FarmPolicy

October 30, 2014

Senate Farm Bill Debate Underway: Sens. Klobuchar & Chambliss Speak on Payment Issues

Categories: Farm Bill

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported on Thursday that, “The Senate could pass its $288 billion farm bill to boost food stamp benefits and for the first time guarantee crop revenue by the end of next week under an agreement on Thursday that broke a month-long impasse.”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “‘With swift action in the Senate, this bill can pass our chamber by the holiday recess,’ said Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin in a statement. Only hours before, the Iowa Democrat warned that a parliamentary ‘train wreck’ might derail the bill.

“There are roughly two weeks left in this year’s session. Farm groups say it will be impossible for Congress to enact a new farm law this year. The White House has threatened to veto the Senate bill, as well as the House version passed in July.

“If the Senate passes its bill this month, House and Senate negotiators could draft a final version early next year to send to the president,” the article said.

Congressional Quarterly reported on Friday that, “After reaching a last-minute deal on amendments to the farm bill, lawmakers resumed debate Friday on the five-year reauthorization measure.

“Under the deal, the Senate will debate up to 40 amendments, with the first roll-call votes scheduled for Dec. 11. Republicans may offer 20 amendments of their choosing, with Democrats permitted to offer the same number.”

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said there would be no votes Friday or Monday, but senators were free to offer amendments. Votes on amendments will be held Tuesday.

“Harkin said he hopes to finish the farm bill by the end of next week. ‘Maybe that’s a little optimistic,’ he said. Harkin also told reporters if the Senate finishes the bill next week, it might be possible to complete a conference with the House before Christmas, though it is more likely a conference report will be completed in January.”

On the issue of an executive branch veto threat, Mr. Hagstrom added that, “According to lobbyists, the real issue for the White House is the revenue raisers in each version that Democrats say close loopholes and Republicans say are tax increases. A meat lobbyist said this week that the White House calculation will come down to a decision about whether there is more to gain in helping Republican candidates by sticking to a position of being unwilling to raise taxes or whether there is more political danger in being blamed by the Democrats for not getting the farm bill done.”

Also on the veto issue, Dale Hildebrant reported on Friday at the Farm & Ranch Guide (North Dakota) Online that, “When asked about the threatened Presidential veto of the Farm Bill, [House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)] indicated he has a plan of action in mind to gain President Bush’s support.

“As soon as the Senate passes the bill and it goes to conference committee, he said he would call the President and ask for the opportunity for just the two of them to sit down and figure out what needs to be done to hammer out the differences.

“‘I think we can do that. I may have to agree to some stuff I don’t like, but if we can get all of these other people out of this thing and just sit down and say, ‘Look, for the betterment of the country’, hopefully we can work this out. That’s my plan.’”

And Tom Hintgen reported on Saturday at The Daily Journal Online (Minnesota) that, “U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, said Friday during a conference call with The Daily Journal and other area news media representatives that a bi-partisan agreement will likely lead to passage of the five-year farm bill in the U.S. Senate in the near future.”

The article added that, “Coleman said Friday he is confident President Bush will sign the bill, and not opt for a presidential veto.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Bogardus reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Even if the Senate finishes a bill, a difficult conference with the House likely awaits, probably in 2008. ‘There is no doubt that conference will be tougher,’ said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. His trade group is part of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which pushed for a farm bill vote in a letter to senators last week.

“Guenther said the agreement is a positive step, but warned the bill will have to be modified in conference, and must still win the approval of President Bush, who has threatened to veto the House and Senate farm bills.

“[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] insisted the Senate would finish the bill before adjourning for the year. ‘We’re going to move through and finish this farm bill before we head home,’ he said in a Friday floor speech.”

In more specific news reports highlighting Senate floor action from Friday, Reuters news reported on Friday (via DTN) that, “With the Senate close to passing a $286 billion farm bill, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar proposed language on Friday to deny subsidies to wealthy investors and hobby farmers with well-paying jobs in town.

“‘I do not believe we should be handing money out to multimillionaires when the payments should be targeted to family farmers,’ Klobuchar, a Democrat, said in a preview of showdown votes next week on reform of crop subsidy rules.”

