Floor Updates

Brown-MA, Warner, Thune, Moran

Morning Business

Feb 17 2012

01:16 PM

Senator Brown-MA: (12:31 PM)
  • Spoke on NOAA's culture of corruption.
    • SUMMARY "NOAA has a culture of corruption that has created a chasm of distrust between the agency and the fishing industry What does it take to get fired from NOAA? We have the abusive treatment of fisher resulting in the decimation of fleet. Investigations motivated by money. Improper fines, leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy. "Shredding parties" destroying 75% to 80% of requirement documents about an investigation, lying to the IG, discourage cooperation with the IG, misleading members of congress, the $300,000 party boat, $12,000 in party boat expenses paid with fishermen's fines, $30,000 engine destroyed by NOAA employee on weekend vacation, and no one is held accountable. It is unacceptable. This needs to change. Accountability starts at the top. NOAA's leadership needs to change and I'm calling one more time to have President Obama fire NOAA administrator Gene Lou Chen. If not for this, then for what? What does it take to feet fired at NOAA? Our fishermen and American taxpayers deserve better from their government."

Senator Warner: (12:40 PM)
  • Spoke in opposition to the Conference Report (Payroll Tax Credit Extension, Unemployment Insurance, Doc Fix).
    • SUMMARY "A little bit earlier today we passed a Conference Report that extended the payroll tax cut, and while I am glad the payroll tax cut was extended, I voted against that conference report because, unfortunately, we didn't pay for that tax cut. I believe we could have found ways to pay for it - a surcharge on millionaires, a means test, so it would have been targeted more towards stimulus. But also in that action, those parts of the legislation we just passed that we did pay for, things like unemployment benefits, we once again targeted a group that I think for too many in Congress becomes the payer of first resort, not payer of last resort, and that's our federal employees."
  • Paid tribute to Joseph Lawrence, who recently served as ONR's Transition Directorate in the Department of Defense.
Colloquy: (Senators Thune, Moran)
  • Spoke on the Department of Labor's regulations on child labor and agriculture.

Senator Thune: (12:47 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Just recently here in February of this year, the Department of Labor announced plans to re-propose a portion of the regulation on child labor and agriculture interpreting the "parental exception." What's interesting about it is there have been multiple efforts made to try and get a response to the letter and the Department of Labor didn't respond to a letter from 30 United States senators. It strikes me, with all the issues that were raised in that letter, with the impact this would have on the very heartland of our country and the ability of farmers and ranchers and their families to sustain themselves and to contribute to feeding the world, it seems that there would at least be the courtesy of responding to the points that were raised in that letter. Yet we have not yet received a response to that letter sent by the senator from Kansas, Senator Moran, and 29 others of us who signed on to that requesting response to the various issues that were raised It just strikes me, as certainly odd and perhaps I would have to say demonstrating an arrogance of power not to respond to 30 United States senators who on behalf of their constituents raised some issues that are very important to the economy of, certainly of the heartland of the Midwest and the people that I represent, and I know that the Senator from Kansas represents but this is - when you look at what they are proposing and the prescriptive nature of that, the detail that they go into in restricting the ability of young people to work on family farm and ranch operations, you have to just say, you know, what were these people thinking and what world are they living in? It seems to be a parallel universe to think that all these various regulations and restrictions that they would impose on young people working in agriculture wouldn't undermine the very fabric, the very nature, the very foundation of American agriculture. Farming and ranching is inherently a family enterprise. Young people have contributed for generations in helping that family farm or ranch operation survive and prosper. They contribute. they grow up in that business. In so many cases they come to take it over and it is amazing to me, really incomprehensible to think that bureaucrats in Washington, DC. could tell family farmers and ranchers how to run their operations with the kind of detail and just the incredible prescription of these regulations in the very activities that they would curtail for young people."

