Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding opposing passage of the Farm Bill conference agreement. Watch Senator McCain’s remarks here.
“Mr. President, I’d like to make a few remarks about the Farm Bill conference agreement that’s been filed in the Senate.
“Across the nation, Americans are demanding that Washington restore their faith in government. Last year, they saw Congress crippled by government shutdowns and debt-ceiling standoffs. We nearly failed to pass a Defense Authorization bill before we adjourned for Christmas – legislation that’s critical to supporting our brave men and women serving in our Armed Forces.
“While many of my colleagues have high hopes this year for returning to the practice of moving legislation through the regular order and perhaps working under a more open amendment process, I’m profoundly disappointed and disgusted that one of the first pieces of legislation we’ll send to the President this year is a $1.5 trillion Farm Bill. It is a mindboggling sum of taxpayer money that’s spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special-interest pet projects.
“Taxpayer advocacy groups like Citizens Against Government Waste blasted this Farm Bill as a ‘Dung Deal.’ Last week, the Wall Street Journal called it ‘A Bipartisan Taxpayer Raid’ writing, quote: ‘It’s no accident that Congress dropped this porker under the cover of the State of the Union hoopla. Handouts to agribusiness and millionaires, continued trade protectionism for the sugar industry – it’s all still there.’
“Mr. President, how are we supposed to restore the American people’s confidence with this monstrosity? Just a few weeks ago we crammed down their throats a $1.1 trillion Omnibus Appropriations Bill loaded with wasteful spending. Tomorrow we’ll wash the Omnibus down with another trillion dollars. The only policy that gets bipartisan traction in Congress is Washington’s desire to hand out taxpayer money like its candy.
“Mr. President, we’ve heard about some of the ‘savings’ generated by this Farm Bill. It’s true there are noteworthy cuts to several outdated Depression-era farm subsidies like the ‘Direct Payments Program’ and the ‘Countercyclical Program.’ We also close loopholes in our food stamp programs and conservation programs, which generated about $16 billion in savings, according to the Congressional Budget Office. I applaud the conferees for their efforts.
“But, unfortunately, just about every subsidy eliminated under Farm Bill’s is simply re-invented into a new, more expensive program. For example, we have a new ‘Agriculture Risk Coverage’ (ARC) program, which locks-in today’s record-high crop prices and guarantees farmers up to an 86 percent return on their crop. Depending on market conditions, ARC could cost taxpayers between $3 billion to $14 billion each year – far more expensive than the $5 billion saved by the elimination of the Direct Payments Program. This bill also maintains the $95 billion federally-backed crop insurance program which subsidizes crop insurance premiums. We then pile on a new $20 billion program called Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) that subsidizes crop insurance deductibles.
“This Farm Bill also strips an amendment offered by my colleagues, Senator Durbin and Senator Coburn, which would have prevented crop insurance subsidies from going to individuals with a gross income greater than $750,000 a year. That amendment was adopted by 59 votes in the Senate’s Farm Bill earlier last year – and now it’s absent from the conference agreement. Millionaire farmers can rejoice that their crop insurance subsidies are safe.
“This is all part of Farm Bill politics. In order to pass a Farm Bill, Congress must find a way to appease every special interest of every commodity association from asparagus farmers to wheat growers. If you cut somebody’s subsidy, you give them a grant. If you kill their grant, then you subsidize their crop insurance.
“Let’s take a look at several other hand-outs that special interests have reaped in this year’s Farm Bill:
- “The bill provides $7 million in grants for the marketing of sheep.
- “The bill adds ‘japonica rice,’ a sushi ingredient grown primarily in California, to the list of products that can receive farm subsidies.
- “The bill provides $100 million to promote the maple syrup industry. The bill says American tax dollars will go to: ‘promote research and education for maple syrup production … promoting sustainability in the maple syrup industry … and market promotion for maple syrup.’
- “The bill places a 15-cent fee on harvesting Christmas trees. That money is then is earmarked for promoting the orchard industry.
- “$12 million for a ‘wool research and promotion’ program.
- “$5 million for a study to ‘evaluate the impact of allowing schools to offer dried fruits and vegetables to children.’
- “$25 million for a new grant program to ‘teach children about gardening, nutrition, cooking, and where food comes from.’ This may sound like a well-intentioned initiative, but this grant program is a lot like 18 other food and nutrition programs that the Government Accountability Office declared duplicative in a report issued 2 years ago. The federal government’s duplication of nutrition programs has cost $62.5 billion annually in previous years. So here’s a new grant program under the label of nutrition education.
- “The Farm Bill’s energy title doles out about $881 million in energy programs. Most American’s don’t realize that the Farm Bill has become as much about energy subsidies as farm subsidies. There’s funding for ethanol research, biorefinery installations, and a sugar-to-ethanol program where the Federal government purchases surplus sugar and sells it at a loss to ethanol producers. American taxpayers will spend $5 million on the ‘Biodiesel Fuel Education Program’ to spread the gospel on the benefits of biodiesel. I have no objection to the use of biodiesel – in fact I think it is a much preferred fuel alternative compared to corn ethanol – but in this budget environment, do we really need to be spending $5 million educating consumers on the benefits of biodiesel?