The Reuters article went on to explain that, “Klobuchar proposed more stringent rules on who qualifies for subsidies. She would curb payments to large farmers as well as blocking payments to nonfarmers.

“At present, people with incomes up to $2.5 million in adjusted gross income are eligible for crop subsidies and land stewardship payments. The Senate farm bill has a $750,000 AGI limit beginning with the 2010 crop year.

“In both cases, there is no AGI limit for people who get most of their money from agriculture.

“Klobuchar proposed a $750,000 limit for ‘full time’ farmers and a $250,000 limit for ‘part-time’ farmers who get less than 66 percent of their income from farming.”

The Reuters article also stated that, “Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss said Klobuchar was promoting ‘an unreasonable AGI test’ that does not reflect modern agriculture, which relies on high-cost equipment and land but has small profit margins.”

Senator Chambliss issued a press release on Friday, which stated that, “U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today took to the Senate floor in opposition of an amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007. The amendment would address changes to the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) test and ultimately jeopardize the agriculture safety net. Sen. Chambliss noted in his floor speech the pending farm bill already includes a provision that reduces the income level for determining program eligibility by 70 percent over a period of two years.

“‘I have worked diligently with members of the Agriculture Committee over the last several months to try to make additional reforms to the payment limit issue from the 2002 farm bill to this farm bill,’ said Sen. Chambliss. ‘We have made significant reforms by reducing the $2.5 million AGI limit down to $1 million in 2009 and $750,000 by 2010.’

“‘The committee reported farm bill currently before the Senate also eliminates the so-called ‘three-entity rule’ whereby individuals could also be members of a trust, corporation, limited partnership or other similar entity and each of those entities were also eligible for a separate limitation. Additionally, this bill includes provisions that would requires the Secretary to directly attribute farm program benefits paid to an individual or legal entity back to a natural person regardless of the nature of the farming operation earning those payments.’”

To listen to audio excerpts from the Senate floor debate on this issue from Friday, see this FarmPolicy.com podcast (MP3- about 17 minutes).

The podcast includes audio from Sen. Klobuchar explaining her amendment in detail, and also includes audio of her arguments for why the amendment should be supported. The podcast also features rebuttal arguments from Sen. Chambliss, who made a case that the amendment should not be passed. To listen to these back and forth comments from the two Senators, just click here.

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In more specific Farm Bill reporting regarding lawmakers, Carolyn Lochhead reported in Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle that, “Senate leaders agreed Friday to move forward on a giant $288 billion farm bill, forcing California’s two senators to make tough decisions next week on legislation that will help shape the American diet and will affect environmental stewardship of millions of acres across the country for the next five years.”

Ms. Lochhead noted that, “California’s huge fresh produce industry, which dwarfs farm output in other states, could play a decisive role in whether Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, support the overall bill or any of the 40 proposed amendments.

“For the first time since farm programs were devised during the 1930s Dust Bowl era, California’s fruit and vegetable growers would get $2.2 billion under the bill. The money would pay for marketing, research and nutrition programs aimed at boosting production and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The S.F. Chronicle article went on to explain that, “Boxer and Feinstein have been working actively on the bill behind the scenes while declining to say how they will vote.

“Two amendments are considered critical. One by Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., would eliminate all crop subsidies and replace them with free insurance for all farmers. Another by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would limit payments to $250,000 for each farm but keep the subsidy structure intact.

“Both would divert the savings to the reformers’ wish list.

“The produce industry takes no position on payment limits but staunchly opposes the Lugar-Lautenberg proposal because by ending current farm programs, it would also end a ban on planting fruits and vegetables on land now used to grow subsidized crops.

“‘We believe what we’ve gotten from the House and Senate is what’s best for our industry,’ [Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers, which represents fruit, nut and vegetable growers] said. ‘It’s in line with what we want, and it more clearly reflects the economic interests of our industry.’”

The article added that, “Boxer said earlier this week that she is analyzing how amendments ‘impact our state, what does it mean to our specialty crops, what does it mean to our consumers? So I will vote for as much reform as I feel helps our consumers and the state.’”

Keith Good

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