Senator Moran: (12:53 PM)
  • SUMMARY "I'm worried that the Department of Labor in announcing that just a few days ago that they're going to re-propose a portion of the rule, I'm worried that the Department of Labor is hoping that Americans, that farmers and ranchers, that members of Congress look the other way, that they're doing something significant to change the onerous nature of the rules that are proposed and while they are, have agreed to re-propose a portion of the rule related to the definition of family farms, what remains is two significant components fortunate way we live our lives, that we pass on to the next generation those characteristics we desire so much and that we will lose the opportunity to entice a young person to decide that agriculture is their means of earning a living as they grow older. You have to have an experience as a child to learn what opportunities are available for you. Students who become teachers have been enthused about becoming a teacher because of an experience in a classroom. It works the same way on a farm in Kansas or South Dakota or in Arkansas. It's the experience that that child has, that young person has in working with their families, with neighboring farmers that causes them to think I do, when I grow up, what I want to be is working here on this family farm. I want to earn my living in agriculture. and so the rule, while being, a portion of it being re-proposed, don't take your eye off of the consequences of the remainder of the rule, even if we got a good definition of a family farm in the re-proposed rule. What remains is replacing the things that have a time-honored tradition and success in rural communities in agriculture, in educating our kids. FAA, 4H, county extension. Those things are being replaced, and the Department of Labor is going to become the decider of whether or not an individual young person has the capabilities to work on a family farm. The Department says that those things - FAA, 4H, county extension - are too local and we have to have a nationally driven policy from the Department of Labor to decide how we educate and train and make certain that we have safety for young people working on farms."

Senator Thune: (1:03 PM)
  • SUMMARY "The very organizations that you mentioned, 4H, FAA, extension service, know full well, and the families who operate farms know full well what the risks are. They understand. They want to protect their families and instead you've got a Washington bureaucracy who thinks that it knows best telling family farms, ranches how to go about their business in a way that will make it not only more difficult for them to make a living but also I think more difficult for young people to learn that - the skills and get the experience they need when hopefully that time comes around that they can take over that operation. Farming, ranching in Kansas, as it is in South Dakota, is very much an intergenerational occupation and it's more than just an occupation. It's more than just a vocation. It is a way of life. It is something that where values are transmitted from one generation to another, values of hard work, personal responsibility, you know, just the integrity, the honesty, there's just so many character qualities that we value that young people learn in - on family farms and ranches and so notwithstanding the economic impact on family farms and ranches, certainly the cultural, social impact on our family farms and ranches in the middle of this country is tremendously impacted by these regulations."

Senator Moran: (1:07 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Farming is this way of life that farmers and ranchers are so proud of and believe they serve - and they do, they serve such a noble profession in feeding and clothing and providing energy to a hungry and cold and - and difficult world. Agriculture certainly is about economics but there is an understanding that what farmers and ranchers do is important to the world and we need to make certain that there is another generation, another set of young people who step into the shoes of an aging population of farmers and ranchers across the country and, again, these proposed rules, they need to be totally withdrawn and we ought not accept the reduce - the ruse of a portion of them being re-proposed."

Senator Thune: (1:09 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Is the senator aware of any group that was consulted on this? Were there any farm organizations that were brought into this or that - that had any input into this? or, as the senator mentioned, was this solicited by anyone? Was there any rationale based upon data collected about safety or that sort of thing that necessitated that they use such a heavy-handed, big-government approach to addressing what they perceive to be a problem?"

Senator Moran: (1:10 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Everything that I know about this topic suggests that it's - that it's otherwise and, in fact, the farm organizations and commodity groups of - of the wide array of those who advocate across the country on behalf of agriculture producers are aligned with us in opposition to these rules. and so it - it can't be that they were involve in the process of developing the rules because they, to a - at least every organization i know involved as a commodity group or a farm organization is adamantly opposed to what the department is suggesting."

Senator Thune: (1:11 PM)
  • SUMMARY "Nationally, the average age of farmers in this country is nearing 60 years old. which means one thing. somebody's going to have to fill those shoes. somebody's going to have to come along and take over that farm or ranch operation and this is going to make it increasingly difficult to - to prepare that next generation of farmers and ranchers and, again, it occurs to me that this is just something that ought to be withdrawn."