The cloture motion to limit debate on the Senate version of the 2007 Farm Bill failed yesterday on a vote of 55 to 42.
Four members of the GOP voted in favor of the motion, Sen. Coleman (Minn.), Sen. Thune (S.D.), Sen. Grassley (Iowa) and Sen. Smith (Ore.).
In his comments prior to the vote, Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) stated on the floor of the Senate that he thought the procedural impasse on the 2007 Farm Bill was being orchestrated by the White House.
Specifically, Sen. Harkin stated that, “I see the heavy hand of the White House behind what’s going on here.”
For complete FarmPolicy.com audio coverage of yesterday’s Senate activity on the cloture vote, just click here (MP3- about 11 minutes).
Dan Morgan reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Senate Democrats failed yesterday to break an impasse that has stalled action on a five-year, $286 billion farm bill, increasing the possibility that the legislation could be delayed until next year.
“The 55 to 42 vote to end the deadlock fell short of the 60-vote majority needed. Four Republicans, including two facing election challenges next year, joined a solid bloc of Democrats seeking to force Senate consideration of the huge measure.
“Democrats vowed to take up the bill next month after Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess. ‘This is just the first round,’ said Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). ‘We’ll get it done.’”
The Post article added that, “The immediate cause of the deadlock has been the insistence of Senate Republicans on their right to introduce a series of politically explosive tax and immigration amendments that Democrats deem not relevant. Harkin said yesterday that these include changes in the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, and a ban on issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
“‘They want a political hot-button issue they can take into the campaign,’ Harkin said.
“But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) denied that the deadlock is the fault of Republicans. Democratic leaders, he said, are ignoring the Senate’s tradition of open debate and are asserting an extraordinary right to pick and choose what amendments will be allowed.
“‘We all know we’re going to pass a farm bill,’ McConnell said, adding that similar delays occurred in 2002, when Congress passed the current bill. ‘When the games stopped . . . we passed it in a week,’ he recalled.”
Mr. Morgan also noted that, “Complicating the situation for some GOP farm-state lawmakers is the fact that the White House has issued a veto threat against both the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Bush administration has sharply criticized the Senate’s use of tax increases and budget devices to pay for increased spending, and it contends that Congress needs to do more to overhaul the sprawling farm subsidy system.”
“Harkin predicted it would ‘get pretty warm around here’ for Republican senators if they continued to block consideration of the bill,” the article said.
Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday that, “Harkin charged that Republican leaders were trying to kill the bill in Congress so that President Bush is not put in the awkward position of vetoing a measure crucial to traditionally conservative rural America in the runup to the 2008 elections. The White House has lodged a veto threat against both the House-passed version of the farm bill and its Senate counterpart.
“‘I think some of their political people have told them, ‘you can’t veto a farm bill.’ So what the White House has done is say ‘kill the bill here, kill it.’ . . . I see the heavy hand of the White House behind what’s going on,’ Harkin said.
“Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed such claims, and said Republicans merely were insisting on an opportunity to offer amendments of their choosing, including some that address taxes, immigration and other issues unrelated to the farm bill.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who has worked closely with [Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia)] in trying to pare down the number of amendments, told DTN in an interview that the situation is better than it appears.
“‘I feel much better today than I have for the last week,’ he said.
“Conrad also said discussions are under way with Chambliss and the Republican leadership to limit the number of amendments.
“Conrad said that an extension might be necessary ‘in a worst-case scenario, but we have to keep at it, we have a chance for a breakthrough when we return.’
“Conrad has said that writing a farm bill in late 2008 or 2009 will be more difficult because high commodity prices will further reduce farm subsidies and the farm bill baseline. But today he emphasized that the proposed Senate bill includes savings in many programs and said an extension would be bad policy because legislation ‘jerks from crisis to crisis.’”
And Dow Jones News writer Bill Tomson reported yesterday that, “Several Democratic senators gathered Friday to tell reporters that there is still time this year for the Senate to approve its $286 billion 2007 farm bill and then merge it with a House version and send it to the White House.”
“But Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, reversed earlier pessimistic forecasts, saying, ‘I want to assure everyone that we have not given up. This is just the first round,’” the article said.
