Congressional Quarterly writer Catharine Richert reported yesterday that, “After weeks of stalemate, the Senate is prepared to pass the 2007 farm bill on Friday.
“Senators may take up a handful of amendments, and a vote on final passage is expected to follow.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a last-minute decision to invoke cloture on the five-year, $286 billion measure on Thursday night, and the motion to limit debate succeeded 78-12. As a result, only amendments ruled germane by the parliamentarian will be in order on Friday. That process was continuing late Thursday.”
The CQ article indicated that, “Thursday’s cloture vote came after a long day of debate that kicked off with the Senate narrowly rejecting a bid to tighten limits on federal payments to farmers. The amendment by Grassley and Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., would have capped annual farm payments at $250,000 per couple, down from $360,000 in the bill. The measure, which required a 60-vote majority for adoption, was rejected, 56-43.
“The vote was a victory for Southern senators, who had warned that the proposal would lead to the demise of cotton and rice farms in their region. The tally, as is typical on farm issues, broke more along regional lines than partisan ones. Seventeen Republicans and 38 Democrats voted for the amendment, along with Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. Thirty-one Republicans and 11 Democrats opposed it, as did Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.
“One senator, presidential candidate John McCain, R-Ariz., was absent.”
With respect to other key amendments Ms. Richert stated that, “Senators rejected, 48-47, a bid to bar subsidies to full-time farmers making more than $750,000 a year and part-time farmers making more than $250,000 annually. That proposal, offered by Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also required 60 votes for adoption.”
And, “By 32-63, a measure by Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and John E. Sununu, R-N.H., that sought to cut more than $2 billion from the federal crop insurance program and use the savings for improvements to conservation and nutrition programs,” was also rejected yesterday.
Dow Jones News writer Bill Tomson reported yesterday that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he called for cloture because too many amendment requests were piling up and consideration of all of them would have pushed debate on the farm bill well into next week, the last week the Senate will have to conclude spending and other bills this year.
“The U.S. House of Representatives approved its version of the 2007 farm bill – a $286 billion, five-year blueprint for agriculture policy – in July. If the Senate approves its version Friday, both houses of Congress will have to come together to form a unified bill to send to the White House.
“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, agreed with Reid’s decision to call for cloture.
“‘Let’s face it,’ he said, ‘We’ve had enough.’”
And DTN writer Chris Clayton noted yesterday that, “After the cloture vote, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, began working to quickly bring up more amendments for the bill Thursday evening. He said there were at least 11 amendments to consider, though some may be ruled out of order and not germane now that the bill has achieved a cloture vote.
“Harkin also has yet to offer his manager’s amendment to the bill, which could have more than 80 changes that have been cleared by the leadership of both parties but as of yet have not been made part of the public record on the bill. That amendment will be offered sometime before the Senate has a final vote.”
News reports contained more details with respect to some of the Senate amendment votes yesterday; following is a breakdown of additional news items on particular issues.
Brown Crop Insurance Amendment
Chris Clayton, writing yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog, reported on the amendment regarding crop insurance, noting that, “Another farm-bill amendment to watch is an attempt to trim some of the rising administration and operating costs that USDA pays the crop-insurance industry. Spearheaded by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the amendment would cut the profits and expense reimbursements. [Sen. Brown] noted that over the same amount of time it took crop insurers to pay out $10.5 billion in benefits to farmers, the industry collected $19 billion in costs. Profits are averaging 17.8 percent compared to 8 percent for property-casualty lines of insurance. [Sen. Brown] would shift those ‘exorbitant’ administrative costs to other parts of the farm bill. Still, it would not affect producers, he said.”
This FarmPolicy.com podcast from yesterday (MP3- about 12 minutes) contains audio excerpts from the debate on the crop insurance amendment- Senators that are featured include Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). To listen, just click here (MP3).
Grassley-Dorgan Amendment on Payment Limits
Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The Senate refused to cut the $360,000 a year ceiling on crop subsidies per farm on Thursday, the second time in two days it rejected a major reform to its five-year, $286 billion farm bill.”
In part, Mr. Abbott reported that, “Payment limits are a perennially divisive issue in Congress and in farm country. It pits cotton and rice growers in the South against wheat, corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest and Plains, and big operators against small farmers.
“Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln said the farm bill closed onerous loopholes and undermined the case for a $250,000 a year ‘hard’ cap per farm. Senators voted 54-43 for the $250,000 limit but 60 were needed under an agreement to avert a potential filibuster on the issue.
“‘Eighty percent of what’s in their amendment is in the underlying bill,’ Lincoln said. ‘We have made huge strides in reform.’
