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Senator Roberts Urges Senate to Pass Farm Bill; Saves Taxpayer $23 Billion, Reforms American Agriculture

U.S. Senate Begins Debate on Roberts/Stabenow Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry today said the Senate should approve the Farm Bill because it reforms American agriculture and saves the taxpayer $23 billion. The full Senate began debate on the bill late Tuesday.

The Farm Bill, written by Senator Roberts and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), is called The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs act of 2012. In April, the bipartisan legislation was reported out of the committee with a vote of 16-5. The Senate is expected to debate the bill for the next two weeks.

The legislation received the endorsements of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Farmers Union, the Kansas Corn Growers Association, the Kansas Corn Commission, Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers, Kansas Pork Producers, Kansas Soybean Association, Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, and the Kansas Livestock Association.

Senator Roberts has worked on three Farm Bills in the Senate, and four in the House as a representative from Kansas’ Big First Congressional District. He authored the 1996 Farm Bill as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Senator Roberts made the following remarks on the Senate floor today:

“This legislation represents the final product of numerous hearings and months of discussions as we’ve worked to write a new Farm Bill during the most difficult budget climate in our nation’s history.

“I am proud to say that we have put together a bipartisan bill that strengthens and preserves the safety net for our farmers and ranchers and rural America, while voluntarily providing $23.6 billion in deficit reduction under this bill reported by the committee on a bipartisan vote of 16 to 5.

“We’ve eliminated:

  • four commodity programs and rolled them into one, while saving approximately $15 billion from farm safety-net programs;
  • 23 Conservation programs are streamlined into thirteen while saving nearly $6.4 billion;
  • Approximately $4 billion is saved in the nutrition title, while at the same time expanding our efforts to root out fraud and abuse;
  • 16 program authorizations are eliminated in the Rural Development title, eliminating over $1 billion of authorized spending over 10 years;two programs are combined and another two eliminated in specialty crops;over $200 million LESS in mandatory money is provided in the Energy title compared to the 2008 Farm Bill;
  • five programs are eliminated in the Forestry title, reducing authorizations by at least $20 million;
  • And, over 60 authorizations are eliminated from the Research title, reducing authorizations by at least $770 million over five years;

“Mr. President, that is $23.6 billion in mandatory savings, at least $1.8 billion in reduced discretionary authorizations, and at least 100 programs or authorizations eliminated.

“This is a reform bill. No other committee, in the House or Senate, has voluntarily undertaken programmatic and funding reforms at this level in this budget climate.

“Mr. President, believe me, it would have been much easier to write a baseline bill with no change in CBO spending projections. We could have fulfilled everyone’s request on the committee and in the Senate. But, we would not have performed the duty that we were elected to do and which our constituents expect in this budget climate.

“At the same time it is a bill that strengthens and preserves our farm risk management, conservation, research and rural community programs.

“We have strengthened and preserved the crop insurance program – the number one priority of virtually every producer that testified before our committee.

“We’ve streamlined our commodity programs while reducing complexity for the producer. We’ve updated the acreage upon which support is based to reflect more recent cropping patterns.

“Mr. President, that’s a point I want to discuss a little more. In recent days and weeks, it has seemed there has been a little confusion here in the Capital region. It seems that some think we should write farm safety-net programs and allocate their funding by commodity group or organization.

“If all you did was listen to these groups, you’d think we were robbing Peter to pay Paul. I understand that the elimination of direct payments is a big deal to many commodities.

“I originally authored the program in the 1996 Farm Bill. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the program has been wheat – especially in Kansas. But the taxpayers have been clear in this budget climate. Why should Congress continue and defend a program based on planting acreages established over 25 years ago?

“Yes. The elimination of direct payments means the end of many wheat payments in Kansas. But, that does not mean Kansas producers will no longer have a farm safety-net. Quite the contrary, they’ll have a strong risk management system, it’ll just be for different crops.

“Why? Because when base acres were established over 25 years ago, Kansas planted 2.8 million acres of corn, 4.2 million acres of sorghum, 1.6 million acres of soybeans, and 12.1 million acres of wheat.

“In the most recent three year period Kansas farmers planted 4.6 million acres of corn, 2.6 million acres of sorghum, 4 million acres of soybeans, and 8.8 million acres of wheat.

“That is 4.9 million fewer acres of wheat and sorghum and 4.2 million more acres of corn and soybeans.

“Mr. President, those acreage shifts have occurred because farmers made those decisions – not Washington. Our producers have planted for the domestic and international markets.

“The cropping changes are much the same throughout the nation, especially among states represented on the Agriculture Committee.

“Money is shifting among commodities because farmers are farming differently – throughout the states on this committee and the nation. It is not shifting because we are intentionally picking winners and losers.

“Mr. President, I understand that some are frustrated with the decisions and changes that we have in this bill. Quite honestly, there are things that if we had the funds available, the Chairwoman and I both would have preferred be done differently.

“But, let’s be blunt: This is not the 2002 or the 2008 Farm bill and we do not have extra funds available.

“Mr. President, this is not my first trip to the Farm Bill rodeo. I’ve written bills in times of budget surpluses and extra spending, and I’ve written Farm Bills in the middle of deficit cutting exercises.

“Make no mistake about it, it is much easier to write a bill when you are adding money to the baseline. Nutrition groups, conservation organizations, commodity groups, and members of Congress want to stand by you and take the bows when you are adding money to programs.

“But, when it comes time to make difficult decisions and do what is right for the country by reducing spending and reforming programs, they’re not in the same room and they’re hiding in the weeds.

“Mr. President, American agriculture today is a modern day miracle. Every American farmer feeds you plus 150 people.

“In America today, consumers spend less of their disposable income on food than any other nation in the world. America’s farmers and ranchers provide us with the most abundant, safest, and affordable food supply on the planet.

“They feed our nation. They feed the world. They provide the food for the food aid programs that help countries around the world send young girls to school. Sending those girls to school helps feed hope and a belief in our American ideals, rather than hatred and radicalism toward our nation.

“Mr. President, I can assure you, however, that if I thought we were in any way writing a bill that would make it more difficult for Kansas and American producers to feed this nation and this world -- a bill that eliminated their safety-net and which destroyed their ability to protect our natural resources, while also feeding the most needy in our country-- I would not be standing here today supporting it.

“Mr. President, agriculture is the backbone of the Kansas economy employing one in five Kansans. More than 65,000 farms dot the Kansas landscape with an average farm size of 705 acres.

“These farmers and ranchers do a tremendous job of feeding a troubled and hungry world. In fact, Kansas ranks number one in the nation in the production of wheat and grain sorghum, second in cattle on farm and third in sunflowers produced.

“Cash receipts from farm marketings were greater than $12 billion and farm product exports were in excess of $4.8 billion.

“Mr. President, farmers and ranchers in my state truly help feed a troubled and hungry world, which is why I am proud of this legislation. We’ve worked hard to put together, not the best possible bill, but the best bill possible.

“We’ve performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America.

“We’ve cut mandatory spending by $23.6 billion. We’ve reformed, eliminated and streamlined USDA programs to the tune of more than 100 programs and authorizations eliminated.

“We’ve done it on a voluntary basis because in rural America you make the tough decisions and you do what is right, when it needs to be done.

“And, we’ve done it in a bipartisan fashion. Madame Chairwoman, thank you for bringing us to this point today and let’s pass this Farm Bill.”