“Hidden in this bill is a tax on heating oil. Just yesterday, the Washington Times talked about the Farm Bill’s National Oilheat Research Alliance Program in an article titled ‘Congress Seeks to Jack Up Fees on Home Heating Oil in Midst of Frigid Winter.’ The article reads:
‘Congress’ mammoth farm bill restores the imposition of an extra fee on home heating oil, hitting consumers in the cold-weather states just as utility costs are spiking. The fee – two-tenths of a cent on every gallon sold – was tacked on to the end of the 959-page bill, which is winding its way through Capitol Hill. The fee would last for nearly 20 years and would siphon the money to develop equipment that is cheaper, more efficient and safer, and to encourage consumers to update their equipment.
‘The heating oil fee was backed by Northeast lawmakers who said it would fund important research to benefit consumers. The bill prohibits oil companies from passing the fee on to consumers, but taxpayer advocates said that’s a sham and that the money has to come from consumers.
‘“To say they can’t pass on the cost,” said Diane Katz, research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation, “it’s kind of silly because of course the costs are going to get passed on. Money is fungible. There’s no way it’s not going to get passed on to the consumer.”
‘Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, agreed that it’s unrealistic to think the fee won’t be passed on to consumers and said violations would be impossible to prove.’
“The article goes on to say:
‘[Congress first established the fee under the] National Oilheat Research Alliance in 2000 to try to expand the oil heat market. The oil heat fee expired in 2010, and the industry says it needs the government to re-impose it to get the program up and running again.
‘The National Oilheat Research Alliance has faced other problems. A 2010 Government Accountability Office audit found it was spending the majority of its money on marketing and was neglecting research.
“So here we have a special oil tax on consumers where the revenue is earmarked back to the heating oil industry – about $15 million a year, according to GAO. Why is the federal government in the business of collecting funds for heating oil research on behalf of the heating oil industry?
- “The bill reauthorizes USDA loan subsidies for peanut growers and allows them to use their peanuts as collateral. If a peanut grower forfeits on their USDA loan, the federal government takes ownership of the peanuts and taxpayers bear the costs of storing the nuts!
- “The infamous sugar program is housed in this Farm Bill. Like the peanut program, USDA gives sugar growers primarily in Florida, Louisiana, and Michigan hundreds of millions of dollars in loans each year. If a sugar grower misses their profit margins, they get to keep the loan and transfer their excess sugar to the federal government as collateral. Over the past year, sugar subsides and forfeitures have cost taxpayers $258 million while over 640,000 tons of sugar was handed over to USDA. Combined with import tariffs and marketing controls, the USDA sugar program cost consumers over $3 billion each year. It is one of the most obscene federal farm subsidies ever conceived and this Farm Bill does nothing to reform it.
“Another bizarre handout in this Farm Bill is the creation of a Catfish Office inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At a cost of $15 million a year, USDA will hire inspectors to visually inspect catfish in seafood facilities – and only catfish.
“Senator Shaheen and I (and 11 other Senators) have sponsored legislation to kill this catfish program. In 2012, our legislation was adopted in the Senate by voice vote. Last year, the House Agriculture Committee passed a bi-partisan amendment to repeal it in the Farm Bill. Despite all of this opposition, the unpopular Catfish Office resiliently survived conference!
“Americans do not need a new USDA catfish inspection program. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already tests catfish along with all other seafood. But certain Farm Bill conferees are insisting on creating a Catfish Office because catfish farmers in southern states don’t want to compete against foreign catfish importers. Its true purpose is trade protectionism at the taxpayer’s expense. Under this Farm Bill, there will be a virtual ban on catfish imports for several years while foreign inspectors switch from FDA’s inspection procedures to USDA’s catfish procedures.
“The GAO investigated the proposed Catfish Office and in four different reports called it ‘duplicative and wasteful’ and warned that it ‘fragments our food safety system’ by spitting FDA’s responsibility to inspect seafood. In fact, one GAO report simply titled, ‘Responsibility for Inspecting Catfish Should Not Be Assigned to USDA’ called on Congress to eliminate the Catfish Office. Both USDA and FDA have questioned the scientific value of the proposed Catfish. Several years ago, USDA studied the idea and concluded, ‘There is substantial uncertainty regarding the actual effectiveness of a [USDA] catfish inspection program.’ Even the President’s Budget proposed to zero it out.
“American consumers should also be concerned about the trade implications of this program. Some nations, including Vietnam, have threatened WTO retaliation against American agriculture exports, like beef and soybeans. Trade experts warn that this catfish gimmick is the kind of protectionism that harms our efforts to win concessions under trade agreement negotiations like the Trans Pacific Partnership, which could reduce tariffs on American products sold to Asian trading partners.
“Again, Senator Shaheen and I tried to eliminate the Catfish Office in the Senate’s Farm Bill, but the managers blocked a vote on our amendment. The House Agriculture Committee did the right thing and passed a Farm Bill amendment to eliminate it. Unfortunately when this bill went to conference, several Senate conferees blocked a vote in conference to repeal it and actually rewrote the law to fortify it.
“Mr. President, it seems that catfish is one bottom feeder with friends in high places.
“Mr. President, at the end of the day, this Farm Bill will be hailed by its supporters as reform-minded. Let me assure the American public that it is hardly reform. It was managed under a closed-amendment process and will prove to be more wasteful and costly than any Farm Bill we’ve seen to date. For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this bill.”