Mr. Tomson stated that, “Earlier Friday, before the cloture vote, Harkin warned: ‘It won’t happen if we don’t get cloture. If we don’t get cloture, my friends, there probably won’t be any farm bill.’
“Later, though, he told reporters a lot of negotiating would be taking place over the Senate’s two-week Thanksgiving break.
“‘This bill is going to get done,’ he said, although he mentioned the possibility that it might ‘slip into next year’ before that happens.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Farm state Democrats headed home for the Thanksgiving recess are preparing to blame Republicans for slowing down the legislation. Some Republicans wanted to offer amendments dealing with the alternative minimum tax, immigration and other nonagricultural issues.
“‘I need to explain why the farm bill has been obstructed,’ said South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year. ‘That is no harm to me. I’m afraid the Republicans have some explaining to do.’”
Nicole Gaouette reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “A drive to revamp the nation’s costly farm subsidies died Friday in the Senate, leaving in place a system widely criticized for being out of step with the modern agriculture economy, for favoring crops with minimal nutritional value and for funneling large federal payouts to wealthy investors.
“The Senate’s failure to end debate and move to a vote dashed the hopes of a wide coalition of organizations that had worked to ensure this farm bill would improve child nutrition, increase investments in food stamp programs and benefit taxpayers by trimming government subsidies to large corporate farms.
“For the first time, the farm bill also would have significantly invested in fruits, nuts and vegetable crops, the mainstay of California agriculture. It would have added more money for alternative energy sources, organic farming and conservation programs. And it would have launched a program to improve school lunch nutrition.”
The L.A. Times indicated that, “Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the agriculture committee, pledged to try to bring the bill back to the Senate floor after lawmakers return from their two-week Thanksgiving break. He said he was optimistic it could be on the president’s desk next month, but the Senate faces a full slate of work when it returns, including essential spending bills.”
Later, the article noted that, “There is a strong incentive for lawmakers to act by next year. If a new bill is not passed by the 2008 harvest, funding reverts to levels set in the ‘permanent law,’ which was written in 1949. That would drastically boost subsidies for crops supported at the time, such as cotton and wheat, but crops added later, such as rice, would no longer be eligible.
“Some House Republicans have pushed to extend the 2002 farm bill, a move that would be strenuously opposed by advocates for programs that would receive new funds in the 2007 bill. Alternative energy, as well as fruit and vegetable crops, would receive significant funding in this year’s bill. It would also expand the food stamp program to meet rising levels of hunger in the United States. Physicians have strongly supported one program that would be radically expanded to put fresh fruit and vegetables into all elementary schools, arguing that it would help fight growing rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.”
Brownfield’s Peter Shinn reported yesterday that, “Kansas Representative Jerry Moran, ranking Republican on the House Ag Subcommittee on General Commodities and Risk Management, is co-sponsoring the legislation to extend the current farm bill. During an impromptu visit Friday to the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual convention in Kansas City Friday, Moran told Brownfield an extension of the current farm bill is now inevitable.”
The Brownfield update added that, “But House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson disagreed with Moran’s assessment. Peterson told farm broadcasters [h]e’s not at all excited about extending the current farm bill.
“‘I think it’s a bad idea to be even talking about it, because if we end up with any kind of an extension we’re going to lose momentum,’ Peterson said. ‘And once that happens, we’re probably going to be dead in the water until after the next Presidential election.’
“In fact, Peterson said he’s convinced the real reason for the Senate stalemate on the farm bill has little to do with amendments. Instead, Peterson suggested the Senate’s delay on farm bill action is being driven by President Bush’s veto threat.
“‘Somehow or another he convinced the Republicans he’s going to veto it,’ Peterson explained. ‘And I think that causes them bigger political problems than not getting it done.’”
Chairman Harkin issued a statement yesterday after the cloture vote on the farm bill failed in the Senate, which noted in part that, “I was deeply disappointed by this morning’s vote to block the farm bill. Frankly, I worry that there is a deliberate and orchestrated attempt to derail the farm bill. Indeed, the farm bill is just one car on a much longer train that includes the children’s health insurance bill and most of the appropriations bills. Between Republican filibusters here in the Senate, and President Bush’s barrage of vetoes and veto threats, they seem to be setting up a giant train wreck at the end of this session of Congress. Maybe, the President and Congressional Republicans think a train wreck at the end of this Congress is a good idea. But it is not in the best interests of the American people.”
