Senate Begins Farm Bill Markup

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry rescheduled the markup of proposed farm bill legislation for Thursday morning after a Wednesday postponement announcement. The National Corn Growers Association applauded the decision, saying in a statement, “a joint letter sent by the National Corn Growers Association and more than 70 other ag organizations to leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday night urged an end to delay and quick movement on passage of the 2012 farm bill.

“It is imperative that Congress complete this vital legislation as soon as possible so farmers know what risk management tools will be available and to avoid potential further reductions in funding for farm programs,” the letter states. “The farm program proposals included in the Commodities and Crop Insurance Titles of the bipartisan mark released last week reflect policies that have been debated in both Congressional Agriculture Committees and among farm organizations since early last fall.”

The opening statement for the 2012 Farm Bill Mark-Up from Indiana Senator Richard Lugar follows:

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman and Ranking Member Roberts.

Before I begin, let me also thank the staff of the Senate Legislative Council and the Congressional Budget Office for their assistance during this hurried process, and I also appreciate the work of Committee staff.  However, with major revisions to the commodity title being offered only late last night and no score being made available as of this morning, I share concerns that Members of this Committee have not been given appropriate opportunity to review the new manager’s amendment.

As a previous Chairman and Ranking Member of this Committee, I recognize the challenge of writing a Farm Bill that meets the needs of policy reform and fiscal responsibility.  As a farmer, I also recognize the need for policy certainty.  Farmers have enough challenges in meeting market demands and dealing with weather uncertainty.  The Congress should not make their operations even more difficult by allowing political impasses to undercut efficient policy.

I commend the Chair and Ranking Member for including in the draft bill several policy proposals that I advocated as part my Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act.  These include:

  • A strengthening of the federal crop insurance program;
  • Elimination of direct payments and counter-cyclical payments;
  • A shallow-loss revenue option for producers that assists only in times of need, not every year;
  • A reduction in the size of the Conservation Reserve Program so that productive acres are used to produce; and
  • Consolidation of several working land programs and consolidation of conservation easement programs.

I note, however, that while the Committee draft offers savings in the area of $25 billion, much more should be done.  My REFRESH Act would save $40 billion, making a substantial contribution to reducing our nation’s unstable fiscal situation.  So, while I am pleased to see that the Committee adopted some of my REFRESH provisions, I will work in this Committee markup, on the Senate floor, and with my partner Congressman Marlin Stutzman in the House Agriculture Committee to realize further taxpayer savings.

Notably, the Committee mark does little to reduce waste and ensure the fiscal situation of our food and nutrition programs, which account for more than 75 percent of annual farm bill spending.  By closing loopholes in the food stamp program that grant eligibility to some who are not truly needy, we could still meet legitimate hunger and nutrition needs and also fulfill our budgetary obligations.

The REFRESH Act demonstrates that substantial savings are possible, even as we fund vital programs.  In particular, the original Committee draft provided virtually no funding for energy.  Energy is an important growth area for rural jobs and the incomes of families, farms, and small businesses.  At the same time, rural Americans are rightly proud that they are improving America’s national security situation by reducing the need for foreign oil.  I thank Senator Conrad and the bipartisan majority of this Committee that has joined me in funding the energy title.

I am proud that American agriculture does not need the Federal government to make its decisions.  Our Freedom to Farm Act ended many of those old controls.  In a globally competitive marketplace, American agriculture has remained on top because of efficient use of land, machinery, science, and technology.  As we debate policies today, we can celebrate the fact that America’s farmers and ranchers will continue to grow even more successful, remaining the world’s leader in feeding growing populations, if our government programs stay out of their way.

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