House Consideration of H.R. 6233, Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance (As prepared for delivery).
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of HR 6233, which provides disaster aid to livestock and other producers.
I am sure all my colleagues are keenly aware of what is happening all across this great country. A drought of epic proportions is gripping a large majority of the nation and with it is endangering vast areas of productive agriculture land.
The map behind me illustrates just how widespread and how bad this drought really is. Just yesterday in my home state of Oklahoma we had temperatures topping out at 115 degrees. Vast areas of productive pastureland are burning up and our ranchers are in dire need.
But also let’s be very clear of why we are here on the floor today. In 2008 the Congress passed a farm bill that did not provide a final year of disaster assistance. I have heard people calling this “extending disaster assistance by a year.”
No. What we are doing is fixing a problem.
We are backfilling a hole or fixing a deficiency. I am not here to point fingers. I was elected to fix problems. We have a drought. We don’t have a disaster program. I am here to provide a solution.
Now, in past years we might just waive our hand and declare this as emergency spending, but we tend not to do that anymore. So, this bill pays for itself and not only does it pay for itself, it gives more than $250 million to deficit reduction. To me that sounds like fixing a problem.
Amazingly, that’s not the end of the story.
Some people do not like how we paid for the bill. Quite frankly, I don’t either. I was the Subcommittee Chairman for conservation programs in 2002 when we gave an extra $17 billion to conservation programs. I am a proponent of voluntary incentive-based conservation programs, but let me give you a little history on EQIP funding.
Ten years ago, in fiscal year 2002 we authorized $200 million in EQIP spending. In fiscal year 2009, we authorized $1.34 billion and for fiscal year 2013 we authorized $1.75 billion. Yes, we are cutting real dollars: $350 million that will not go to our farmers and ranchers to help comply with the enormous regulations facing them. But, at the end of the day this will be the largest amount of money ever to be spent on the EQIP program, seven times as much as we spent in 2002.
The other offset is the CSP program, which was vastly improved in 2008. We are limiting enrollment for one year to 11 million acres. For those of you here in 2008 who voted for the farm bill, the CSP program in the House bill had ZERO dollars. ZERO. In the just-passed Ag Committee farm bill, we limited CSP to 9 million acres. I greatly respect the conservation community, but to hear them say we are destroying conservation programs could not be farther from the truth.
You will also hear people complain that this isn’t the full farm bill. My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed. It is as simple as that: there is a problem out there, let’s fix it.
Now let me address the farm bill that my colleagues seem to either love or hate, or love to hate, or hate to love. The bill is not perfect, no legislation is. Now we can spend our time trying to chip at the federal deficit $1 million at a time coming down to the floor during every appropriations bill, or we can spend our time writing opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal, or we can do something about it. The farm bill that passed out of my Committee saves over $35 billion.
Let me repeat that: $35 billion.
Show me another piece of legislation that has bipartisan support and a chance to pass the U.S. Senate that saves that much money.
Now my friends on my side of the aisle will say we don’t cut enough, while my friends on the other side of the aisle say we cut too much. This is the perfect case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I believe in the legislative process. I believe in letting the House works its will. We did it in the House Agriculture Committee and we can do it here, too.
Mr. Speaker, let me say again, I am committed to giving certainty to our farmers and I plan to work toward that goal when we get back in September, but we are here today to fix a problem.
Let’s do it without the partisan bickering.
There is a disaster happening out there. Let’s give the tools to our ranchers who are the most exposed. The bill is paid for, let’s do what the American people sent us here to do and that’s fix problems.
I urge my colleagues to join me in voting for H.R. 6233.
I yield back the balance of my time.