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Friday, January 31, 2014

Cornyn: After Latest Report, It's Time to Approve Keystone

Senator John Cornyn News Release:

Jan 31 2014

AUSTIN—U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) issued the following statement after the State Department issued a new report on the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL Pipeline. 
This latest report is further evidence that there is no need for the President to delay his approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. 
“Earlier this week, President Obama told the nation he’s committed to creating new jobs.  It's time for President Obama to use his famous pen and follow up his words with action.”

Senator McConnell Works with General Tonini to Protect Jobs in Lexington; Celebrates New Facility at Bluegrass Station

Press Releases

Jan 31 2014

Senator McConnell Works with General Tonini to Protect Jobs in Lexington; Celebrates New Facility at Bluegrass Station

LEXINGTON, KY – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell joined Major General Edward W. Tonini, Kentucky’s Adjutant General, Friday in Lexington, Kentucky, for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Bluegrass Station’s new facility.  At the event, Senator McConnell said he was pleased to work with General Tonini “to advance our country’s security goals and to protect good jobs in Central Kentucky.”
Senator McConnell began working on the issue in 2011, after being contacted by General Tonini. The federal government controls land at Bluegrass Station that the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs sought to use to expand its infrastructure and to protect thousands of jobs supporting our national security. Federal restrictions limit the lands to public recreation use only. Senator McConnell brought several federal agencies together in his Washington, DC, office and helped work out a solution that allowed the parties to enter an agreement which not only protects Bluegrass Station’s mission and current jobs but provides the facility the ability to expand and create new jobs. 
“I was honored to work with General Tonini to help protect Kentucky jobs and bring economic development to the community,” Senator McConnell. “Due to General Tonini’s vision and our joint efforts, over 2,800 private-sector positions were protected here at Bluegrass Station and the increased capacity is also likely to create more jobs at the facility in the future. I am profoundly grateful to those of you here in uniform today – and to the private-sector employees at the facility – who help make our communities, the Commonwealth and our nation safer.”
General Tonini said, “Senator McConnell is our go-to guy to make sense of senseless situations. Back in 2011, we realized we needed help on the federal level to help change deed restrictions and federal agreements so we contacted Senator Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell worked with over half-a-dozen federal agencies who were involved in this complicated agreement that not only helped protect these 2,800 Kentucky jobs, but help aid our homeland defense and national security. We are very fortunate to have Senator McConnell as our Kentucky Senator. He’s a friend of mine and an advocate of our Guard.”
According to Bluegrass Station officials, Bluegrass Station has an annual economic impact of approximately $230 million to Central Kentucky.
 

McConnell: No More Stalling of Keystone XL Pipeline Jobs

Press Releases

Jan 31 2014

McConnell: No More Stalling of Keystone XL Pipeline Jobs

‘So, Mr. President, no more stalling– no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs.’

LOUISVILLE, KY – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell issued the following statement on the latest State Department report concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline:
“This report from the Obama administration once again confirms that there is no reason for the White House to continue stalling construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  So, Mr. President, no more stalling– no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs.
“The Keystone XL Pipeline is the single largest shovel-ready project in America, ready to go, but for years President Obama and his hard-left allies have stalled these jobs in a maze of red tape. But if the President meant what he said this week about ‘a year of action,’ he’ll act now on this important project that won’t cost taxpayers a dime to build but will bring thousands of private sector jobs to Americans who desperately need them. There is overwhelming bipartisan support for these jobs and I will continue to push for immediate consideration of bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Lee Terry that will get the pipeline built and preclude radical environmental groups from tying it up in the courts, even if the President were to eventually approve the project.”

