What to Watch in Senate Farm Bill Amendments

DC Dialogue

Amendments filed in Senate farm bill discussion impact crop insurance, livestock, energy, trade and marketing.

Published on: May 24, 2013

The Senate began consideration of S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013. Unlike last year when cloture votes and holds on votes limited farm bill debate to just a few days, this year Senators spent last week making floor statements on amendments with only voting on a total of 12 of the nearly 200 filed so far.

The plan from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears to be a desire to tackle the majority of the amendments agreed upon by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess June 3 and wrap up the bill as soon as that first week in June.

Here's a snapshot of amendments.

Crop insurance

The first amendment filed on the bill Monday was from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would eliminate crop insurance for tobacco. McCain introduced the amendment with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Thursday senators voted down the amendment, 44-52.

Stabenow took to the floor after McCain made his case for the elimination of tobacco crop insurance, stating that insurance allows farmers to deal with risk and moving forward there will be a lot of discussion on crop insurance. She asked colleagues to resist sweeping changes to the successful public-private insurance system that does allow farmers to have skin in the game. She cautioned to view the situation through a "broad lens" as farmers move away from direct subsidies.

"As we move towards that broad cornerstone, I urge against efforts to weaken that around the edges," she said of eliminating one crop from being able to participate in crop insurance.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Tom Coburn's, R-Okla., amendment 999 would reduce insurance premiums from 62% to 47% for the richest 1% of farmers with adjusted gross incomes over $750,000 (an estimated 20,000 farmers total). The change would save an estimated $1 billion.

The amendment does delay application of the limitation until completion of a study on the effects of the limitation. Stabenow expressed concern that asking farmers who make the most to pay more, could actually increase premiums on smaller farmers.

The amendment passed, 59-33, but goes against the carefully crafted compromise between commodity, conservation and environmental groups that would allow for conservation compliance be linked to crop insurance participation, but in return would oppose limits to crop insurance eligibility. (View a video exchange on the amendment here between Durbin and Stabenow - transcript also available at this link.)

The fight over crop insurance is far from over. Amendment 926 from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, would limit the level of premium subsidy provided by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to agricultural producers by capping premium support at $50,000.

Amendment 936 from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska., would provide for public disclosure of certain crop insurance information, including the disclosure of names, addresses, and premium subsidy amounts provided to farmers and ranchers.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., introduced three amendments (1012, 1013, 1014) which respectively strike a provision prohibiting the realization of significant budget savings in the event of a renegotiation of the standard reinsurance agreement; prohibit premium subsidies on “harvest price” federal crop insurance policies; and reduce premium subsidies to lower levels provided before the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 (ARPA).

Livestock

Amendment 1011 introduced by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., protects the information of livestock producers and prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from repeating the release of private information to the public.

Amendment 969 introduced by Grassley and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, establishes a special counsel on agricultural competition to coordinate and oversee competition and antitrust enforcement activities among the federal agencies.

Amendment 971 from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., requires the Secretary of Agriculture collect and report information on agriculture consolidation.

Amendment 982 proposed by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Tester prohibits the use of un-priced formula contracts and "requires all marketing arrangements to use firm, fixed base prices for marketing arrangements to ensure that cattle producers are fairly paid for their livestock," according to a group of 34 farm groups who wrote in support of the bill.

Trade

Amendment 1007 from Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., would reduce funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) by 20%. Independent analysis has confirmed that USDA's market development programs generate approximately $35 in foreign sales for every dollar invested. Eliminating or reducing funding for MAP in the face of continued subsidized foreign competition would put American farmers and workers at a substantial competitive disadvantage, supporters say.

Biotechnology

An amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., giving states the right to label genetically modified foods was voted down. Other amendments introduced regarding biotech include Sen. Jeff Merkley's, D-Ore., amendment 978 to strike the Farmer Assurance Provisions which codifies the Secretary of Agriculture's ability to allow science, not courts to dictate whether new crops can be planted. (See my related blog about this provision.)

Two amendments (1025 and 1026) from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would express the sense of the Senate in support of the labeling of GMOs and another to require a report on the methods of labeling genetically engineered foods and impacts of having different state labeling laws in the absence of a federal labeling standard.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, introduced 934 to prohibit the sale of genetically-altered salmon in the U.S. unless raised in land-based, confined facilities.   

Marketing

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced amendment 1083 that would make participation in national checkoffs and promotion boards voluntary. Commodity groups oppose the bill as support remains high for checkoffs and paid for and guided by the farmers they serve. In addition, farmers already have the chance to vote via referendums on approving checkoff renewals.

Energy

Sen. Al Franken’s, D-Minn., amendment 966 would increase mandatory funding for the energy title from $900 million in the Committee-passed bill to $1.3 billion. Amendment 955 introduced by McCain and Flake, would prohibit USDA from funding flex pump installations. Amendment 961 introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe , R-Okla., would allow for states to opt-out of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Amendment 966 introduced by Senators Bob Corker, R-Tenn-and Manchin, D-W. Va., would amend the RFS to lower advanced biofuel requirements in accordance with the lowering of cellulosic requirements.

Tax

Sen. Mike Lee's, R-Utah, has proposed amendment 1021 that would permanently repeal the estate tax.