Break The Impasse And Pass The Farm Bill

Delivered On The Senate Floor November 13, 2012

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I think the distinguished senior Senator from Florida has done the Senate and the country a service in what he has said. We each represent our own States. We have matters of interest in our States, but also so many times they are national interests. During this past recess, I was in just about every part of Vermont. I was stopped time and time again by Vermont farmers who asked me why Congress left town without passing a farm bill. They knew we had passed it in the Senate, but why hadn’t we finished?

Similar to my fellow Vermonters, I have been frustrated by the refusal of the leadership of the House of Representatives to consider the legislation sent to them by the Senate to extend the farm bill. In fact, they blocked consideration of a bipartisan farm bill, one that mirrors the legislation passed in their own body by the House Agriculture Committee.

I have been here nearly 38 years. I have served on the Senate Agriculture Committee all that time. I have never seen a case where the House Agriculture Committee—whether it is led by Democrats or by Republicans—passed a bipartisan farm bill only to see it blocked from a final vote by its own leadership.

The Senate has done its work, but as a result of the House’s inaction, for the first time that anybody can remember in either body, the farm bill has expired. This is dangerous for dairy farmers in Vermont and for farmers across the country.

This delay threatens our rural communities. We all have rural communities in our States. The farmers not only need but also deserve the certainty that a 5-year farm bill provides.

We pass farm bills in 5-year segments so that farmers, who have to plan way in the future, know how to plan. We can’t say: Wait a minute, put your farming on hold while we try to get our act together. Don’t milk those cows for a few months while we try to figure out what we are going to do. Don’t plant or don’t harvest that crop while we are trying to figure out what we are going to do.

It doesn’t work that way. The farmers already confront enough uncertainty running their businesses. When we let farm programs expire without enacting a new farm bill, it needlessly compounds that uncertainty and it is irresponsible. Decisions must be made today to determine what is going to be planted next spring. But now they have to make that decision with uncertainty about what may be in the farm bill. The essential nutrition programs in the farm bill provide healthy food for vulnerable populations, such as children and pregnant and nursing women. Vermonters, like tens of millions of people across the country, depend upon these programs where they are struggling to put enough food on their table during these very tough economic times.

Some of these program benefits will continue. But it is such a tenuous position. How does a State plan? How does a community plan? We need the House leadership to allow the farm bill to proceed so we can move this country forward, giving farmers the certainty and vulnerable citizens the security they deserve.

The Senate farm bill is a good, bipartisan bill. But more than that, it is a deficit reduction bill. It has $23 billion in cost savings as well as crucial policy reforms for dairy farmers facing the challenges of the 21st century. It also maintains a safety net for millions of hungry Americans.

The wealthiest, most powerful Nation on Earth has people going hungry. In a nation that spends billions of dollars on fad diet programs or billions of dollars to dispose of waste food, we should not have hungry people. Not in this country.

I also point out the farm bill has always been bipartisan. I remember the hard work, mutual respect, and spirit of cooperation that Senator Dick Lugar and I shared. We worked together as Agriculture Committee chairman and ranking member. We put American farmers and families first and politics last. My good friend from Indiana and I were able to accomplish amazing things together. Obviously, we had some differences of opinion as Members of different regions and different parties do. But we knew we had to work together. We did, and America benefited from that. Certainly our farmers did too.

The need to work together is as true today as it was then. It is going to take real leadership in the House and Senate to pass a farm bill. We have seen that leadership and bipartisanship in the Senate. Having served as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee for 8 years, I can say without any doubt that Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has been one of the finest chairs we have had of that committee. I have watched how hard she has worked and how hard Ranking Member Pat Roberts has worked. He brought his tremendous experience and knowledge through his time as chairman of the House agriculture Committee. In fact, in the debate over the Senate farm bill—and I commend Senator Stabenow on this—seated around that table we had several people who had previously been chairman or ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee or the House Agriculture Committee, both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, even one Senator who had been Secretary of Agriculture. We all said: We can play games, we can talk, we can posture, we can sloganeer or we can sit down like grownups and put together a real farm bill.

It took a nanosecond to decide we can be grownups and put together a real farm bill. Republicans and Democrats sat down. We wrote a deficit-reducing, meaningful farm bill, and it passed in a Senate which is often deadlocked. It passed 64–35. It passed overwhelmingly—from all parts of the country and across the political spectrum.

Senator Johanns, former Secretary of Agriculture during the Bush administration, sat around that table and helped us write it. That shows how bipartisan the approach to reauthorizing the farm bill was in the Senate. We did not let political labels get in the way of what was best for the country.

The elections are over. We know who has won or lost. We hope our friends in the other body, in the House of Representatives, will set aside their obstructionism and pass this bill. I am pleased by the fact that our State’s Congressman, Peter Welch, is a member of that committee. He has been urging both Republicans and Democrats to pass the bill, and I agree with him because it is a bill that directly affects every farm family’s budget. It helps farmers decide which crops to plant, where to sell, how much to borrow. It allows farmers to make their decisions—which are hard enough to make without this delay—with some kind of certainty.

The farm bill affects Vermonters and Americans across the country where there is food insecurity and uncertainty in these difficult times. One of the things people lose sight of is that the farm bill is also a disaster relief bill. We need the new farm bill to help farmers in the Garden State and across the entire Nation to recover from the nonstop floods of 2012. We need it to help those across the Nation who are stuck on the other side of the weather spectrum, with drought.

That is all in this bill. Because we know, as much as we wish there would never be floods, as much as we wish there would never be droughts, they occur. We have written that into this bill. Why in heaven’s name would anybody, from any part of the country—and we are all vulnerable at one time or another—want to hold it up? The fact is things are going to get worse very quickly if we begin the new year without a farm bill. Outdated parity price systems will multiply the price of milk on store shelves. It will destroy household pocketbooks and the milk market nationally.

Let me reiterate that. Certainly in my State this is very important. If we don’t pass the bill, we will have outdated parity price systems that will multiply the price of milk on the store shelves and will destroy household pocketbooks and the milk market nationally. Ask anybody who lives paycheck to paycheck what that would be like.

So I urge the leadership in the House of Representatives to allow open debate on the Senate-passed farm bill.  They don’t have to have a bill that is word for word what we passed here in the Senate, but I point out that the Senate bill saves billions of dollars, it does have a dairy program, and it does speak to disaster, drought, and flood relief. We need it now. Let us stand with our dairy farmers in Vermont, our eggplant growers in New Jersey, and our hungry families across the country.

Let’s set the political gamesmanship aside, help America’s farmers, families, and rural communities that all rely on the farm bill. The people in these communities, the farmers in these communities, do not care whether there is a Democrat or Republican’s name on the bill. All they know is they want a good farm bill that allows them to stay in farming. Farming is hard enough as it is. None of us has to do the farming. We ought to stand up and help—that we can do.

Mr. LEAHY. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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