Over a hundred amendments were proposed as part of the farm bill markup in each the House and Senate, bringing some discussion on topics to act as place markers for the floor debate, as well as inclusion in the Committees marks.
Here are a handful of issues tackled under the leadership of Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas.
The Senate offers $23 billion in savings, with $4 billion coming from changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). On the House side, its savings are more ambitious with a total of $38 billion, with $20 billion coming from food assistance and $18 billion from the other titles.
One of the major ways the House achieves greater savings is by eliminating categorical eligibility which was first designed to automatically qualify low income recipients for SNAP. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., understanding the need for compromise, has vocalized the need to reform the program by doing away with the categorical eligibility.
Rep. James McGovern's, D-Mass., amendment to restore the $20 billion in suggested cuts failed, as well as an amendment from Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., to offer a "compromise" on the nutrition cuts in line with the Senate's passed $4.1 billion.
On the Senate side, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., attempted to preserve the $4 billion in nutrition cuts and also defended many of the loophole changes others proposed.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., introduced an amendment to restrict the categorical eligibility for qualifying for food stamps. In a media call with reporters Thursday, Stabenow said that policy doesn't have support in the U.S. Senate and she'll continue to look for ways to provide savings in nutrition spending by tackling abuse and misuse and rejects the level of cuts and how the House treated nutrition spending.
Last year the Senate's proposal was not supported by Southern producers, especially rice and peanut growers, seeking a price support safety net rather than depending on the enhanced crop insurance or shallow-loss revenue approach favored by Midwestern crop interests.
Former ranking member Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., opposed the bill this year saying it stepped away from the reform proposed last year and instead is a "rearview mirror bill" that takes policy back to the days where the government support influenced production practices and in turn distorts markets.
Debate in the Senate explained that just because rice and peanuts wanted the option to participate, other commodities should not be included as to open them up to World Trade Organization challenges similar to what Brazil did against U.S. cotton. Johanns said by including all commodities the ability to choose the Adverse Market Protection (AMP) program, it is exasperating the trade ramifications. He said if the higher target prices are used, he expects more WTO challenges and those challenges "will be successful."
One of the other major debates in the House markup occurred in the commodity title's Dairy Security Act (DSA), authored by Peterson. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., introduced an amendment similar to last year which would remove the supply management mechanism in DSA.
The bill failed on a vote of 20-26, but not without vetting the topic as to the benefits and pitfalls of supply management on producers, processors and consumers.
In calling for support of the amendment, Goodlatte said the supply management component was "soundly rejected by House and Senate leadership" and said the supply control hurts producers as well as dairy food manufacturers by stifling growth.
Peterson countered that an extra 2% oversupply of milk collapses the system, and the supply management component was needed to keep the taxpayers off the hook. He said the overproduction stems back from 20 years ago when corn was subsidized and offered corn too cheap and the livestock industry expanded to take advantage of cheap feed.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains opposed to Peterson's supply management approach, and many said this provision prevented the House from tackling the farm bill in 2012. Goodlatte likely will again introduce his amendment on the full House floor.
Again this year during the House markup Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced and received approval of his Protect Interstate Commerce Act. It prohibits states enacting laws that place conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders, but are produced in other states, similar to what states such as California have done with Prop 2. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., challenged that the bill would supersede 150 laws in various states if the amendment would become law. The debate proceeded to focus on the philosophical discussion over the 10th amendment and states' rights versus the role the federal government plays in interstate commerce and what some say is trade protectionism between states. An attempt by Denham to amend King's original bill to allow for the exclusion of the current 150 impacted laws failed 13-33, and King's amendment passed on a voice vote.
The Senate did not include the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) / United Egg Producers (UEP) language that would codify an agreement between the two to seek federally mandated production practices for the egg industry, a move welcomed by beef and pork groups, but was disappointing to UEP who had hoped to use the farm bill as a vehicle for final approval. Stabenow, a cosponsor of the original egg bill, said it is the patchwork approach from states that requires a national production standard for eggs, but there wasn't the support to put it into the farm bill. She said she disagrees with opponents who say it could lead to a slippery slope and would continue working with egg producers to find a solution. (Video on egg bill's inclusion.)
A thorough vetting lasting nearly an hour occurred in the House on an amendment proposed by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., that allows for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow for the creation of a checkoff for organic producers. The amendment was approved, but not before Lucas and others voiced concerns that the language promotes a process versus product-based checkoff. Schrader said if organic producers choose to institute a checkoff program, it would provide for ways for growers to pay for research and increase awareness of its products. The Senate approved a similar amendment, but with much less debate.
An amendment to prohibit USDA from moving forward on its proposed Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) rule also passed in the House. The bill replicates what appropriators have approved in the past three years. Peterson said the GIPSA rule first came about during the 2008 Farm Bill discussion when he forced parties to come up with a compromise. Unfortunately the result was that the "department overreached," Peterson said. He conceded though that by eliminating USDA's ability to do anything, it probably overreaches in the other direction. "This is a lesson to people not to overreach," he warned.
Whole farm insurance
Like the Senate bill, the House approved an amendment that would direct USDA to create a new Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management insurance program for farms growing a diversity of crops and livestock. The Senate liability level was set at $1.5 million, and after a failed attempt in the House to increase it to the same, another amendment from Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., to lower it to $1.25 million did pass. The policy will result in no additional cost to the federal government, will lower costs for producers and increase efficiencies in specialty crop insurance by allowing producers a no hassle option for insuring against risks.
An amendment to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) was introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R., Ga.), but then withdrawn. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., did the same during the Senate farm bill consideration. Although not voted on by either committee, it is likely the repeal attempt will again come up as an amendment on the floor in one or both of the chambers. The U.S. Department has until May 23 to release its final rule to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling requiring changes to the rule first called for in the 2002 Farm Bill and again modified in 2008 Farm Bill discussions. Legislators remain mixed on support for COOL.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., introduced several amendments in an attempt to simplify the conservation title. However, Stabenow encouraged many to vote against, as not to interfere with support that was won from both environmentalists and agricultural groups who forged an agreement on including conservation compliance to crop insurance. The historic conservation pact approved as part of the manager's amendments required conservation compliance for crop insurance in exchange for no amendments imposing means testing, payment limitations or premium subsidy reductions for the crop insurance program. The House did not include the compromise provision.
An amendment from Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., to end the duplicative U.S. Department of Agriculture catfish inspection program was also approved. She said the program will save taxpayers $14 million a year. Rep. Rick Crawford, R., Ark., was disappointed in the vote, but said he would attempt to overturn the change on the floor.