“The Senate bill would require payments to be tracked to each individual, end the practice of collecting subsidies indirectly and eliminate ‘commodity certificates’ that can be used to evade the $360,000 a year limit set in 2002.”
Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday that, “The amendment by Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, drew a 56-43 vote. But under the unanimous consent agreement governing its consideration, 60 votes were required for adoption. Once it fell short of that threshold, it was withdrawn.
“‘The vote this morning describes a Congress that is not much of a reform Congress,’ said Dorgan.”
Dan Morgan, writing yesterday at The Washington Post Investigations Blog, indicated that, “Grassley and Dorgan were more successful during the last farm bill debate in 2002, when their amendment passed the Senate with 66 votes. It was cut out of the final bill, however, when House and Senate negotiators got together.
“Today’s vote suggests fading appeal for the payment limit issue even in populist-oriented Northern wheat states. Opposing the amendment were Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
“All four Democratic senators competing in the Iowa primary — Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) — voted for tighter limits. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was absent.”
Philip Brasher, writing yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online, noted that, “Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, accused Democratic leaders of agreeing to the 60 vote requirement so southern Democrats wouldn’t filibuster the farm bill and get blamed for blocking its passage.”
Carolyn Lochhead, writing in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, noted that, “California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, voted to limit payments despite pressure from the state’s cotton and rice producers. While the amendment by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, won a 56-43 majority, Democratic leaders had agreed – at the behest of Southern lawmakers pushing hard to protect unlimited payments for cotton and rice growers – to require a 60-vote supermajority to avoid an embarrassing filibuster from their own party.”
The S.F. Chronicle added that, “The failure was a blow to their effort to overhaul the subsidies, and a testament to the power of entrenched single-issue interests in Congress. The fight is not over yet, however; the effort to preserve about $40 billion in subsidies has run into vexing budget problems, bad publicity and a White House veto threat that will complicate efforts to meld the Senate and House bills next month.”
In an update posted yesterday at the Mulch Blog, Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook noted that, “Another spectacular display of Democrats caving to special interests.
“A bipartisan, majority vote of 56 in favor of tightening subsidy limits on the biggest, wealthiest farms in the country was not enough to ensure passage this morning.
“That’s because parliamentary sabotage engineered by Democrats in favor of the subsidy lobby required a super majority vote of 60 for the Dorgan-Grassley payment ‘limit’ amendment to prevail. As a result, this Congress will perpetuate the current, unlimited taxpayer handouts to big rice and cotton farms.”
And The Washington Post editorial board noted in today’s paper that, “An amendment to the 2007 farm bill that would have limited federal payments to well-to-do farmers failed in the Senate yesterday. The vote was 56-43 — in favor of the measure. How can a bill backed by a substantial bipartisan majority not pass? Welcome to the wonderful world of agriculture politics.”
The Post indicated that, “Ms. Lincoln [Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas)] had the right to filibuster the amendment, which could have caused a fight with only two possible outcomes: a defeat for Ms. Lincoln or a delay in the subsidy-rich farm bill. Not willing to risk either difficulty, the Democratic Senate leadership came up with a special voting rule for the Dorgan-Grassley amendment. Under the rule, the measure proceeded to an up-or-down vote, but with 60 votes — the same number it takes to block a filibuster — required for passage, rather than the usual simple majority. The same rule applied to proposals by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to cut off payments for farm households with annual incomes exceeding $750,000 and by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to trim the bloated crop insurance program. Ms. Klobuchar’s measure also went down to defeat with 48 votes in favor and 47 against. Mr. Brown’s lost as well.
“Now Ms. Lincoln has something to crow about on her next trip to the cotton and rice fields of Arkansas. But for a Democratic Party ostensibly committed to fiscal discipline, majority rule and economic equality, this episode is a major embarrassment.”
To listen to Senate floor arguments for and against the Grassley-Dorgan Amendment, see this FarmPolicy.com podcast from Wednesday.
Klobuchar Amendment – Adjusted Gross Income Limitation
David Rogers, writing yesterday evening at The Wall Street Journal Online, reported that, “The second amendment sought to deny all commodity subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross income above $750,000 a year; individual producers who earn less than two-thirds of their income from farming, ranching or forestry operations would be subject to a tighter $250,000 ceiling.
“The Bush administration has proposed an even lower eligibility standard of $200,000 for both full and part-time farmers for commodity programs. This week the Agriculture Department threw its support behind the Senate proposal, but it nonetheless failed 48-47.
“‘I knew this would be an uphill struggle,’ said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and the freshman Democrat was hampered by Senate absences and strong opposition from more powerful colleagues like Ms. Lincoln [Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas)], who could trade on her ties not only in agriculture but as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.”
