WASHINGTON, December 11, 2014 – Given all of the turmoil and dysfunction in Congress, passage of the 2014 farm bill this spring was a major accomplishment, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow emphasized during her keynote speech at the Farm Journal Forum today in Washington. But she warned that the broad-based coalition that came together to support the multifaceted measure needs to be not only maintained, but strengthened.
“Our challenge is to keep moving forward. To keep this coalition together,” the Michigan Democrat added.
One of the most important lessons learned from the 2014 farm bill is that “success comes from broad coalitions of diverse interests,” Stabenow said. It was a coalition that included everyone from sportsmen ……to healthy food advocates…..to clean energy producers.
“If the agricultural coalition can pass a farm bill through this Congress, we can do anything,” Stabenow said. “Let’s stick together and let people know that we know how to get things done.”
Stabenow said neither she nor Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, who will serve as chairman of the committee in the Senate next year, have any interest in reopening the farm bill and that she expects it to remain intact for its full five-year time span.
However, new challenges could surface as the committee focuses on reauthorizing child nutrition legislation next year.
Stabenow said the “health of our children is a national crisis” and expressed concern about feeding over 16 million hungry children who don’t have enough to eat and often don’t eat at all in the summer when school is out.
She also shared “grave concerns” about childhood obesity.
“Over 70 percent of 18-24 year olds can’t qualify for military service because they are not physically fit enough to sign up. And the primary reason is obesity,” Stabenow said.
In related news, Stabenow said she was supportive of language in the bipartisan spending bill that the House is expected to vote on today that would allow schools to get around a whole-grains requirement in school meals if it’s too expensive or schools are having trouble finding alternatives. The provision – which she said her staff helped negotiate - stops short of the broad waiver from nutrition standards that was included in the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2015 legislation.
However, she was noncommittal when asked by reporters if she would vote for the overall funding bill, which would fund most of the government through September, noting that she was still reviewing other provisions in the legislation. The government is currently running on a continuing resolution that expires at midnight.
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