Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy: End The Shutdown And Stop Hurting America’s Farmers

Senate Floor

When September 30 came and went, it wasn’t just the Federal Government that shut down; the Farm Bill extension also expired.  This one-two punch of political reality is needlessly harming our Nation and leaving farmers with great uncertainty about the future of vital farm programs, all the while with no staff at USDA to answer farmers’ questions.

The basic, essential responsibility of Congress to fund the Government has been ignored.  Regular business has been replaced by bumper-sticker politics. This shutdown is – 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.

Contrary to press statements and comments, the House is not asking for compromise.  The Senate has already conceded to the House’s terms by adopting an appropriations bill at the funding level the House wanted, which maintains sequestration.  But this apparently was not enough; the House has moved the goalposts again. Anyone claiming that the Senate has been unwilling to compromise has conveniently ignored the fact that the Senate has come forward and passed a Continuing Resolution at the level the House wanted.  Just like the American people, I am tired of having our political process obstructed.  It’s time to reopen the Government for business.

For the farmers in Vermont who have found their local USDA offices dark, they know that this shutdown is even more troubling because it has diverted attention away from the now-expired Farm Bill.  This manufactured crisis is making it next to impossible to reach compromise on this important agricultural, rural development, and nutrition legislation.  The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill would provide $25 billion in savings that could be applied toward reducing the Federal deficit.  But no; instead the House has forced us into this shutdown which is costing the Federal Government hundreds of millions of dollars a day and $1.6 billion each week.

More and more of the damage of the Government shutdown is spreading across the Nation, in every city, in every community, with each passing day.  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, on our Nation’s farms, and at our agriculture businesses, the concerns are growing about missing agricultural pricing information that could impact dairy and livestock futures contracts and options for milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy products.

Let’s drill down closer to look at one example of the uncertainty that the shutdown is imposing on farmers and businesses from coast to coast.  Vermont’s own Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which makes some of Vermont’s most award-winning cheeses, could be hit by the missing pricing information.  In recent years Cabot has increased its use of futures contracts as an active part of its risk management efforts.  We have seen many farmers, food companies and dairy cooperatives across the country do the same after the disastrous collapse in milk prices in 2009.

But with USDA staff furloughed, farmers and businesses, like Cabot, no longer have the daily and weekly reports on cash prices for agricultural products, which are the benchmarks for these futures contracts that are used to hedge against risk and big price swings.  To make matters worse, the entire USDA website is shut down, which is keeping farmers from seeing and using previous agricultural reports from the agency.

I have also heard from the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), which is Vermont’s statewide economic development finance lender, focused on supporting Vermont industrial, commercial and agricultural enterprises.  Nearly the entire VEDA agricultural loan portfolio, which is about $70 million, intersects in some way with USDA.  Their ability to service current loans or work on new agriculture loans is quickly freezing up. The list is growing for the number of customers that will be locked out in the cold because the shutdown is quickly causing the agricultural lending scene to seize up.

I am also hearing from our apple growers in Vermont, who are in the middle of a fantastic, long-awaited harvest.  Our farmers often have to keep one eye on the weather forecast and how their crops are doing, and the other eye on the Department of Labor to ensure that their apple harvest workforce will be there.  Many of our farms use the Federal H-2A temporary worker program, and 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 shutdown.  This is resulting in farmers needing to pay huge amounts of backup withholding taxes, which they wouldn’t otherwise have needed to do, if their workers had been able to acquire Social Security numbers.  Also, farmers needing new H-2A workers are being stymied in the application process, since the Department of Labor is not administering a necessary part of that process, thanks to this artificial, Made-In-Congress, Tea Party shutdown.

The ripple effects of the shutdown are spreading ominously outward, across Vermont and every other state.  These are problems that could be solved right now -- today.  It is past time to stop this shameful politicking.  It is past time for the House to end this shutdown by voting on the Senate-passed Continuing Resolution.

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