With Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote, the Senate decided Thursday to move ahead with debate on the reauthorization of the farm bill.Meanwhile, two other significant pieces of legislation that the senior senator backs have stalled.
WRKF's Amy Jeffries caught up with Sen. Landrieu about the progress of the farm bill and the stalemate around the Transportation and Paycheck Fairness bills.
JEFFRIES: The Senate is currently debating the farm bill, which funds agricultural subsidies and food stamps. This bill is $23 billion slimmer over the next 10 years than previous farm bills. So, Sen. Landrieu, how much of those cuts would fall on Louisiana farmers?
LANDRIEU: I don't know the exact number, but rice has contributed probably more than other commodities, which is the bone of contention. We do have a deficit issue, and we've been trimming all the budgets, including the defense budget, including health and hospitals, and education. So the farm bill is no exception, it's going to have to take some reductions.
The farm bill wants to switch to a different kind of framework than what we've had in the past.
JEFFRIES: The framework is what has changed that's got these cuts leaning more than you think they should on rice farmers. Can you explain a little bit what the shift is there that's causing that to happen?
LANDRIEU: Well, in the past we've had what we call a direct payment system, and price support systems for all of our commodities. Under the new system, it's moving more to an insurance system for all farmers in the country. And, some areas in the country that works better than in others, and our area happens to be one that it doesn't work well in, and so that's what the negotiations are about.
JEFFRIES: Federal transportation funding is expiring at the end of June. Congress doesn't have much time to get a new bill on the books with that.
There's two provisions attached to the transportation bill that you have championed: one is the RESTORE Act, which would make sure 80 percent of penalties BP pays under the Clean Water Act for the 2010 spill goes to Gulf states; the other is the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring a pipeline between the Gulf and Canada.
It seems like the XL Pipeline is what's been holding up the transportation bill in Congress. Is that correct?
LANDRIEU: Yes. And I am a supporter of the Keystone Pipeline. However, I don't think the Keystone Pipeline should hold up the transportation bill.
The transportation bill will create or help to sustain over 3 million jobs in the United States, and we need those jobs. And, yes, the Keystone Pipeline, the estimates are that it will help create 6,000 new jobs. But, we need to move forward on this transportation bill.
If we don't get a long-term bill -- and it looks less likely that we will -- this will be the ninth short-term extension, which means that every three months or sixth months we're up for an extension. It doesn't give any state, any county the ability to plan transportation projects. You know, and some of our major contractors, like Beau Brothers in New Orleans, or Gibson of St. Charles, or others of our contractors, we need them to kind of know what the rules of the road are, if you will -- no pun intended -- to keep jobs being created in Louisiana and around the country.
JEFFRIES: So would you support a transportation bill that did not include a green light for the Keystone XL pipeline?
LANDRIEU: Yes, I would. I do support the pipeline, but I don't think that we should hold up the whole transportation bill over the Keystone Pipeline.
JEFFRIES: Democrats brought the Paycheck Fairness Act to the floor earlier this week. The bill would address the gender wage gap by making it easier for women to ask how much their coworkers earn without worrying about retaliation.
In Louisiana, the gap is particularly wide. So, I'm just wondering, is the wage gap something that has come up, have you heard from people in Louisiana about this specifically being an issue?
LANDRIEU: Well, I'm not sure that women in Louisiana -- I think they have a general sense that they are underpaid for the same work that a man does. But because they can't get access to salary records under the current law, I'm not sure women really understand in many instances how much they're underpaid.
The problem is in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, they're not enough teeth in the law, or tools in the current law, and so that was the reason that we brought the bill to the floor of the Senate.
JEFFRIES: Now, Republicans did block the bill. Some of the other criticism of the bill, or at least the timing of the bill -- bringing it up now, knowing that Republicans were likely going to block it -- was that this was just an opportunity for Democrats to make a political statement. Do you feel like that is a fair assessment?
LANDRIEU: No, I don't think it's fair at all, because every day is a good day, whether it's before an election, after an election, or two years from an election, to talk about injustice in the workplace. Just because we're close to an election is not an excuse to say we don't want to support it. So I hope we will bring up this bill again, it's very important.