Senate Farm Bill Has Momentum

Senate Farm Bill Has Momentum

Nothing like focus to get a measure moving and that's what's happening with the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Once the consensus vote to move ahead with just 73 of 300-plus amendments to the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill occurred, lawmakers get to work. And they've been moving forward since Tuesday. Votes on a range of amendments from conservation to the Sugar Program have been taken.

MOVING AHEAD: This weeks trimming of amendments, then a full slate of debate, has the Senate finishing its version of the 2012 Farm Bill ahead of the July 4 recess. Vote could come as early as Thursday, 6/21.

Crop insurance, a key safety net provision of the Senate farm bill, is getting tweaked by some amendments passed as lawmakers move forward. The Senate agreed that crop insurance subsidies would be limited for farmers with adjusted gross incomes above $750,000, and amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. In addition, an amendment by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., would require conservation compliance on acres covered.

However, a move by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to limit all farm subsidies for individuals earning more than $250,000 was defeated.

In response to the Chambliss amendment, National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer issued a statement saying NCGA disappointed to see passage of Chambliss' conservation compliance for crop insurance. "Our members have spent a significant amount of time discussing this issue and feel this addition to the farm bill would have a negative impact toward America's farmers. NCGA's official policy states we oppose the coupling of conservation compliance to eligibility for federal crop insurance."

However, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, is in favor of the Chambliss amendment and also issued a statement commending a series of amendments including the Coburn-Durbin amendment on the AGI limit. A measure proposed by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, makes it easier for organic farmers to get crop insurance and to set "appropriate payment levels" for this safety net.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has long been in favor of payment limits and his amendment on the issue will cap marketing loan gains at $75,000, which the Senator says "will help bring about more defensibility for the farm program."

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The Marketing Assistance Program has been under fire, with a proposed amendment that would have cut spending 20% - or by $40 million annually. The amendment also included limits on which international market activities could use the remaining funds. But a combined effort of NCGA, the National Barley Growers Association, the National Sorghum Producers and other allied organizations helped tell the story. The amendment, sponsored by Oklahoma's Coburn, was defeated in debate Wednesday by a 69-30 vote.

The Sugar Program, which was saved in an earlier vote by the Senate, got another "save" this week when a move to limit the scope of the program failed 53 to 46. That measure, proposed by Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Penn., and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., would have limited the scope of the program, including a provision from the 2008 Farm Bill that required the government to buy surplus sugar.

Another Toomey amendment, which would have repealed the Biorefinery Assistance Program, was defeated 63-33. Growth Energy issued a statement in response to that vote noting that the "Biorefinery Assistance Program is instrumental in the production of the next generation of ethanol. This program is in place to foster innovation and American excellence. By rejecting this amendment, the Senate has clearly shown they understand the importance of advanced biofuels and the benefits of cleaner air, job creation and energy security."

An early, high-profile amendment, offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would have restored cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and get that money out of the crop insurance program. The amendment was defeated by a 66-33 vote.

Final vote on the amended Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill is expected this morning. The Senate Farm bill will save $23.6 billion over the next 10 years and has been classified as a significant change by its authors. The program will spend $969 billion over the next 10 years, and more than 80% of those funds go to food assistance programs with direct agricultural support making up less than 20% of the bill (but often the highest profile votes).

Next move is on to the House version of the bill, then reconciliation of both versions for a final measure. The legislation calendar is slipping past, and the speed of the Senate this week has surprised many.

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