FarmPolicy

December 20, 2014

Senate Farm Bill Issues

Categories: Farm Bill

Farm Bill: Senate Process

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday morning at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday morning that there is still no agreement on which amendments to the farm bill to consider, but said the Senate will eventually find a way to whittle down the more than 200 amendments offered so far.

“‘We can’t do all 250 amendments that are out there, but we can do a lot of them,’ Reid said on the Senate floor.

“‘It’s really disappointing we don’t already have something, but hope is still here, and I hope we can get that done,’ he added. ‘A few senators are holding this up, and that’s too bad.’”

Yesterday evening, Daniel Strauss reported at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate adjourned Thursday without announcing an agreement on which amendments to consider to a farm bill currently under consideration.”

The article noted that, “If legislators do not reach a deal over which amendments to consider, the farm bill could stall in the chamber.

“Reid has already brought a few of the amendments up for a vote through a procedural move called filling the tree which, in the process, blocks other senators from bringing more amendments to the Senate floor. Reid has said that he would continue using the procedural maneuver while legislators work toward a deal on amendments.”

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said late Thursday that she expects early next week to present a consent agreement for completing the farm bill and believes ‘it’s very possible’ to win passage without a difficult cloture vote.

“The Michigan Democrat made her comments fresh from a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.), who has given her a long leash thus far in her talks with Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the ranking Republican on the Agriculture panel. Republicans have described Reid as running out of patience, but Stabenow remains the happy warrior, confident that a deal can be reached and looking ‘forward next week to present something to the body.’

“Stabenow first spoke to a near-empty Senate and then briefly with a pair of reporters outside. Roberts was not present to confirm her optimism, but there is a growing sense in the GOP that she and Roberts could get 60 votes for cloture if it comes to that.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “Individual Republicans are already being promised slots for their amendments as part of the draft agreement, and Stabenow said she and Roberts were ‘very close.’ She left herself room on what path her agreement will follow but suggested it could include both a substitute bill — incorporating changes — and a list of votes on amendments.

“‘We are looking at both,’ she said. ‘We are putting together a consent agreement to do everything.’

“For the rest of the Senate, it has been a waiting game, and to pass the time, senators seem to be cooking up even more amendments — now totaling near 250. Even as Stabenow was meeting with Reid late Thursday, aides were dropping off new entrees on the other side of the chamber. What’s evolved is a legislative chess game— with fresh proposals filed each day in an effort to shape the outcome of the talks.”

Vicki Needham and Peter Schroeder reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The House could begin marking up a farm bill this month if the Senate acts and gives the process momentum. If the Senate fails to pass a bill, the House could be hard-pressed to move a bill before the current farm bill expires at the end of September and farm subsidies revert to 1940s levels.”

And, Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where he noted (unofficial transcript here, audio replay here, (MP3- 10:00)) that, “Here’s what I would tell you. There’s a couple hundred amendments, but I don’t find that shocking. It’s a lengthy bill. It’s a complicated bill. It’s not surprising that, you know, with 100 senators, you know, that would be two amendments per senator.

“But here’s my concern is that we’ve now wasted about three days. Nothing is going on on the floor. We vote on, yesterday, on two handpicked amendments that Harry Reid wants us to vote on. Heck, my attitude is park us down on the floor, let’s start voting, let’s start debating these things. If we work around the clock, so be it. But let’s get this thing done. What I worry about is we’re going to get to a point, Mike, where senators are going to say, ‘Look, I can’t support moving a bill forward that I can’t get a vote on my amendment.’”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from the Senate Ag. Comm. indicated that, “U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today said she is continuing to work closely with the Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Pat Roberts, and Senate leadership on an agreement to move forward with considering more amendments to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill). The bill, which is currently being considered by the full Senate, is a bipartisan reform measure that ends unnecessary subsidies, cuts $23.6 billion in spending, and helps America’s agriculture economy continue to grow. The bill passed out of Committee with bipartisan support on a 16-5 vote and cleared its first procedural vote 90-8 last week.

“‘To provide farmers and small businesses certainty to continue growing the economy, and to achieve major reform of American farm programs, this is a must-pass bill,’ Chairwoman Stabenow said. ‘We have seen now close to 300 amendments offered to the Farm Bill, which illustrates how important this is to our colleagues from every part of the country. We are continuing to make progress toward a final amendment package and I’m confident we’ll do what the American people want to see us do – come together and pass a bill that will cut spending and create jobs.’”

 

Farm Bill: Amendments

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Thursday filed a compromise farm bill amendment aimed at getting southern farm state senators to back the bill.

“The amendment would continue the counter-cyclical target price subsidy that the underlying bill eliminates. That program pays farmers if a commodity market price falls below an amount specified in the law.”

The update explained that, “The Conrad amendment, which he has been working on with [Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)], would raise target prices on all commodities by 5 to 7 percent.

“For rice, this means a price floor of $11 per hundredweight. For peanuts, it would mean a $25.25 per hundredweight price.”

““This is still a work in progress as we seek a responsible bipartisan, multi-regional approach to providing an adequate safety net for farmers, and the fact that the senators from the upper plains are involved is a clear indication that other regions aren’t enamored with ARC,’ Chambliss said through his spokeswoman.”

Mr. Wasson added that, “Conrad intends to make the amendment deficit neutral but it has not yet been scored. Currently the bill pays for the target price support by eliminating crop insurance for peanuts and scaling back crop insurance for other crops.

