Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Farm Bill Conference, Senate Floor, January 7, 2014

In this new year and this new congressional session, the Farm Bill remains as one of the Nation’s top legislative priorities.  Yet it has languished in Congress’s in-box.  As the Senate begins this new session, it is a relief -- at last -- to be able to say that there are new glimmers of hope that Congress is finally nearing the point of being able to complete work on a Farm Bill.

Like other Committees here in Congress, the Farm Bill Conference Committee, led by Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas, has continued to work throughout the holiday break to produce a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that addresses the needs of farmers, families, communities and taxpayers.  

A Farm Bill is a dynamic element of our agriculture economy, and of our overall national economy.  A Farm Bill touches every family, in ways large and small.  It has now been more than 460 days since the last Farm Bill expired.  That is well over a year ago.  Since then, American farmers have struggled to make long-term planting decisions, and more than 20 programs – such as those affecting organic certification cost-sharing, beginning farmers, relief from livestock disasters, renewable energy, and rural small businesses – all have been stranded without funding.  This Farm Bill limbo is part of a string of artificial made-by-Congress dilemmas.  Farm Bill limbo hurts not only farmers, but their communities, and our economy.  It hampers efforts to help those who are struggling the most in our communities, with food security for their families.  It holds us back from making greater gains toward energy security.

Last month the House of Representatives proposed a short Farm Bill extension.  Short extensions are nothing new here on Capitol Hill.  They patch things over from one crisis to the next.  But just as a temporary extension to fund government offers neither certainty nor meaningful change, a short extension of the Farm Bill would not provide farmers the certainty they need to plan, or funding for stranded programs.  Farming is a business, and saddling farmers with this needless uncertainty makes their difficult work even more difficult.  Even worse, the proposed House extension would prolong direct payment subsidies for another year, senselessly costing taxpayers untold millions of dollars.  At this point, the only acceptable path forward is to deliver a full, five-year, comprehensive Farm Bill by the end of January.  Moving forward on the Farm Bill not only will avoid the so-called “dairy cliff,” but it also will help families put food on the table, improve conservation efforts, support regional farming, and put an end to wasteful subsidies.

This Farm Bill marks the seventh time that I have served as a member of a Farm Bill Conference Committee.  I know how difficult it is to bring complex, five-year bills to the Floor and ultimately to final passage after a conference.  While there have been many significant changes in agricultural policy since the 1981 Farm Bill, one thing has remained the same:  No Farm Bill is easy, and no Farm Bill is perfect.  But to finalize a Farm Bill, the Senate and House must work together to reach bipartisan agreement.

The Conference Committee is making steady progress, and Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas deserve credit, and our appreciation, for working closely together to bridge the wide differences between our two bills.  And the cuts it includes will not go unnoticed, as we have already seen spending reductions from the sequester, followed by the end of the Recovery Act nutrition benefits.  We sometimes forget that these cuts and policy changes affect real people in real ways. Nonetheless, we continue to do the best we can, provided the broad divides that separate many provisions in the bill.

Every Farm Bill is important to Vermont, just as every Farm Bill is also important to every state.  Farm Bills make real differences in our quality of life.  And the fact that Congress every five years or so would renew and pass a Farm Bill once was something that Americans could take for granted.  Not this time.  These delays have been unfortunate, and they have been needless. 

But I am increasingly hopeful that this recent dark chapter is coming to a close.  Farmers and families around the Nation are looking to us to pass forward-looking, fiscally responsible, and regionally sensitive food and farm policy.  Now is the time, without further delay, to enact a Farm Bill that will strengthen the Nation and support the economy.  I know we are up to the challenge.

VIDEO of Senator Leahy's floor statement here.

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