The Journal article noted that, “Ms. Lincoln said the proposed tighter income standards for part-time farmers were most serious for family-owned operations in her state. One brother, farming the land, may rely on second brother, a successful local attorney, to co-sign for operating loans, for example, but the second brother could be excluded by the $250,000 cap.
“But Sen. Klobuchar countered that farm state lawmakers must embrace more change if they are to save the underlying subsidy program. ‘I we don’t do it in the farm states, it will be done to us,’ said the Minnesota Democrat.
“‘When we battle the budget battles we have ahead of us, we have to look at each thing we are doing and think is this fair?’ Ms. Klobuchar said. ‘We have a limited amount of money and we have to deal Social Security and Medicare and all these issues. If we can’t even say that for farmers making over $750,000, we’re going to put some limits on these government checks, I really don’t understand how we are going to grapple with these tougher issues. It’s a matter of fairness.’”
Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner issued a statement yesterday regarding the amendment vote, which noted in part that, “‘The Administration has consistently supported lowering the Adjusted Gross Income eligibility for commodity programs, and although this amendment does not go as far as our proposal in advancing reform, it clearly was a step in the right direction. Its defeat signals yet another missed opportunity by the Senate to enact true reform,’ said Conner.
“‘The current farm bill is flawed, and continues to award the wealthiest two percent of Americans with support payments. The Klobuchar amendment would have been a good start in reforming this policy, and it is unfortunate that the Senate failed to enact this much needed reform,’ added Conner.”
To listen to Senate floor arguments for and against the Klobuchar Amendment, see this FarmPolicy.com podcast from Sunday.
A Look Ahead
Michael Doyle, writing in today’s Sacramento Bee provided a look at what is ahead with respect to the Senate Farm Bill, noting that, “The Senate was on the verge of approving a $286 billion farm bill Thursday night after repeatedly shrugging off self-styled reform efforts.
“Now the real fight begins.
“The 1,360-page bill set for approval early today already has drawn a presidential veto threat. House and Senate members must resolve key differences. The coming election year will complicate the politics immensely.”
Mr. Doyle noted that, “The next steps will take place behind closed doors, as congressional staffers start reconciling the Senate bill with its 742-page House counterpart.
“Many differences are minor. The Senate, for instance, includes a $15 million aid program for asparagus producers. The House does not. The House bill sets up a ‘biomass from biofuels’ internship program specifically targeting students from California, Missouri and Georgia. The Senate bill does not.
“The formal congressional negotiators, including Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, will start meeting in January. The trickier part will come as lawmakers confront the potential presidential veto.
“The Bush administration says the House and Senate farm bills are packed with taxes and budget gimmicks and lack sufficient reform. Key political questions center on whether Bush is really willing to cast an election year veto over a bill popular in Republican states, and whether Democrats can peel away enough GOP members to overcome the president’s resistance.”
DTN writer Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a new energy bill Thursday night that would establish a 36-billion-gallon renewable fuels standard and should give a boost to the nation’s burgeoning biofuels industry.
“The legislation would also offer the largest boost in the nation’s fuel-economy standards since standards were established in 1975.
“Senators passed the legislation 86-8 late Thursday after the bill had failed to garner enough votes for passage earlier in the day. Senate leaders stripped a $21 billion tax provision from the bill to garner broad bi-partisan support.”
Mr. Clayton explained that, “Senators now return the bill to the House, which is expected to take it up for potential final passage as early as next week.
“The energy bill would steadily increase the nation’s renewable fuels standard from the current 7.5 billion gallons to as high as 36 billion gallons by 2022. Under those provisions, ethanol from corn would be allowed to produce as much as 15 billion gallons. Increased levels from ethanol after that would have to come from other feedstocks, including sugar or cellulosic materials.”
“The RFS provisions were trumpeted by agricultural groups representing grain producers, while livestock groups and meatpackers joined the coalition of oil natural gas companies and manufactures that attempted to defeat the measure.
“The bill increased the RFS to 9 billion gallons in 2008 and steadily increases the RFS to 15.2 billion gallons in 2012, rising to 20.5 billion gallons by 2015, up to 26 billion by 2018 and 30 billion gallons by 2020. The bill tops out at 36 billion gallons in 2022,” the DTN article said.
John J. Fialka reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, told reporters the House would approve the bill next week. Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said: ‘By addressing the concerns of the administration and moving forward with a bipartisan approach, senators have taken steps to improve our economic and energy security. If this legislation makes it to the president’s desk, he will sign it into law.’”