“Conrad’s office said the Stabenow peanut insurance program is redundant since the Department of Agriculture is working on one anyway.”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at DTN that, “The counter-cyclical payment program would not be eliminated, but extended under an amendment filed Thursday by several senators in an effort to ease complaints of commodity inequities in the farm bill.

The amendment would extend the program through 2017 for every commodity other than upland cotton. It also would raise target prices slightly under the counter-cyclical program, but lower the base-acre calculation used for payments.

“Under the amendment, target prices would be raised for major commodities as well. Wheat’s target price would rise from $4.17 a bushel to $4.46; soybeans would go from $6 a bushel to $6.30; corn, sorghum and feed barley would go from $2.63 a bushel to $2.81; malt barley would go from $2.63 a bushel to $3.57; and rice would go from $10.50 per hundredweight (cwt) to $11.”

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “Rather than eliminate base acres, a new payment formula using base acres would be created. A producer could only receive counter-cyclical payments on 75% of planted or prevented acres, ‘not to exceed 75% of base acres for the covered commodity established for the 2012 crop year.’

“Effectively, that translates into producers being eligible to receive counter-cyclical payments on potentially slightly more than 56% of their base acres.”

The DTN article added that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in a brief interview after a floor speech, called the amendment ‘an important contribution’ that will have to be studied.

“‘I haven’t analyzed it closely. We are certainly looking at the scores on that. It’s certainly something we will evaluate both in the context of the Senate floor as well as conference.’”

A news release yesterday from Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) stated that, “U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and [Toomey] today urged the Senate to support their bipartisan amendment to end excessive federal crop insurance subsidies for large American farming operations.

“The Shaheen-Toomey amendment would cap crop insurance premium subsidies at $40,000, reducing the deficit by about $5.2 billion over 10 years, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) spoke on the floor yesterday on a measure relating to the labeling of food with genetically modified ingredients.  A news release yesterday from Sen. Sanders stated that, “[Sen. Sanders] has proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would let states require that any food or beverage containing genetically-engineered ingredients be clearly labeled.

“Cosponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, the amendment acknowledges that states have the authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.”

Also on the floor yesterday (video here), Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) “spoke about EPA regulatory overreach. Heller joined Senators Barrasso (R-WY), Inhofe (R-OK), and Sessions (R-AL) in filing an amendment to the Farm Bill – as well as stand-alone legislation – that would preserve the current definition of waters of the United States.”

An update yesterday at the National Cotton Council Online stated in part that, “On June 12, Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) filed an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that includes the language of H.R. 872. HR 872 was passed by the House in March 2011 and also was approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee. Senator Hagan’s amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID), would overturn a 2009 federal appeals court ruling requiring farmers to obtain permits for pesticides sprayed over water even though the application is in compliance with the product’s label. It also includes a requirement that EPA and USDA submit a report to Congress on the effectiveness of regulating pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act rather than the Clean Water Act (CWA).”

A news release yesterday from the American Soybean Association stated that, “In a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the American Soybean Association (ASA) joined agricultural stakeholder groups from all corners of the industry in expressing its firm opposition to an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill that would make federal research, promotion and marketing programs—also called ‘checkoffs’—voluntary. ASA and its colleagues called on Sens. Stabenow and Roberts to oppose the measure proposed earlier this week by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).”

Meanwhile, Stephen Dinan noted yesterday at The Washington Times Online that, “Every year, the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to market agricultural products abroad — sending taxpayers’ money to subsidize the advertising campaigns of some of the country’s largest brand names, according to a report by the Senate’s chief waste-watcher.”

“[Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.)] is releasing a report Thursday morning that highlights a number of brands he said don’t need the help when that money could be better spent reducing the government’s deficit,” the article said.

A news release yesterday from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) stated that, “The [NCFC] today strongly opposed a farm bill amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would slash funding for the Market Access Program (MAP), a private-public partnership that helps  to open new doors for farmer-owned co-ops, producer groups and small businesses in overseas markets.

“MAP is administered on a cost-share basis, and is among the few export tools not specifically capped under World Trade Organization rules. The programs help to promote U.S. agricultural exports in countries across the world; small businesses, nonprofit trade organizations, and farmer cooperatives are eligible to receive MAP funds.”

And, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Some Senate Republicans are disputing claims that the new farm bill would save the government money, arguing it would actually jack up federal spending by nearly $400 billion… [S]en. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday morning that far from saving money, the bill would cost an estimated $969 billion over 10 years, up from the $600 billion spent in the 2008 farm bill.”

In other Farm Bill and policy related developments, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Nick Paulson noted yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Comparing Revenue Protection Offered by ARC and SCO”) that, “Previous posts (here and here) have discussed some of the details for the Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) and Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) programs as they are outlined in the Senate Ag Committee’s 2012 Farm Bill. While both programs are designed as risk management tools to provide revenue or yield protection to producers, the programs differ in their proposed design. This post discusses some of those differences, focusing on the prices and yields each program uses in determining payments.”

And Meghan Grebner reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is the latest in restaurant chains to announce it will begin formulating plans to purchase pork from suppliers that do not use gestation stalls.  Vance Fouraker, Cracker Barrel’s vice-president of strategic sourcing says, ‘We’re seeing an evolution in Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding meat produced with higher animal welfare in mind.’  He adds, ‘We recognize that gestation crates may not be the best method to meet higher animal welfare goals and are committed to evolving to sustainable alternatives.’”

Keith Good

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