Johnson Announces Staff Mobile Office Hours Dedicated to Propane Shortage Assistance

Senator Ron Johnson Press Release:

Oshkosh, WI – Senator Ron Johnson (WI) announced today that his staff would be available for mobile office hours at the dates and locations listed below. These office hours will allow constituents to meet with the senator’s staff to receive information on resources available to you to assist with propane shortages in Wisconsin.
Note: Staff led mobile office hours are closed to press.  Recording devices of any kind are not allowed.  These restrictions are put in place for the privacy of constituents we are here to assist.
Thursday, February 6th, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Adams County Community Center, Room 103
569 N. Cedar Street, Adams, 53910
Thursday, February 6th, 11:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
Marquette County Courthouse, Public Safety Room
67 West Park Street, Montello, 53949
Thursday, February 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Waushara County Courthouse, Room 263,
209 South Saint Marie Street, Wautoma, 54982
Thursday, February 6th, 3:45 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.
Waupaca County Courthouse, Lower Level Room 42
811 Harding Street, Waupaca, 54981
Friday, February 7th, 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Shawano County Courthouse, Lower Level Room B
311 North Main Street, Shawano, 54166
Friday, February 7th, 11:15 p.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association 1ST Floor Conference Room
1109 6th Street, Wausau, 54403 
Friday, February 7th, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Lincoln County Service Center, Room 248
801 North Sales Street, Merrill, 54452
###

World should watch Russia after Sochi – Global Public Square - CNN.com Blogs

World should watch Russia after Sochi – Global Public Square - CNN.com Blogs

Higher pay, but only if you keep your job

Senator Ron Johnson News Release:

President Obama wants to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. “Give America a raise,” he demanded of employers in his State of the Union speech, telling them, “Americans will support you” as their labor costs – and their products’ prices – shoot upward.
The president claimed this was a matter of helping poor families. The numbers, however, show that very few families must get by on minimum wage. Only 2.8% of all workers earned the minimum wage in 2012, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than half of those were under 25 years old. A quarter were teenagers.
New 2013 Census data from economist Keith Hall at the Mercatus Center shows how most minimum wage workers are far from the heart-wrenching straw man that the president deploys:
“Most are under 25 years old (56 percent).
“Two-thirds are single and never married (66 percent).
“Two-thirds have a high school degree or less (67 percent).
“Nearly three-quarters work less than full time (73 percent).
“(Hall) adds that a majority of those under 25 don’t work (so increasing the minimum wage isn’t likely to help them). In fact those under 25 in America have an employment rate of just 47.4 percent – down from 53.1 percent in 2007. They have an unemployment rate that is twice the national average (13.5 percent – up from 10.5 percent in 2007).”
Those earning the minimum wage mostly aren't poor. Only 23% of them live in poor households, and the average family income of a minimum-wage worker in 2012 was $53,113 (because so many of them are young workers living with their parents). Hall points out that even when you talk about people making more than minimum – those between minimum and $8.50 an hour – more than half live in households earning more than $35,000 a year, and more than 1 million live in households earning more than $100,000 per year.
These aren’t the poor. The poor live in households where work is rare. About two-thirds of poor adults in 2011 did not did during the previous year.
The poor need work. Raising the minimum wage won’t help them secure a job.
Michael Saltsman points this out in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal. Restaurant chains are putting iPad-like tablets at tables to cut down on the number of waitresses and waiters they need. Others are eliminating bus boys. Stores are adding automated checkouts, and McDonald’s has been replacing cashiers with touchscreens in Europe.
Businesses are doing this to save on labor costs: “Profit margins in restaurants range from 3%-6%. They are even more modest at grocery stores, at 1%-2%,” Saltsman writes.
Give America a raise? Raising the minimum will be more like giving beginning workers a pink slip, Saltsman writes:
“ ‘Efficiency’ is the positive public face of these changes. Chris Sullivan —a co-founder of Outback Steakhouse who now works with MenuPad, a tablet-ordering company—explained his product to me this way: ‘It increases productivity, allowing servers to wait on more tables.’ That means tips may increase for some.
“But the flip-side of more efficiency is a 20%-25% drop in the number of waitstaff necessary to run a restaurant. Currently, a worker who earns tips can be paid below minimum wage, allowing tips to make up the difference. But the $10.10 proposal would raise the minimum tip wage to $7.07 from $2.13, a 232% spike. With roughly three million current tipped jobs in the U.S., that could amount to as many as 750,000 fewer entry-level opportunities if implemented widely.”
Two-thirds of poor adults are in need of a job. Meanwhile, just under two-thirds of peoplewho are paid minimum wage earn themselves a raise by their second year. The poor need a job before they can get a raise. The president should stop incentivizing employers to purchase touchscreens instead of hiring those individuals desperately trying to grab the first rung of the ladder to greater opportunity.
An important way the government helps the working poor without eliminating entry-level jobs is through the Earned Income Tax Credit. If the president were truly serious about providing a livable wage, he'd work to reduce or eliminate the 21% rate of "improper payments" that weakens that program.
One more thing: An increase in the minimum wage can negatively affect EITC payments. The more your earn, the more the EITC supplements pay — up to a point, then it phases out. A cruel reality is that for single parents with full-time minimum wage jobs, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 will mean that even if their employers can afford them, their Earned Income Tax Credit will fall more than $500 a year, or more than $700 a year if they have two or more children.

