portfolio, $70 million--probably not much in some States, but a lot in my little State--intersects in some way with USDA. Their ability to service current loans and work on new agriculture loans is quickly freezing up. The list is growing for the number of customers that are going to be locked out in the cold because the shutdown is quickly causing the whole agricultural lending scene to seize up.

I am hearing from our apple growers in Vermont. We have a very short harvest this time of the year in Vermont. Fall harvest, and then it snows. They are in the middle of a fantastic, long-awaited harvest. They have to keep one eye on the weather forecast on how their crops are doing, and the other on the Department of Labor to ensure that their apple harvest workforce, which is a seasonal workforce, will actually be there.

Many of our farms use the Federal H-2A temporary worker program. I am starting to hear a litany of problems due to the tea party shutdown of the Federal Government. Farmers are unable to get their workers required Social Security numbers, because the Social Security Administration is not issuing new numbers and cards during the shutdown--during the tea party shutdown.

These farmers are Republicans, Democrats, Independents. They do not want to play politics. They want to play by the rules. They cannot understand why the tea party is playing politics with their business. It is resulting in farmers needing to pay huge amounts of backup withholding taxes, which they otherwise would not need to do if their workers would be able to acquire Social Security numbers.

Farmers needing new H-2A workers are being stymied in the application process since the Department of Labor is not administering the necessary parts of that process thanks to the artificial, made-in-Congress, tea party shutdown. The ripple effects of the shutdown are spreading ominously outward across Vermont and every other State.

I spoke about one aspect of agriculture. My colleagues represent all parts of this country and could talk about a whole lot of other aspects of agriculture. That is just one multi-multi-multibillion dollar industry across this country that is being hurt and ultimately being devastated. Some will go out of business, all because of the tea party shutdown.

All these problems could be solved right now. They can be solved this afternoon. So let's stop this shameful politicking. The House should end the shutdown. Vote on the Senate-passed continuing resolution. After all, it has the numbers the House asked for. All they have to do is keep their word. We in the Senate did. Now it is time for them to.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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