It misses the mark and goes backwards to protectionist programs
Source: Roberts' office
WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and a member of the Conference Committee, today took to the Senate floor to oppose the Farm Bill Conference Report. Audio and video of his remarks available here.
The following are the Senator's remarks as prepared for delivery:
"I rise today to discuss the "Agricultural Act of 2014" - the new name of the Farm Bill.
"After over three years of hard work by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and other interested members, we are finally near the finish line for this version of the nation's farm and food policy.
"As all Kansans know, the Farm Bill impacts not only our Farmers and Ranchers, but also businesses up and down Main Street, as well as families in our rural and urban communities.
"Everyone in Kansas, people that work in agriculture or are impacted by its success, which by the way is every single American, and my colleagues in the Congress, deserve to know why I was the only Senator on the Conference Committee not to sign the conference report last night.
"I am here today to fully explain my reasoning and why I cannot and will not vote for this legislation.
"It all comes down to this simple question: does the new Farm Bill improve agriculture and America?
"I believe the answer is unfortunately: NO.
"While we all want to provide long overdue certainty to producers, something lacking for over 400 days, the conference missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to our nation's farm programs, federal nutrition programs, and burdensome regulations.
"We should not march backwards and pass a farm bill with more government subsidies, more regulations and more waste.
"How on earth did we get to this point today?
"In 2011, Chair Stabenow and I started the process of writing a new bill with a field hearing in her home state of Michigan. Later that year, we held another successful hearing in Wichita, Kansas.
"After more formal hearings in the Senate, and conversations with Kansas producers, it was clear to me that this Farm Bill would have to be reform orientated, reduce the deficit, and be responsible - not only to farmers and ranchers, but also to consumers and taxpayers.
"Unfortunately, as I stand here today, this farm bill does not meet those standards, and taken as a whole, the conference report fails to move both federal farm and food programs forward.
"I previously voted against the Senate bill, which looked too much in the "Rear View Mirror" for outdated programs, but this report is even worse.
"Just listen to this: last year's House bill was officially called the "Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act." And here in the Senate we passed the "Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act" …the final report is reduced to just "The Agricultural Act."
"Today, I'll focus my comments to my three biggest concerns: commodity subsidy programs, nutrition program spending, and lack of regulatory reform.
"Considering we all commonly refer to the legislation as "the farm bill", my first concern and criticism is the new Price Loss Coverage (PLC) subsidy program.
"Back in 2012, two years ago, I was pleased that the Senate Agriculture Committee and the full Senate passed a bipartisan commodity title that contained real reform.
"We ended the current countercyclical commodity subsidy program and got the government out of the business of sending signals to producers essentially telling them which crops to plant by setting target price guarantees for producers.
"Unfortunately that reform was replaced in the latest Senate bill with a new target price subsidy program…doubled down in the House version with even higher target prices…and manipulated even more in the conference report to suit the desire of specific crops over the objections of others in different regions.
"The new Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Program repeats a classic government subsidy mistake - setting high fixed target prices - which only guarantees overproduction with long periods of low crop prices, leading to expensive farm programs funded directly by taxpayers.
"I have yet to hear one legitimate explanation for why Congress is about to tell ALL producers across the country that the federal government will guarantee the price of your wheat at $5.50 per bushel and rice at $14 per hundredweight for the next five years - regardless of movements in the market.
"We have done this before and we know that it creates planting and marketing distortions, instead of letting our producers respond to market conditions.
"After the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the United States for our Cotton programs- I thought we all had learned a lesson.
"I've said it before and will say it again, that WTO stove is hot - why would we reach out and touch it again. Just remember that we're still required to pay Brazil millions of dollars a year under that decision.
"The Amber Box subsidy programs in this bill will open American agriculture to global trade disputes - which we have already lost and will likely lose again if challenged.
"To date, objections and solutions, from me and my colleagues ranging from South Dakota - Senator Thune, Nebraska - Senator Johanns, Iowa - Senator Grassley, even Ohio - Representative Bob Gibbs have all fallen on deaf and stubborn ears.
"Our efforts to add market orientation to the Price Loss Coverage subsidy program, as well attempts to end it outright have all been blocked and are certainly not reflected in the final report.
"I am equally unhappy with the final outcome of the nutrition title of the farm bill.
"Partisan politics has unnecessarily infiltrated this debate, with many members of the other side of the aisle drawing a line in the sand at zero savings or real reform to the expensive and unrestricted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
"Facts are stubborn things. Despite good intentions - SNAP now makes up more than eighty percent of the Department of Agriculture's budget and was previously exempted from across the board sequestration cuts.
"What we have here today is a ballooning and expensive set of federal nutrition programs… with a patchwork of eligibility standards, loopholes, and frankly unneeded bonus to state governments for simply administering the program.
"I understand and sympathize with the need for nutrition assistance for hardworking families.
"However, we cannot and simply should not box off SNAP from necessary and timely reforms.
"While the Senate version of the bill in 2012 and 2013 tightened the Low Income Heating and Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Loophole to save roughly $4 billion over ten years, there have always been additional needed reforms to the program.
