Senate Starts Farm Bill Debate

DC Dialogue

Over 90 amendments attached to farm bill, many unrelated to agriculture, will be debated over the next two to three weeks.

Published on: June 8, 2012

The farm bill has many steps to go but cleared one hurdle Thursday in the Senate after senators voted 90-8 to invoke cloture and proceed on the bill. Debate is expected to last two to three weeks.

The Senate Farm Bill (Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act) ends direct payments and instead protects farmers from substantial losses with an Agriculture Risk Coverage shallow-loss program. The proposed bill is said to save taxpayers $23 billion while strengthening and streamlining programs.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and her committee counterpart Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will together manage consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill on the Senate floor. Earlier in the week Stabenow said there will not be a manager’s amendments, or approved upon lump of amendments from the leaders, but instead the process will allow for an open debate on the bill.

As of Friday morning, 90 amendments had already been filed for the bill, many of which are unrelated to agriculture. An agreement over amendments could be the deciding factor over whether the farm bill moves forward or if it stalls out. Stabenow noted she wants to be fair in allowing for amendments, but also cautioned against unrelated amendments obstructing progress.  

Ag-related amendments range from a ban on ethanol blender pumps to payment limits to limiting crop insurance subsidies. Others include a change to the sugar program, dairy policy reforms and defining navigable waters.

On the crop insurance front, one amendment introduced by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would reduce premium subsidies by 15% for farmers (or legal entities) with adjusted gross income above $750,000. The limit would start with the 2014 reinsurance year. The other approach, backed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Pat Toomey, R- Pa., would limit subsidies for farmer premiums to $40,000 per year.

The White House said it supports the Senate’s bill, however it called for additional crop insurance and commodity program savings consistent with its budget proposal.

The administration also stated it strongly supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp program, which was not subject to cuts in the President’s budget. Nutrition funding could be the lynchpin for the bill.

The Senate version cut $4.5 billion from the SNAP program. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced an amendment seeking to replace the funds from crop insurance. Gillibrand proposes to cut overhead and administration from $1.3 billion per year to $825 million per year and to reduce the rate of return to crop insurance companies from 14% to 12%, a move designed to save $5 billion over 10 years.

Senators may also try to fix what they see as regional discrepancies within the commodity title through the amendment process.

House ag leaders have already been vocal that they will take a different approach to the commodity title than the Senate’s shallow-loss ARC program, which compliments crop insurance against both price and yield losses.