Rep. Paul Ryan: "Presidents don't write laws" | U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan: "Presidents don't write laws" | U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan

World War I Led to a Century of Violence in the Middle East - SPIEGEL ONLINE

World War I may have ended in 1918, but the violence it triggered in the Middle East still hasn't come to an end. Arbitrary borders drawn by self-interested imperial powers have left a legacy that the region has not been able to overcome.



World War I Led to a Century of Violence in the Middle East - SPIEGEL ONLINE

President Declares Disaster for Oklahoma

FEMA Press Release:

President Declares Disaster for Oklahoma

Main Content
Release date: 
JANUARY 30, 2014
Release Number: 
HQ-14-007
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal disaster aid has been made available to the State of Oklahoma to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the area affected by a severe winter storm during the period of December 5-6, 2013.
The President's action makes federal funding available to state and eligible tribal and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by a severe winter storm in Choctaw, Le Flore, McCurtain, and Pushmataha counties.
Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
Sandy Coachman has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.  Coachman said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.
# # #
Follow FEMA online at blog.fema.govwww.twitter.com/femawww.facebook.com/fema, and www.youtube.com/fema.  Also, follow Administrator Craig Fugate's activities at www.twitter.com/craigatfema
The social media links provided are for reference only. FEMA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies or applications. 
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Last Updated: 
January 30, 2014 - 16:32

Federal Aid Programs for the State of Oklahoma Declaration

FEMA Press Release:

Federal Aid Programs for the State of Oklahoma Declaration

Main Content
Release date: 
JANUARY 30, 2014
Release Number: 
HQ-14-007 Factsheet
Following is a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as needed and warranted under President Obama's disaster declaration issued for the State of Oklahoma.
Assistance for State, Tribal, and Affected Local Governments Can Include as Required:
  • Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for emergency protective measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health.  Emergency protective measures assistance is available to state and eligible local governments on a cost-sharing basis.(Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)
  • Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges, utilities, buildings, schools, recreational areas and similar publicly owned property, as well as certain private non-profit organizations engaged in community service activities. (Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)
  • Payment of not more than 75 percent of the approved costs for hazard mitigation projects undertaken by state and local governments to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural or technological disasters.  (Source: FEMA funded, state administered.)
How to Apply for Assistance:
  • Application procedures for state, tribal, and local governments will be explained at a series of federal/state applicant briefings with locations to be announced in the affected area by recovery officials. Approved public repair projects are paid through the state from funding provided by FEMA and other participating federal agencies.
# # #
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders and ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Stay informed of FEMA’s activities online: videos and podcasts available at www.fema.gov/medialibrary and www.youtube.com/fema ; follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fema  and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fema.
Last Updated: 
January 30, 2014 - 16:31

Fareed Zakaria: On Iran, compromise needed - The Washington Post

Fareed Zakaria: On Iran, compromise needed - The Washington Post

What now for Pelosi? | TheHill

The retirement of two of Nancy Pelosi's closest confidants is raising questions about whether the House Democratic leader's reign could be nearing an end.
The pending departures of Reps. George Miller and Henry Waxman mean Pelosi will have to do without her most trusted lieutenants if she decides to run again as Democratic leader.


Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/197055-what-now-for-pelosi#ixzz2rzhTrVyl
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What now for Pelosi? | TheHill

GOP doesn't embrace Obama tax plan | TheHill

Congressional Republicans aren’t embracing President Obama’s proposal to expand a key tax credit for the working poor, complicating any chances for one of the few legislative initiatives in this week’s State of the Union address. 
Obama had cast an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – which helps working households to the tune of about $60 billion each year – as an area where the two parties could find common ground, even name-checking a similar proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday night.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/domestic-taxes/197054-gop-doesnt-embrace-obama-tax-plan#ixzz2rzh3hdCG
Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook




GOP doesn't embrace Obama tax plan | TheHill

House Republican leaders back legal status in immigration push | TheHill

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Republican leaders are calling for illegal immigrants to be able to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” after they have met a series of requirements and after “specific enforcement triggers” have been met, according to new principles presented Thursday to lawmakers.

The endorsement of a path to legal status for many of the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants is a significant step toward comprehensive immigration reform for a party that has long resisted policies that some deride as amnesty.

Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/197023-house-republican-leaders-back-legal-status-for-illegal-immigrants#ixzz2rzgaS0E4
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House Republican leaders back legal status in immigration push | TheHill

Crucial Keystone report expected Friday | TheHill

The State Department is expected to release its final environmental analysis on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Friday.
The report will include the findings of a years-long study into the environmental impact of the $5.4 billion construction project, which would carry oil from Canadian refineries to the Gulf Coast.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/197058-keystone-report-expected-friday#ixzz2rzfvqdOy
Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook




Crucial Keystone report expected Friday | TheHill

Pelosi: GOP immigration reform principles 'raise more questions than answers' | TheHill

The broad immigration-reform principles unveiled by House Republicans Thursday "raise more questions than answers," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged.
Pelosi said the Democrats "welcome" the gesture by GOP leaders who have long-resisted legislation to reform an immigration system all sides consider broken. But the one-page document of vague standards, she added, leaves reform supporters hungry for more details.


Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/197052-pelosi-gop-immigration-reform-principles-raise-more-questions-than-answers#ixzz2rzfSwjsw
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Pelosi: GOP immigration reform principles 'raise more questions than answers' | TheHill

Waxman retires after 20 terms | TheHill

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a legislative giant who helped shepherd ObamaCare's passage, will retire from the House at the end of this Congress.
Waxman is a longtime ally of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and his decision to retire — following fellow Pelosi lieutenant Rep. George Miller's (D-Calif.) announcement earlier this year — will be taken as a sign Democrats are not confident about taking back the House this fall.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/196957-waxman-wont-seek-re-election-in-2014#ixzz2rzf66e7e
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Waxman retires after 20 terms | TheHill

McCain praises House Republicans' immigration reform principles | TheHill

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the co-author of the Senate immigration reform bill, praised House GOP leaders for issuing a set of immigration reform principles that reflect the Senate bill.
“I think they’re fine,” he said. “I will support everything they’re doing and certainly will not take shots from the sidelines.”


Read more: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/197034-mccain-praises-house-gop-immigration-reform-principles#ixzz2rzeftQVT
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McCain praises House Republicans' immigration reform principles | TheHill

Cruz: GOP immigration plan is 'amnesty' | TheHill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday blasted as “amnesty” a House GOP plan to give legal status to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. 
“I think it would be a mistake if House Republicans were to support amnesty for those here illegally,” he said when asked about the proposal to be outlined in the House GOP's immigration principles.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/196980-cruz-blasts-gop-immigration-plan-as-amnesty#ixzz2rzeAEClA
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Cruz: GOP immigration plan is 'amnesty' | TheHill

Sandra Fluke 'strongly considering' run for Waxman's seat | TheHill

Lawyer and women's rights activist Sandra Fluke (D) is "strongly considering" a run for Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) seat.
"I'm flattered that I'm being discussed as a potential candidate, especially for Rep. Waxman's seat, considering his incredible legacy," she told The Hill in a statement. "A number of folks I respect very deeply have reached out today and encouraged me to run. I am strongly considering running. I'll be making my decision soon."


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/197020-sandra-fluke-strongly-considering-run-for-waxmans-seat#ixzz2rzdbAf5X
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Sandra Fluke 'strongly considering' run for Waxman's seat | TheHill

Koch brothers fire back at Reid's remark | TheHill

The Koch brothers fired back at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Thursday evening after he said the powerful conservative financiers were trying to “buy the country.”
“Sen. Reid’s divisive remarks were not only disrespectful and beneath the office he holds, they were indicative of what lengths he and his Democratic allies will go to eliminate and silence their political opposition,” said Philip Ellender, the president and chief operating officer at Koch Companies Public Sector, in a statement.


Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/197056-koch-industries-fire-back-at-reid#ixzz2rzUVOeun
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Koch brothers fire back at Reid's remark | TheHill

The Poison of Postmodern Lying | National Review Online

When truth is relative, political expediency becomes the truth.



The Poison of Postmodern Lying | National Review Online

How to Debunk the ‘War on Women’ | National Review Online

Forget gender politics and focus on the winning policies.



How to Debunk the ‘War on Women’ | National Review Online

Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom | National Review Online

Jack Phillips shouldn’t have to choose between his business and his conscience.



Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom | National Review Online

Standing Up Against Wealth Shaming | National Review Online

It’s time to shame those who shame the job creators.



Standing Up Against Wealth Shaming | National Review Online

USDA Blog » USDA Funded Apartment Complex Not Just “Renovated” but “Innovated”

Did you know that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is doing stuff like this?



USDA Blog » USDA Funded Apartment Complex Not Just “Renovated” but “Innovated”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cornyn: Criminal Navigators Confirm Worst Fears

Senator John Cornyn News Release:

Jan 30 2014

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) responded to reports that convicted criminals have been hired in California to work as Obamacare navigators.
“Just when you thought the Obamacare rollout couldn’t get worse, these new reports confirm my worst fears. While I am pleased that Texas has taken the additional steps necessary to ensure criminals cannot become navigators, the fact remains that the system designed by the federal government is fundamentally flawed. 
“The American people deserve better than a botched system that enables convicted felons to handle their sensitive personal information.”

Grassley Amendments Imposing Tougher Sentencing on Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse and Domestic Assault Adopted by Judiciary Committee

Senator Chuck Grassley News Release:

For Immediate Release
January 30, 2014

Grassley Amendments Imposing Tougher Sentencing on Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse and Domestic Assault Adopted by Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today won approval of several provisions that would ensure tougher sentences on perpetrators of sexual assaults and domestic violence, as well as arms suppliers of terrorists.

Grassley’s amendments were adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee during the committee’s consideration of the “Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013.” 

“Sexual abuse and domestic assault are some of the most heinous crimes.  These are areas where mandatory minimum sentences are very much needed.  I’m very concerned that the absence of mandatory minimum sentences is causing serious problems in deterring these terrible acts,” Grassley said.  “The absence of mandatory minimums plays a key role in giving sex offenders an incentive to go to trial which in turn gives judges discretion to give sentences as low as probation to convicted sexual assault offenders.  This is an appalling practice that needs to be stopped.”

Grassley’s first amendment was adopted by a vote of 15-3 and would impose mandatory minimum sentences for various sexual abuse offenses.

Grassley’s second amendment was adopted by a vote of 15-3 and would impose a mandatory minimum sentence where death occurs as a result of the commission of the crime of interstate domestic violence.

Grassley’s third amendment that was adopted by voice vote enacts a mandatory minimum sentence for defendants convicted of willfully providing armaments, war materials and other goods and services to State sponsors of international terrorism or specially designated foreign terrorists and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, as well as for defendants convicted of willfully and illegally exporting goods and services in connection with a chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons program or a missile program.

“The export control laws are vital to national security.  Their criminal provisions help keep rogue nations and terrorist groups from gaining access to various technologies that could inflict catastrophic damage,” Grassley said.  “The administration has been clear that federal judges regularly abuse their discretion in imposing sentences that fail to reflect the importance of these cases.”

The final bill cleared the committee by a vote of 13-5 and will now be sent to the full Senate for consideration.  

Grassley Floor Statement on the Agricultural Act of 2014

Senator Chuck Grassley News Release:

For Immediate Release
January 30, 2014

Grassley Floor Statement on the Agricultural Act of 2014

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Agricultural Act of 2014
Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mr. President, I rise to speak about the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill.

This farm bill process has been long, hard and no doubt frustrating for all who have been involved.  Some of us on the Senate Agriculture Committee have participated in two committee markups and two floor debates for this bill.  I voted for and supported the bill at every one of those junctures.

