2012-09-27 / Opinions

We need a Farm Bill - NOW!

The VIEW from Washington
DEBBIE STABENOW - U.S. Senator

The clock is ticking and time is running out for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill before the current one expires on September 30. With this deadline looming, agricultural leaders from Michigan and across the country recently traveled to Washington with me to send a message to the House of Representatives - "Pass a Farm Bill now."

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry and has been a growing bright spot in our economy. But if the House fails to act before the end of the month, the law automatically reverts to agriculture policies from the 1940s, hitting farmers and agriculture businesses with severe uncertainty and putting Michigan jobs at risk.

Failure to pass a Farm Bill would also block critical disaster relief to Michigan farmers and ranchers slammed by severe frost and the worst drought in a generation.

As Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I wrote a new Farm Bill that reforms agriculture programs to cut spending by over $23 billion. This bill ends unnecessary subsidies, cracks down on fraud in food assistance programs and consolidates other programs to cut duplication.

These reforms allow us to strengthen initiatives that are helping create agriculture jobs throughout Michigan from farms to processing plants, to bio-manufacturing and bio-energy facilities in our cities.

And we provide disaster support to protect Michigan jobs and help ensure severe weather doesn’t bankrupt a family farm that has been passed down through generations.

We were able to do all that while still reducing the deficit - and so far this is the only bipartisan bill to cut spending that has actually passed the Senate this year.

We passed the new Farm Bill in the Senate in a way that is sadly all-too-rare in Washington these days - by sitting down around a table and working out our differences. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader, both praised the rare level of bipartisanship, with McConnell saying on the day of the vote that it was “a very fine day in the recent history of the Senate.”

One headline from a newspaper covering the Farm Bill even said, “Don't look now, but the Senate's actually working.”

The 2012 Farm Bill reforms our current system and helps farmers when they need it. We ended direct payment subsidies, which pay people in good times and bad, and often for crops they don’t even grow. Instead, we are strengthening crop insurance and expanding access for fruit and vegetable growers who often don’t have protections in place when disaster strikes.

This is a major reform, one the Wall Street Journal calls “one of the biggest changes in farm policy in years.”

We also went through every page to get rid of duplication and waste, eliminating more than 100 programs and authorizations.

And we confronted fraud and abuse in food assistance programs. By stopping lottery winners from gaming the system and stopping other misuse, we saved four billion dollars in food assistance without cutting regular benefits for families who truly need it.

These reforms not only save taxpayers $23 billion, they also provide long-term certainty for our farmers and businesses so they can continue to do what we do best in Michigan - grow things and make things.

It’s time for the House to follow suit and pass a new Farm Bill that will help create jobs, provide disaster relief, reform programs and reduce the deficit.

Time is running out. Congress must not kick the can down the road and leave farmers and businesses in the lurch. We need a Farm Bill now.

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