THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
STATEMENT BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
The agriculture appropriations bill, signed today by the President, includes $8.6 billion in emergency assistance for farmers and ranchers who continue to endure devastating economic conditions beyond their control.
While this will help ease the pain of our country's farmers and ranchers, I think we need to do more for our nation's agriculture community. Unfortunately, this Republican Congress has failed to act on behalf of the struggling men and women who have given us the world's most affordable and abundant food supply.
Much of the assistance in the bill is not properly targeted to those farmers who need it most. Instead of basing payments on this year's production -- the system that our Administration pushed for -- Congress has opted for a formula that links payments to outdated cropping practices. This mechanism will, in some cases, pay farmers who don't need the help, while leaving out some of our hardest-hit farmers.
I am also disappointed that Congress did not come through with more assistance for farmers and ranchers who suffered crushing losses from this summer's drought, Hurricane Floyd, and other natural disasters. The $1.2 billion provided is simply not enough. Additionally, it is unfortunate that Congress added a provision that weakened protections of U.S. farm workers by reducing the waiting period to hire non-immigrant workers, under the H-2A program.
I am especially disappointed that, continuing an unfortunate trend in this Congress, this bill fails to provide adequate support for farmers and ranchers practicing conservation. Good stewardship is not without costs, and it adds to the pressures facing small producers. This makes it especially important for us not to let the burden of the current farm crisis fall most heavily on those working farmers who are struggling to be good stewards of our lands and waters. Our future farm policies must recognize that conservation is a farm commodity that must be valued along with crops.
Our next step must be to reevaluate the underlying principles of American farm policy. Lurching as we have from one emergency bill to the next is inefficient and expensive. Furthermore, the fact that this is our second emergency farm legislation in two years is all the evidence we should need to conclude that the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill is in need of repair. The Bill has not lived up to its promise. It needs to be revised and improved.
And we can't wait until the Freedom to Farm bill expires in 2002. I challenge Congress to begin this process now. We look forward to working with Congress to craft a farm policy that allows our farmers to prosper in the 21st century.
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