Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Remarks at Farm Bill Conference Meeting

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today delivered the following opening remarks at the first public meeting of the House-Senate Farm Bill conference committee. The meeting officially marks the beginning of the conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate to finalize a 5-year Farm Bill that reduces the deficit by tens of billions of dollars, eliminates billions in subsidies through reforming agriculture policy and creates jobs.

Senator Debbie Stabenow
Farm Bill Conference Meeting Opening Remarks
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In a Congress that is too often divided, it is refreshing that we are able to come together in agriculture, work across the aisle, and accomplish real reforms. We have an incredible opportunity with this conference committee to finally get this five year Farm Bill done and demonstrate to colleagues in both of our chambers that we can truly govern together.

In June, the Senate passed a Farm Bill with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 66 votes.

Our bill represents the biggest reforms to agricultural policy in decades. It ends direct payments, it tightens payment limits, modernizes dairy policy, and stops people who aren’t actively engaged in farming from getting tax payer subsidies.

Instead, the Senate agrees with the House that our focus should be on reforming and strengthening crop insurance.

We have heard from the beginning that risk management was the key priority of farmers and ranchers all across the country, and our bill reflects that by expanding crop insurance to cover more farmers and more kinds of crops.

We also agree with the House that it is important to have an effective, permanent livestock disaster assistance program. Between the droughts of last year and the early snow storms in the Dakotas, we have seen the importance of having this disaster assistance in place.

As the Senate has made these reforms, one of our top priorities has been to reduce market distortions.

Designing agricultural policies that are risk based and market-based will be a critical goal in our final negotiations. We also worked hard to make sure the Senate bill would not be trade distorting while promoting U.S. agricultural exports that our producers all rely upon.

As we make this shift to risk management policies, it is very important that farmers and ranchers continue to do the things that make them the best stewards of our land and water resources. By reconnecting conservation compliance to our now-strengthened crop insurance program, we protect the future of agriculture.

We must also save fragile grasslands from destruction with a national sodsaver program that protects these landscapes and habitats while keeping management decisions with our farmers and ranchers.

The good news in the Conservation Title is that both the Senate and the House have similar reforms that will strengthen our partnerships with farmers to protect of our natural resources for future generations.

I'm pleased to see that both the Senate and the House have a strong Specialty Crop and Horticulture Title, supporting specialty crop, organic and local food production.

47% of the total crop value in Agriculture comes from specialty crops alone.
The Senate bill helps create new jobs through a robust Energy Title. This title helps our country be more energy independent, saves farmers money and helps consumers save at the pump. This is a win-win-win for rural communities and America’s future.

For our farmers, crop insurance is a lifeline when disaster strikes.

For American families, SNAP provides a lifeline when they face an economic disaster.

We worked hard in the Senate to make real reforms to save money in food assistance – we cracked down on fraud and misuse to make sure that every dollar is going to those families who are truly in need. And, that is the approach we will need to take to achieve bi-partisan support for our final Farm Bill.

It is critical to note that an $11 Billion cut to families across our country takes affect this Friday.

For those getting food help, that means every child, every senior citizen, every disabled veteran, every person who's lost their job will have a more difficult time putting food on their tables. Also that $11 Billion plus the $4 Billion in cuts in the Senate bill mean that accepting the Senate nutrition Title would result in a total of $15 Billion in cuts in nutrition.

The good news is that CBO projects in their baseline that over 14 million people will no longer need temporary food help over the next few years because the economy is improving and they will be able to go back to work.

While there are many areas that are similar between our two bills, there are of course other differences. One area of great concern is the provision that would override state government’s Constitutional authorities on a wide range of issues including animal welfare, milk standards, labeling of artificial sweeteners and invasive pests – just to name a few.

Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased to be here with you at this conference committee where I am confident we can work through these difficult issues and find common ground.

There are 16 million men and women whose jobs rely on the strength of Agriculture. They are counting on us to work together in good faith and get this Farm Bill done. And I am confident we won't let them down.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.