Tester slams corporate giveaways in government funding bill
Senator stands up for Montanas family farmers and ranchers on Senate floor
(U.S. SENATE) - Senator Jon Tester today called out the House of Representatives for slipping ‘corporate giveaways' into a must-pass government funding bill designed to keep the government running past March 27.
Tester slammed the inclusion of two provisions that will hurt family farmers and ranchers while benefitting large meatpacking corporations and companies that develop genetically-modified crops. Tester said backroom deals replaced open government and vowed to strip the provisions from the bill.
"Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals and to make government work better," said Tester, who has made improving government openness a hallmark of his time in the Senate. "These provisions are giveaways worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country and deserve no place in this bill."
Tester introduced two amendments to remove the controversial measures from the bill. The first provision gives large meatpacking corporations more power over the livestock market, while the second tells the U.S. Agriculture Department to ignore any judicial rulings that block the planting of crops that the court determines to be illegal.
Tester, speaking on the Senate floor, said the inclusion of the measures made a mockery out of "Sunshine Week" - when the federal government highlights the need for greater transparency and openness in government.
"Slipping corporate giveaways into a bill - at the same time we call for more open government - is doubling down on the same policies that created the need for Sunshine Week in the first place," Tester said. "Sunshine Week shouldn't just be for ‘show-and-tell.'"
The two provisions that raised Tester's ire were added to the bill by the House of Representatives. The Senate is debating the must-pass measure this week.
Tester, the Senate's only working farmer, fought in 2008 to direct the USDA to write new rules protecting family ranchers from anti-competitive behavior by meatpackers.
Tester's full Senate floor remarks are available below.
Senator Jon Tester
Senate Floor Remarks
March 13, 2013
As Prepared for Delivery.
Mr/Madame President, I rise today to speak about the Continuing Resolution before the Senate to fund the government and keep this country moving forward.
This is a very difficult assignment that they have been handed, especially as the brand-new chair and ranking member.
The bill increases support for firefighters battling blazes out west, maintains a critical safety net for women and children, returns full funding to several critical conservation programs, and reaffirms our commitments to veterans - especially rural veterans.
I very much want to thank Senator Jack Reed and Senator Tim Johnson in particular for their efforts in those areas.
But while no bill is perfect, Mr/Madame President, I'm deeply disappointed by two provisions that were slipped into the bill by the House of Representatives when this deal was being cooked up in December.
This is Sunshine Week for the federal government. It's a time to highlight the need for greater transparency and openness so voters can hold their elected leaders accountable for what happens in Washington.
I take transparency seriously. When I first ran for the Senate seven years ago, I campaigned on the need to bring more accountability and honest leadership to Washington.
My first vote in the Senate was for a sweeping ethics bill that, among other provisions, improved disclosure rules and reformed the earmark process, so that everyone would know which member - or members -- of Congress requested the earmark.
And it required members to certify that they and their families had no financial interest in the earmark.
Under regular order, folks had a chance to come down to the floor and try and remove earmarks they didn't like. In fact, a few years ago former Senator Jon Kyl and I had a pretty good debate on the floor here about an important project for the City of Whitefish, Montana. So we debated it and took a vote on it in the Senate.
That's why I'm so upset by two agriculture-related provisions that someone from the House of Representatives put into this bill - and that the Senate seems willing to accept.
I don't know who authored this provision. Maybe someone in Washington knows, but no one is willing to put their name to it. And that's a shame.
It's a shame that folks who get so bent out of shape about earmarks do not seem to be troubled by these provisions.
Mr/Madame President, Montana is home to thousands of working families that make a living off the land. Like my wife and I, they are family farmers and ranchers.
The House of Representatives is prepared to toss these working families aside in favor of the nation's large, meatpacking corporations. The House inserted a provision in the bill that gives enormous market power to America's three largest meatpacking corporations while stiffing family farmers and ranchers.
Family-run production agriculture faces tremendous market manipulation. Chicken farmers, hog farmers, and cattle ranchers all struggle to get a fair price from meatpackers. And if they fight back, they risk angering corporate representatives and being shut out of the market.
Thanks to this provision, the Agriculture Department will not be able to ensure a fair, open market that puts the brakes on the worst abuses by the meatpacking industry.
What's worse is that the USDA took Congressionally-mandated steps to protect ranchers from market manipulation over the last few years.
That's what we told them to do in the 2008 Farm Bill. And this provision will actually overturn rules that USDA has already put in place. But apparently intense behind-the-scenes lobbying won out in the House of Representatives, and now we're back to square one with big meatpackers calling the shots.
The second provision sent over from the House tells USDA to ignore any judicial ruling regarding the planting of genetically-modified crops.
Its supporters are calling it the "farmer assurance" provision, but all it really assures is a lack of corporate liability.
The provision says that when a judge finds that the USDA approved a crop illegally, the department must re-approve the crop and allow it to continue to be planted - regardless of what the judge says.
Think about that.
The United States Congress is telling the Agriculture Department "Even if a court tells you that you failed to follow the right process and tells you to start over, you MUST disregard the court's ruling and allow the crops to be planted anyway."
Not only does this ignore the Constitution's idea of separation of powers, but it also lets genetically-modified crops take hold across the country - even when a judge finds it violates the law.
It's a dangerous precedent, Mr/Madame President. It will paralyze the USDA by putting the department in the middle of a battle between Congress and the courts. And the ultimate loser will be our family farmers going about their business and feeding America the right way.
Sunshine Week shouldn't just be for show-and-tell, Mr/Madame President.
And slipping corporate giveaways into a bill - at the same time we call for more open government - is doubling down on the same policies that created the need for Sunshine Week in the first place.
That's why I've introduced two amendments to remove these corporate welfare provisions from the bill.
Montanans elected me to the Senate to do away with shady backroom deals. To get rid of handouts to big corporations. And to make government work better.
We still have many challenges in front of us. And I commend the leaders of the Appropriations Committee for their commitment to working together to bring us a plan we can vote on.
But these two provisions undermine our good work to support family agriculture. These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country.
They deserve no place in this bill. We simply have got to do better on both policy and process.
I know that Chairwoman Mikulski is committed to doing better. I strongly support her efforts and I thank her for that commitment. But we ought to start right here and now by striking these corporate giveaways.
I yield the floor.