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The importance of agriculture to Wisconsin cannot be overstated; the industry provides more than 10% of the state’s employment and generates nearly $60 billion in economic activity annually.  In 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported there to be nearly 77,000 farms statewide, more than 99% of which are family-owned.  Further, Wisconsin has justifiably been nicknamed “America’s Dairyland,” as the second largest producer of dairy in the country.  Milk, corn, fruits and vegetables, cattle, and soybeans are just a few of the products that come from the more than 15 million acres of farmland in Wisconsin.

Agriculture in the House-passed Budget

Compared to the overall economy that is recovering slowly, the American agriculture sector has remained a strong economic-success story. The record-breaking prosperity of American farmers and farm communities is to be celebrated. But it also calls for a re-examination of federal agricultural programs that spend billions each year. Taxpayers should not finance payments for a business sector that is more than capable of thriving on its own.

The 2014 Farm Bill reformed commodity programs, most notably by eliminating Direct Payments.  However, this area remains ripe for reform.  The House-passed budget takes into consideration the savings that the Farm Bill achieved and then proposes that additional savings be found.  Under this option, mandatory agricultural outlays, other than food and nutrition programs, will be reduced by $23 billion relative to the currently anticipated levels from fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2024.  These savings could be achieved by continuing to reform assistance programs for agriculture.  Farmers will benefit greatly from other provisions in this budget, including regulatory relief, fundamental tax reform, and stronger economic growth as the burden of federal deficits is lifted from the economy.

The Farm Bill

The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the Farm Bill, expired at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012—which was September 30, 2012.  Since that time, Congress has passed several pieces of legislation that temporarily extended the farm bill in order to give the House and Senate Agriculture Committees time to develop a comprehensive, long-term bill to reauthorize federal agriculture and nutrition programs.  In October 2014, the House and Senate agreed to form a farm bill conference committee to resolve any policy differences between the two chambers' versions of the farm bill.  On January 27, 2014, this conference committee reached an agreement and introduced the farm bill conference report.

The House considered the conference report to H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, on January 29, 2014.  This conference report would authorize federal agriculture programs through FY 2018 and cut $16.6 billion in spending, including $8 billion from common sense reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These reforms include a provision that would allow up to ten states to develop pilot programs that require SNAP recipients to participate in employment and training programs in order to receive benefits, as well as partially closing the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) loophole, which will ensure that states participating in LIHEAP pay for a greater share of the program. Additionally, it would repeal the direct payments program and reform commodity programs so that payments made to farmers are more closely tied to market conditions. The House passed the conference report to H.R. 2642—with my support—by a vote 251 to 166 on January 29, 2014.  On February 4, 2014, the Senate passed the conference report to H.R. 2642 by a vote of 68 to 32, and on February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Despite my concerns with certain provisions of this bill, I voted in favor of the Conference Report to H.R. 2642 because I understand that, in divided government, no party will get everything it wants.  Although I wish this bill tightened eligibility standards for crop subsidies—a reform that would help small family farmers rather than bankrolling large agribusinesses—I believe ultimately, the good in the bill outweighs the bad.  This bill will save more money than if Congress did nothing, and, it will provide some much-needed certainty to family farmers.

The Bipartisan Budget Act and FY2015 Consolidated Appropriations

On October 15, 2013, Senator Patty Murray and I stood up in our respective chambers to offer a motion to create a bicameral conference committee to negotiate a federal budget by December 13, 2013.  Rather than continuing the trend of budgeting by brinkmanship with short-term spending bills, Senator Murray and I recognized the need for long-term bipartisan solutions to our nation’s most pressing fiscal problems.  On October 16, 2013, the motion to go to conference was adopted by unanimous consent in the House and Senate.

After nearly two months of deliberations among the members of the bicameral conference committee, Senator Patty Murray and I introduced the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 on December 10, 2013.  This is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a bipartisan budget resolution.  The Bipartisan Budget Act will provide $63 billion in sequester relief—split evenly between defense programs and other domestic priorities—in exchange for over $80 billion in savings elsewhere in the budget, resulting in over $20 billion in deficit reduction, all without raising taxes.  Additionally, it preserves 92 percent of the Budget Control Act’s (BCA) sequester cuts, or approximately $770 billion of the original BCA sequester savings, but does so by cutting spending in a smarter way.  It eliminates waste by ending the distribution of government checks to criminals and the deceased, puts an end to favoritism by cutting corporate welfare, and makes real reforms to some of the true problems of autopilot spending. 

With the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed into law, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees introduced the Fiscal Year 2015 Consolidated Appropriations Bill on January 14, 2014.  The legislation combined the 11 individual spending bills that typically fund programs within the government with a continuing resolution to keep DHS operating at current levels until a separate spending measure could be passed.  In compliance with the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, the bill provides $1.013 trillion for the operations of the federal government. 

The bill provides $20.6 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and related agencies.  It prioritizes production, research, and marketing programs to aid America’s farmers and ranchers.  Investments were also made to important programs relating to rural development, food and drug safety, nutrition, and conservation which are crucial to our economic growth.  Additionally, the bill authorized emergency funding to combat the Ebola epidemic with the potential for an expedited approval of vaccines.

The consolidated appropriations bill, H.R. 83, was passed in the House on January 15, 2014—with my support—by a vote of 359 to 67.  On January 16, 2014, it was passed by the Senate, and on January 17, 2014, President Obama signed the bill into law.


Immigration policy has a direct impact on agricultural employment in Wisconsin.  Many farmers have historically relied on seasonal labor to assist with farm work; due to a shortage of seasonal H-2B visas, which permit employers to temporarily hire foreign workers, some businesses have faced annual labor shortfalls. Dairy farmers, on the other hand, require year-round assistance and are largely unaffected by seasonal worker visas. Reforms to immigration policy ought to include expanding access to visas for seasonal and temporary labor as well as a temporary guest worker program, complete with an employee verification system that allows employers to verify the legal status of their employees.

By providing a method to legally link employers with immigrant workers, we would relieve pressure on the borders from people who attempt to illegally immigrate to the United States in search of employment. In turn, government agencies would have the ability to more effectively allocate resources to illegal and unauthorized aliens who mean to do us harm – criminals, terrorists, and drug smugglers.


The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law in July 2010, is a lengthy and complex law designed to implement wide reaching financial regulatory reform. Unfortunately, the overhaul involves radical changes to financial regulation – changes that will affect every feature of our financial-services industry, increase the power of current financial regulatory agencies, and create new ones. Dodd-Frank promotes the rule of bureaucrats to our economic detriment and has had negative impacts on the agricultural industry. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway has considered changes to the Dodd-Frank regulation, which could help relieve the industry from burdensome regulation. As the committee continues to examine these proposals, I will remain vigilant in monitoring their development as it relates to farmers in the First District of Wisconsin.


Agriculture is a cornerstone of both Wisconsin’s culture and economy. As I continue to work with my colleagues on the important issues facing the 114th Congress, making sure farmers are in a competitive international position remains a priority along with making sure we get our economy and job creation growing again.

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