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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, there are two issues wrapped together right now that are causing dire consequences for people all across the country. The first, as we know and as we have been debating, is the government shutdown and all that has happened in terms of people being hurt, jobs being lost, small businesses not being able to get the loans they need, people not being able to complete their mortgage requirements to get the homes they want, the concerns about health and safety and all of the other issues, children, what is happening to so many people, senior citizens, veterans, and so on--very, very serious.
This is the 11th day of the government shutdown that is costing us jobs, slowing the economy, and hurting families all across the country. It is an absolute drag on the economy, on our markets and on, frankly, America's standing in the world, which we should all be concerned about right now.
It is, frankly, an embarrassment that in the greatest, wealthiest country in the world our government is shut down while a small minority tries to score political points. Unfortunately, that is what has been happening.
The second issue is also very important; that is, the lapse of a farm bill, the agriculture and food policy bill in this country. The farm bill has been actually expired for 376 days--376 days--because it ended on September 30 of 2012.
Last January there was a partial extension that extended subsidies that we all said should be eliminated as it did not include reforms and did not include deficit reduction, but there was a partial extension until September 30 and that has also lapsed.
I know the distinguished Presiding Officer from Indiana, who is a member of my committee, fights very hard for Indiana. I am grateful he is a member of our committee. I know the Senator understands and shares my tremendous concern and urgency, both about the government shutdown and that we are seeing agricultural programs and rural economic development shut down because we don't have a farm bill.
Nowhere is this felt more strongly now than in South Dakota. The Presiding Officer and I are not from South Dakota, but we have colleagues in the Senate who have been speaking on the floor. I have talked to the Senators from South Dakota who are deeply concerned, as well as the Senators from North Dakota.
In South Dakota last Friday, October 4, an early autumn blizzard killed an estimated 75,000 head of cattle. This is one of the many pictures of what is happening as a result of this blizzard. Many producers lost half of their entire herd. Keep in mind that many thousands of these cows would have produced calves in the spring. These losses are huge for ranchers and families and will be felt for many years to come. These cattle ranchers and their families have no safety net, zero safety net. They don't receive direct payment subsidies. They now have zero safety net. They only had livestock disaster plans which expired on October 1, 2011, 741 days ago. Their losses are expected to reach into the tens of millions of dollars.
Our Senate farm bill, which we passed with strong bipartisan majorities last year and this year--we have actually done it twice--includes permanent livestock disaster assistance for these ranchers' families to make sure ranchers, such as those in South Dakota, don't go bankrupt, which is what is going to happen if we don't get this farm bill in place as soon as possible.
But there is no farm bill. Even if there were, those farmers wouldn't be able to get help because the farmers can't document their losses or get the answers they need from the Farm Service Agency offices because they are closed due to the shutdown.
These ranchers, such as many other ranchers across the country, are getting a one-two punch by not being able to go to their local FSA office to get the help they need, while at the same time not having the long-term certainty of agricultural policy and a safety net when there is a catastrophe.
Three things have come together to make this a major disaster for ranchers, such as the need for a farm bill with livestock disaster assistance, which we have. We have a great livestock disaster assistance program in our bill.
The good news is the House has one as well. If we can get a farm bill done, which could be done any day--we are willing to be a part of any agreement anyone does--and we will be able to help those South Dakota ranchers. Of the three items, one is that we don't yet have the final farm bill, even though the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, has done its job twice.
Secondly, we have a government shutdown that is not allowing these ranchers to get the help they need.
Thirdly, we have a blizzard.
Two out of three of these are self-inflicted. Think about it. Because there is no farm bill, because there is a government shutdown, somewhere ranchers are going to lose everything--their homes, their land, everything--because of the freak blizzard in early October. We can debate the larger issues around that as well.
The irony is those ranchers in South Dakota have 3 days under the law to dispose of their dead cattle. They were just hit by blizzard, suffered unbelievable losses, and they have 3 days to clean it up. They don't get an extension. They can't kick the can down the road. They can't wait forever either. They can't wait any longer for us to get a farm bill done. This needs to be done right now. If there is the political will to do it and there is support from the Speaker to do it, we can get this done quickly.
Those cattle ranchers aren't alone. Producers in the Midwest, the Northwest, the West, and much of the South went through one of the worst droughts in a generation last summer. Many producers sold off most of their herds because there wasn't the grass for the cattle to graze on. Feed was scarce and expensive. As a result, cattle inventories dropped to their lowest levels in five decades, 50 years. For all of us who enjoy eating meat, we are seeing the consequences of the lowest level in five decades. Farmers all across the country suffered from this drought. In addition, fruit growers from my State suffered heavy losses last year from an early spring followed by a late frost, and our cherry growers were some of the hardest hit. In fact, they were virtually wiped out. Their crop was wiped out last year. They also don't have a safety net. Similar to ranchers, they aren't eligible for direct payment subsidies and they weren't able to get any crop insurance either.
We worked hard in this farm bill to make sure there were risk management tools, not only subsidies because a farmer grows something. As taxpayers, we can't afford to do that. It is not the right thing to do. We have a deficit we have to address, and it makes no sense. We work hard to make sure the risk management tools are available to help farmers and ranchers manage their risk when there is a disaster such as South Dakota, but there is no help until we get the farm bill signed into law.
For all the men and women, all the families--and the vast majority we are talking about are middle-class families--small farmers, medium-sized farmers who are working hard from sunrise to sunset, day-in and day-out with the riskiest business in the world, they can't kick the can down the road. When the crop is ready to be harvested, they have to do it.
They are looking at us and saying: Get the job done. Get the farm bill done now.
All of those middle-class families and 16 million people in this country have jobs because of agriculture. They are saying we have waited long enough. How many disasters have to happen without the right tools before this gets done? With 16 million people, the biggest bill we are going to pass this year is the farm bill. This is for rural economic development, energy, food-related industries, conservation efforts, our help for people who are caught up in their own personal economic disasters, which is so critical, and they are all counting on us.
The men and women who are working hard to bring in the harvest are counting on us to get this done. We did a farm bill. I am grateful to leaders on both sides of the aisle who came together. That is how I know we can stop this shutdown and pay our bills because we have done things together in the Senate. We need our colleagues in the House to be willing to step in and do the same.
People have waited long enough. It is time to get it done, and it is time to get it done now.
I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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