I believe our country needs good farm policy, which means an adequate, yet limited safety net for farmers.  Our farmers face real, uncontrollable risks every year.  The farm bill provides farmers with a number of programs that help mitigate those risks.

Agriculture remains a changing industry.  Unbelievable technological advancements are taking place right before our eyes.  Farmers can now control irrigation equipment and monitor grain bins on their phones from the other side of the world.

Agriculture technology is progressing so quickly, the next time we debate the farm bill, autonomous tractors may well be doing a considerable amount of the field work in America.

Farm policy has also changed over time.  Unfortunately, the majority of farm program benefits have started going to a concentrated number of farmers.  In fact, 10 percent of farmers get 70 percent of the benefits in the farm bill.  One reason for this, is that current farm policy offer farmers essentially unlimited subsidies if they hire the right lawyer.

As a farmer, a citizen and a legislator, I believe it is wrong to expect, or allow the government to give unlimited support to my farm, or any farm.  Especially since our country has a record $17 trillion debt.

During the first full Senate farm bill debate in the summer of 2012, my payment limit reforms were adopted by a vote of 75-24 here on the floor of this body.  During the first round of floor debate in the House, Mr. Fortenberry from Nebraska offered the same reforms and the House adopted them by a vote of 230-194.

Congress has spoken and overwhelmingly agrees with my common sense approach.

One would think policy, which is widely supported in both bodies of Congress, and which saves taxpayers nearly $400 million, would be untouchable in a conference committee.  The rules of this institution outline that.  It’s Senate Rule 28 if anyone would like to look it up.

However, once again, behind closed doors, Washington decided to intentionally screw up common sense.

This conference bill increases the payments available through the counter-cyclical program, now called Price Loss Coverage or PLC, by 150 percent compared to what Congress had already agreed upon.  And I have yet to hear a single legitimate reason for this change.

Additionally, the powers that be in this town have proven they learned nothing from the World Trade Organization Brazil cotton case.  That dispute has resulted in the U.S. paying a $143 million fine per year to Brazilian cotton farmers.  This farm bill doubles down on the same market distorting policies that brought us that trade dispute.

The original payment limit reforms this Congress approved also eliminated abuses through what is known as the ‘actively engaged loophole.’  To sum up this loophole, it makes it easy for non-farmers to get farm subsidies.  This results in the largest 10 percent of farms getting 70 percent of the farm program benefits as I’ve already mentioned.

Yet the conference committee, in another brazen act of manipulation, eliminates my simple, enforceable reform.  I think one non-farming manager per entity is more than generous.

The language in the bill now says USDA will have the opportunity to review and fix the actively engaged loophole, should they choose to.  USDA could have fixed this problem at any point since it is the result of their rulemaking.  So giving USDA power they already have, and claiming reform, is a true example of a Washington hat trick.  The conferees didn’t stop at just kicking the decision to USDA, they also tied USDA’s hands with unnecessary requirements that must be met before action can even be taken.

I hope Secretary Vilsack and the Obama Administration finally use this authority to produce a strong enforceable rule regarding the number of people who can be eligible for farm subsidies from taxpayers.   I’m certainly going to offer them my thoughts on the issue. 

The Government Accountability Office released a report in October of 2013 that clearly outlined the problems with the actively engaged loophole.  One farming partnership they highlighted was composed of twenty-two LLCs, with twenty different owners and sixteen ‘managers’ who got their eligibility through the actively engaged loophole.

At least four of the managers for that operation live out of the state while several others live in cities around the state, well outside of commuting distance.

Additionally, just yesterday, it was reported that a large farming operation in Illinois is being fined $5.3 million because they were exploiting taxpayers for farm subsidies. In this case, the government determined their business structure was intentionally designed to evade payment limits with the exact fake entity structures my provisions would have nearly eliminated.
U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis said the following regarding the case-

"We are pleased with this favorable resolution of the government's claims of misuse of farm subsidy programs.  These programs are designed to help farmers withstand market price volatility and the intrinsic risks associated with farming from year to year. Any attempt to exploit the system to take more than one's fair share is an improper use of government funds that erodes the public confidence in such programs and threatens their continued viability."

