Cloture Motionby Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Posted on 2014-01-07
LEAHY. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, what is the parliamentary situation? The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senate is in postcloture on the motion to proceed to S. 1845.
Farm Bill Conference Mr. LEAHY. Madam President, I congratulate Senator Reid, who I know worked extraordinarily hard to get the votes for this.
I read something someone wrote in the press, saying they are afraid that Senator Reid didn't talk about these issues enough yesterday on the floor. I would point out that you can either talk or do. I thought he spoke quite well, but he basically spent the time lining up the votes and won. A lot of people talk about what they want to do. Senator Reid usually gets it accomplished. As one who has served here longer than anybody else in this body, I would rather see people get things done, and he did.
Speaking of things to get done in this new year, 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 nearing the point of being able to complete work on a farm bill.
We passed this farm bill twice in the Senate. I compliment the chair of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Stabenow. She brought together Democrats and Republicans, many of us who served at one time or another as either chair or ranking member or both on that committee, and said: Why don't we just do it the old-fashioned way? Instead of just talking about it, why don't we actually sit down, write it, and bring something to the floor that can pass? We did, and it passed twice. While over in the House, the bill languished for quite some time before they decided to move forward.
Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas from the House worked throughout the holiday break. My own staff, Adrienne Wojciechowski and Rebekah Weber, have worked very hard with them 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 [[Page S45]] 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. Rural small businesses are a major part of my State and the Presiding Officer's State. But every State has some rural area that is extremely important.
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 Republican leadership in the House of Representatives proposed a short farm bill extension. Short extensions are nothing new here on Capitol Hill. Most of us know them by the term ``kicking the can down the road.'' 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. I don't in any way diminish the difficulty in that. I know; I have been there, and I have done that.
While there have been many significant changes in agricultural policy since the 1981 farm bill, which I had the privilege to write, 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. It means, whether you are a Republican or Democrat, forget the symbolism and start dealing with the substance. Stop rhetoric and go to reality.
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. 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 can talk here on the floor. We are all going to collect our paycheck every month. But we sometimes forget these cuts and policy changes affect real people in real ways. So we have to continue to do the best we can.
Speaking as a Vermonter, I would note that every farm bill is important to Vermont, just as every farm bill is important to every State represented in this body. Farm bills make real differences in our quality of life, and the fact that Congress every 5 years or so would renew and pass a farm bill was once something Americans could take for granted. This is the first time we have not been able to do so.
The 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--and the two have to be together, both the food and the farm policy. Farmers have to be able to plan, but families have to know, when their children go to school, they are going to be fed. Every teacher will tell you that a hungry child doesn't learn. If children aren't learning, what are we doing for the next generation? That is our responsibility.
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 this challenge. We have done it twice already in this body, forging a bipartisan coalition. I am hoping the other body, notwithstanding some of the Republicans who tried to block it, will come forward and speak, not just for a small part of one political party, but speak for all Americans.
Before I yield, I ask unanimous consent that all the time during the recess count postcloture on the motion to proceed to S. 1845.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. LEAHY. I yield the floor.