While Pat Roberts, R-Kan., might consider himself a "glass half empty" guy, he told reporters Wednesday that he's pretty optimistic about the possibility of getting the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill to the floor for full debate and a vote. Roberts, and his colleague, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is chair of the Senate Ag Committee, held a press briefing to discuss the measure.
Essentially, Stabenow notes that this is a bipartisan bill and the "most significant reform in ag policy in decades." She notes that based on this bipartisan measure "direct payments are over" and that farmers won't be paid for crops they don't grow or acres they don't plant. The direction is a farm bill built around risk management that provides help when farmers need it, she says.
"This bill treats every covered commodity in every state the same way," she notes. "This is a market-oriented program." The multi-year design means that when prices fall, farmers will have a safety net and it doesn't support high prices forever it "complements crop insurance, the basic foundation of our risk management system."
Stabenow and Roberts, both highly complementary of each other during the press call, both point to the true deficit reduction in the new bill. The estimate is $23 billion, although a final scoring from the Congressional Budget Office is still in the wings. "This is real money in cuts and its going to help reduce the deficit and move to a system that is market-oriented," Stabenow adds. "This is not smoke and mirrors."
Perhaps the most important point of the call, which came a day after a letter from 45 Senators was handed to Senate leadership asking that the farm bill move to the floor for open debate, is the push that the farm bill must be passed before the election. "Congress cannot kick the can down the road, farmers need certainty," Stabenow says.
Roberts chimed in that his farmers will start considering planting options for wheat in September and their bankers will want to know what kind of farm program will be available then. "I want to echo the chairwoman on the need to expedite this farm bill, and that means soon," he says. "We worked together to get something that went through markup in four-and-a-half hours, that's the fastest a farm bill has gone through committee in seven of the bills I have worked with."
Roberts the urgency is there because the farm bill should be passed before fall. "We don't want to go into 2013 to work on the bill, or risk working on it during a lame duck session," he notes.
Both Stabenow and Roberts say they have talked with Senate leadership and that given the bipartisan support of the measure - despite some worries over the end of direct payments and cuts to supplemental nutrition assistance program payments - it should go through the Senate.
Adds Roberts: "The Senate is historically deliberative, that's the nicest way I can put it…[both] sides understand we're up against a deadline and there will be nothing but problems if we kick his down the road, if we do not act." He says 45 Senators signed that letter to the leadership, but it would have been more than that - "a majority for sure," Roberts says.