I wish that U.S. Attorney could have been part of the farm bill conference committee; his logic and expertise would have really helped.

If a farm’s business model depends on lawyers setting up complicated Mickey Mouse legal structures, just to get more government subsidies, perhaps the owners of that entity are in the wrong business.

My provisions would have limited subsidies going to a few thousand people who are very well off and quite frankly don’t need unlimited farm payments from the government.  Especially, since by definition, they would be people who don’t actually work on farms!

If we can’t cut subsidies that go to non-farming millionaires, how will we ever find the courage to fix the other entitlement programs this country has?

With all that said, there are a few things this bill does that are good.

The dairy provisions have ended up more market oriented than where we started which I believe is a very good thing.  I’m glad the crop insurance program will remain strong for farmers across the country.  And the nutrition program reforms are welcomed.  

In the end, I have to make a judgment of the bill as a whole.  I believe this bill, sadly, is a missed opportunity.   The Congressional Budget Office says the final savings in this bill is only $16.6 billion.  That is a pretty small amount, compared to the fact it will spend nearly a trillion dollars.

I played by the rules with my reforms, they were adopted on the floor of both bodies of Congress.  Yet in the end, a few people with the single minded intent to keep unlimited farm subsidies flowing out the door proved Congress deserves its 12 percent approval rating.

I want to be clear- I strongly support the business Agriculture.  I’ve been involved in farming my whole life.  I understand the industry.  Growing wholesome food to feed the world has always been one of the noblest occupations in my opinion.

But if I were to vote yes on this bill, it would be an endorsement of the egregious manipulation of my payment limit reforms behind closed doors.  I cannot in good conscience do that.  Therefore, I will oppose to Agricultural Act of 2014.

Mr. President, I yield the floor. 

Sessions Remarks On House Leaders’ ‘Immigration Principles

Senator Jeff Sessions News Release:

Sessions Remarks On House Leaders’ ‘Immigration Principles

Thursday, January 30, 2014
WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued the following remarks this evening after House GOP Leaders released a set of immigration ‘principles’ / talking points:

“Once again, we have the same recycled talking points—crafted, it would appear, with the help of the same consultants and special interests. Each time, the talking points are followed by legislation that fails to match the promises—legislation that, at bottom, ensures only the amnesty and not the enforcement. The leadership talking points look like an attempted repackaging of the tired Gang-of-Eight-style formula that has been proposed, rejected, and re-proposed for years. It is no surprise then that Senator Schumer and former Speaker Pelosi are so encouraged by these developments. But while Democrat leaders and interest groups appear satisfied, this document was not voted upon by the GOP conference and clearly does not represent the consensus of Republican members. Is it not time we pushed aside the stale proposals stitched together in concert with the same lobbyists, and asked what is in the best interests of the hardworking American citizen—and the nation?

In three fundamental respects, the House leaders’ emerging immigration proposal appears to resemble the Senate plan: it provides the initial grant of amnesty before enforcement; it would surge the already unprecedented level of legal lesser-skilled immigration to the U.S. that is reducing wages and increasing unemployment; and it would offer eventual citizenship to a large number of illegal immigrants and visa overstays.

Rank-and-file House Republicans are the last line of defense for working Americans. Now is the time for rank-and-file House Republicans to claim the leadership mantle and to say, firmly: our goal is to transition millions of struggling Americans from welfare and joblessness to work and rising wages. The President has not only dismantled enforcement but has delivered for a small group of special interests and CEOs by forcing through the Senate legislation that drastically surges the future flow of new immigrant workers competing against unemployed Americans. There is a reason why these increases are never mentioned in the slick TV ads and radio spots: the American people reject them. Americans earning under $30,000 prefer a reduction to an increase in current record immigration levels by a 3-1 margin. Republicans have the chance to be the one party giving voice to the real-world concerns of the everyday worker whose wages have been flat or falling for more than 10 years.

House leaders should support—not ignore—the immigration officers pleading for help. They should stand with—not against—unemployed American workers. And they should expose—not join—the President’s campaign to pass an immigration plan that will hollow out our shrinking middle class.”