Dan Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “After the defeat of cloture, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, released this statement:
“‘Let it be known that the Majority Leader shut down the farm bill debate last week, by offering amendments so that no one else can, well before the process even started. I have urged the other side to work with us to come up with a reasonable compromise — the Democrats are choosing which amendments will be offered to this bill by using parliamentary practices, which is simply not agreeable to my Republican colleagues and me. Despite the progress we made, the majority still refuses to dismantle their strategy to block a full debate on the farm bill. Our farmers and ranchers deserve a good farm bill and it is our duty to produce the best possible framework we can that strengthens the food and energy security of the United States.’”
Carl Hulse, writing in today’s New York Times, provided a broader perspective on the hang-ups associated with the 2007 Farm Bill in the Senate.
Mr. Hulse stated that, “Congress departed on Friday for a two-week break, leaving behind a stack of unfinished work as a major farm bill became the latest victim of a stalemate that has bedeviled Congress all year.
“Typically a bipartisan bonanza for rural America, the agriculture policy measure was stalled by a Republican filibuster that summed up the dismal state of relations in Congress.”
Within the broader context of Senate functionality, the Times stated that, “The reasons behind the impasse are numerous and complex. House and Senate Democrats have made some rookie management mistakes in their first year of combined Congressional control.
“They have angered Republicans with occasional heavy-handed treatment, as well as repeated and fruitless votes on the war. And the Democrats have struggled to devise a coherent policy on the annual spending bills despite their frustration at how Republicans had handled them.
“Republicans, facing a difficult election year and bitter about their minority status, have chosen to make things as difficult as possible for Democrats. They have slowed the pace of business to a crawl, forced procedural votes at every opportunity and hammered away at nearly every Democratic initiative.”
With respect to executive branch perspective on the Farm Bill process, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner penned an Op-ed, which was posted yesterday at the Sacramento Bee Online.
In part, Sec. Conner stated that, “Unfortunately, the Senate bill fails to impose meaningful income limits on participation in farm programs. Continuing to direct farm subsidies to people who are among the wealthiest two percent of all Americans is a failure to spend taxpayer dollars wisely. Yet, the Senate bill does just that.
“We also need smart management of limited budget dollars. At a time when commodity prices for many crops are at historic highs and net farm income is projected to increase $28 billion over last year’s level – there is simply no economic reason to boost price support levels. Yet, the Senate bill does.”
The opinion piece added that, “Farmers are straight-up people who appreciate honest bookkeeping. They aren’t getting that with the current Senate farm bill. Congress’ own budget experts confirm that the Senate farm bill relies on $22 billion of accounting gimmicks and $15 billion in new taxes to conceal new spending. That’s $37 billion in all.”
Also, Sec. Conner noted that, “Farm equity has increased approximately $200 billion per year for the past four years, yet Congress wants other industries to bear the cost of expanded farm programs. Is it any wonder that hundreds of editorials have been written across the country criticizing the House and Senate farm bills? If we continue down this course, how can we expect there to be public support for future farm bills?”
The American Farmland Trust issued a press release regarding the 2007 Farm Bill yesterday, which stated that, “Ralph Grossi, president of American Farmland Trust, participated in a press conference with Senators Tom Harkin, Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown, Ken Salazar and Amy Klobuchar along with Tom Buis, National Farmers Union and James Weill, Food Action Research Center. The press conference took place today in the Mansfield Room of the U.S. Capitol and focused on the Senate Farm Bill.”
In part, Mr. Grossi indicated that, “I am speaking on behalf of farmers and ranchers, who are Republicans and Democrats and fiercely independent. They want to improve the environment, they are the stewards of the land, but they are turned away because our conservation programs don’t have enough funding. For these farmers and ranchers, for fruit and vegetable growers, for consumers shopping at farmers markets, and many others—extension of the existing Farm Bill is not an option. Extension would be like driving into the future of U.S. agriculture policy while looking in the rearview mirror. Extension means missed opportunities to protect working farms and ranches, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. Extension means programs that protect wetlands and grasslands will be eliminated. Extension means more farmers and ranchers who want to help the environment will be turned away…and already two out of three are denied assistance.”