"At the end of the 2012 Senate bill, I included my personal views in the report identifying eight additional ways to reign in the out of control spending and reinstitute program integrity for the SNAP program.
"Last year in 2013, I introduced stand-alone legislation that would have saved a total of $36 Billion in SNAP without ever touching individual monthly benefits - it failed by a party line vote in the Senate.
"Eventually, the House of Representatives passed nearly $40 billion in savings within the SNAP program - a five percent reduction over a ten year period.
"I do not see how the final legislation, amounting to a one percent reduction in SNAP spending, is a fair compromise between both versions of the legislation. It simply does not make sense.
"While the bill does address the LIHEAP Loophole and includes voluntary work requirement pilot programs, the report regrettably allows categorical eligibility, bonuses to state governments for simply administering the program, and unnecessary duplicative employment and training programs to continue.
"Those three provisions alone cost nearly $16 billion dollars - federal funds that would be better spent on actual nutrition benefits for needy families - or contributing to reducing our national debt and deficit - however they were all left out of this bill.
"In every single one of my town hall meetings in Kansas, the first question that fed up producers and business owners ask is: how can we stop or even slow down the onslaught of regulations?
"This farm bill had great potential to help producers, ranchers, and all of agriculture with reducing the crushing regulatory burden from the government's rules and requirements. They just want relief.
"Despite years of work in both committees and strong provisions in the House passed Farm Bill - the final legislation lacks key, common sense, and sound science regulatory reforms.
"I am more than disappointed that a WTO-compliant resolution to mandatory Country-of-Origin Labelling (COOL) was not reached.
"Our livestock producers were already facing drought and high feed prices, but now they will have to worry over retaliatory actions by the governments of Canada and Mexico.
"Our ranchers are equally troubled that provisions in the House bill directing the USDA to refocus their efforts on the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) regulations were excluded.
"Another regulatory relief provision was already cleared by the full House and the Senate Agriculture Committee, would have end duplicative National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) pesticide permits required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"This duplication is diverting limited state resources from performing critical functions, like protecting the public from West Nile Virus, to gathering more paperwork that provides no additional environmental protection.
"We had an opportunity to protect human health and eliminate duplicative, unnecessary regulatory actions, instead - despite hollow commitments to work together to resolve the issue - we were all blocked from including the simple and necessary regulatory relief.
"Each of these regulatory reforms had bipartisan support, yet the conference never meet to discuss, let alone vote, any regulatory items. Now, producers across the country are left without an explanation and much worse - no needed relief.
"I am shocked how far some members will go to protect this administration's regulatory agenda instead of protecting real hardworking Americans.
"After all that, let me point out that with any large piece of legislation, one can usually find a few positives to point to…and today's farm bill is no different.
"While I support many of the programs in the less talked about titles of the farm bill, I am especially appreciative of the inclusion of strong crop insurance provisions and livestock disaster programs.
"Our producers across the country - and in every corner of Kansas - have said that Crop Insurance was their number one priority for the farm bill.
"The policies in the final bill protect the commitment to producers by strengthening crop insurance as the corner stone of the farm safety net, regardless of the size of their farm or the commodity that they grow.
"As this bill moves forward, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) will be busy offering expanded coverage for commodities like cotton that have not traditionally participated in the program as much as other crops.
"However, I am concerned that the conservation compliance requirements included in the legislation will unnecessarily burden producers who are already good stewards of their land and already are subjected to conservation requirements in commodity programs.
"As the Western half of Kansas continues to linger in a historic drought, the lack of livestock disaster programs that expired in 2011 is truly upsetting.
"While we should have never let the programs expire in the first place, we had an opportunity in 2012 to reauthorize them, but the Senate failed to act - over my calls for action.
"All of the livestock disaster programs are finally extended retroactively, but the assistance will be too little and too late in many parts of cattle country.
"Unfortunately…as a Kansan…as well as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Farm Bill Conference Committee, I am disappointed to say that the final policies of this Farm Bill do not outweigh these positives.
"While we all want to provide certainty to producers, the conference has missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to our nation's farm programs, federal nutrition programs, and burdensome regulations.
"After over three years of debate, the challenges that agriculture faces at home and across the world have only continued to grow.
"We need 21st century policies and innovative solutions, instead this bill misses the mark and goes backwards to protectionist programs.
"The issues I raised today deserve to be debated fully and publicly, yet the full conference committee met only ONCE for opening statements last October.
"In truth, the majority of this bill was negotiated behind closed doors without the opportunity for votes, amendments, or discussion.
"Producers, consumers, and our global trading partners expect more. Unfortunately, US taxpayers deserve better than this conference report.
"I did not sign the conference report last night and cannot in good conscience vote for this legislation.
"However, I promise that I will continue to work and advocate on behalf of advancing agriculture."
Senator Roberts is senior member and former Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In 2012, the full Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill introduced by then Ranking Member Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) that eliminated target prices and contained forward looking reforms to agriculture programs. He is the first member of Congress in history to serve as both Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Ranking of the Senate Agriculture Committee.