If there was one consistent message from Congressional agriculture leaders on Tuesday it was this: "We are NOT going to re-open the Farm Bill."
Chairmen and ranking members of both the House and Senate agriculture committees were consistent on that message with all four agreeing that the effort to pass the 2014 Farm Bill in the first place was contentious enough that nobody wants to risk what might happen should it be re-opened.
All four leaders addressed the North American Agricultural Journalists during the group's annual spring meeting in Washington, D.C.
Senate Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow said that the committee already exceeded the sequestration cuts in the crafting of the 2014 Farm Bill.
"We have eliminated two-thirds of the annual deficit and we can now responsibly address what it will take to invest in growing the economy and rebuilding our infrastructure," she said.
Stabenow said that implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill has been doing well and she is pleased with the work that the USDA has done to make the process go smoothly for farmers.
"What we really need to do to create more opportunity in agriculture in the coming year is open the borders of Cuba, address financing and lift the embargo," Stabenow said.
Trade Promotion Authority
On the subject of "fast-track," or Trade Promotion Authority, Stabenow said her surprising "no" vote was based on concerns about the loss of jobs in the U.S. as a result of trade agreements.
"There is not a single car dealership in Japan that has a U.S. made car on the show floor," she said. "Look how may U.S. dealers sell Japanese-made cars. This is an inequity. I will not sign off on a trade agreement that doesn't address that. If it is good for agriculture and not good for manufacturing that I am not on board."
On the subject of altering the rules for school nutrition or school lunch menus, Stabenow says she absolutely will not back down from moving forward on nutrition.
"I think that the rule of serving a mere half-cup of fruits or vegetables is the right start," she said. "I will never, ever support anything that moves us backward. What we need are summer programs that keep feeding children when school is not in session."
Stabenow said her strong position is based on an understanding that children who depend on school breakfasts and lunches often do not eat at all during the summer months when school is not in session.
"The issue of nutrition is one I believe is a national security issue," she said. "Consider this statistic: 70% of those walking into recruiting stations are being turned down as unfit for service. That is because of our national epidemic of obesity. We have begun to turn that around and I will not support anything that takes us backward.
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