Farm Bill as Economic Stimulus

May 16, 2008

By: Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.)

Excerpt from Congressional Record May 15, 2008:

I come to the floor to ask my colleagues to work with me to pass one of the most critical economic stimulus packages this body will have a chance to vote on all year. This is a balanced proposal, both ensuring the viability of a key economic sector–agriculture–and helping the many Americans who are struggling to put food on the table. It is a farm bill that we will soon vote to send to the President. At only 1.9 percent of the Federal budget, this farm bill will have enormous impact–providing, as I said, a safety net for American agriculture that in turn employs one out of five Americans and contributes roughly $3.5 trillion a year to the U.S. economy. In my State of Minnesota, agriculture generates $55 billion in economic activity and underpins 367,000 jobs.

We labeled this bill, as folks have said, a farm bill, when in reality it is a food bill, a nutrition bill. Over 66 percent goes to the nutrition safety net. We have all seen the rise in foreclosures and the impact of food prices depleting our food shelters. Families are being hit hard right now. This farm bill helps meet the increased needs. It provides an additional $10 billion above baseline to nutrition.

As the ranking member of the Nutrition Subcommittee, I worked hard to see that nutrition programs–and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, EFAP, in particular–saw substantial increased funding. Well, we got it. The farm bill conference agreement will provide an additional $1.3 billion for our food banks. I have been to Second Harvest and Heartland in St. Paul. The needs are great, and we are meeting those needs today.

The Food Stamp Program receives an almost $8 billion boost in this bill. Our Nation is too prosperous not to lend a helping hand when it is needed.

Despite the importance of the farm bill safety net for hungry families, most of the attention is centered on the commodity programs. Commodity prices are high, critics say. The farmers are doing well. Why should they get a safety net? The reality is the critics don’t understand agriculture. They don’t understand that although the importance of agriculture to our economy is certain, the survival of individual farm families is not. Once again, the farm bill supports a sector of the American economy that provides millions of jobs, and it is insulting to farmers who put their necks on the line every year to wake up with the Sun and work all day to say they should be able to farm without a safety net.

I urge my colleagues to step into the shoes of one of my Minnesota farmers for a moment…Input costs for diesel and fertilizer are going through the roof. Meanwhile, depending on where your farm lies, Minnesota weather has kept you off the tractor, threatening your yields, and not knowing whether you will even have a product to sell for those high prices.

What price is too high for a safety net that keeps farmers, such as those in Minnesota, farming, despite all the uncertainty that allows the agricultural economic engine to continue generating trillions of dollars? How about 0.27 percent of the Federal budget? That is what this bill’s commodity title costs. By the way, this bill’s safety net is based on the structure of the 2002 farm bill that costs $20 billion less than expected.

From a jobs perspective, this bill is a bargain, and from a commodity payment reform perspective, this bill is historic. I firmly believe we should eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in farm programs and try to get the Ted Turners of the world out of the commodity payment business. At the end of the day, no bill is perfect, but this bill is something we can be proud of. … this is a fiscally responsible piece of legislation that delivers big bang for the buck.

…Building on the existing safety net, the bill updates target prices and marketing loan rates for key Minnesota commodities such as wheat, barley, and soybeans. For sugar beet farmers who have been waiting 15 years for updated loan rates, there will finally be an increase. Minnesota’s dairy farmers will be relieved to hear the payment rate for the MILC Program will return to 45 percent…

I am disappointed the President intends to veto this bill. If he does that, that is a mistake…This country needs this farm bill.

(Sen. Norm Coleman. Congressional Record. 5/15/08. p. S4215-S4216).