With this Congress every measure has often been wrapped up in the deadline. Budget moves that go right to the very edge, debt votes that pressure both parties. As farmers across the country try to work out their short- and long-term plans for the future, they're working in the dark without a new farm bill.
Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a move some skeptics had thought wouldn't happen. He started the process of moving the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill forward. The measure - S.3240 called the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 - was brought to the floor this week and a cloture vote is scheduled for Thursday.
The Senate will debate the motion to proceed with the bill today (Wednesday) with the anticipation that full debate on the measure would proceed. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair, Senate Ag Committee has said for the record several times that she confirms the end of direct payments and feels there are the needed 60 votes for cloture on the measure of needed.
There was talk that Reid would not introduce the measure for full debate ahead of the July 4 recess, and farm groups have long voiced concern about moving forward without a new bill. In response to the Senate move Tuesday, National Corn Growers President Garry Niemeyer issued a statement: "The National Corn Growers Association appreciates the actions taken today by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to move forward with Senate consideration of the 2012 farm bill this week. We support this action and look forward to working with members of the Senate to pass this important legislation and urge action before the July 4th congressional recess."
Meanwhile, groups continue their push to change key parts of the Senate version and influence moves on the upcoming House version. A long list of foodies and food groups have written an open letter to Congress calling for significant reforms of the proposed crop insurance measures in any new farm bill legislation. The group that includes foodies including Rick Bayless, Mario Batali and Alice Waters, along with long-time farm policy critic Michael Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, signed on to the letter that says the current bill as written "would spend billions to guarantee income for the most profitable farm businesses in the country. This would come primarily in the form of unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to industrial-scale growers who can well afford to pay more for their risk management costs. Crop insurance programs must be reformed to work better for diversified and organic farmers and to ensure comprehensive payment caps or income eligibility requirements. Otherwise, this so called "safety net" becomes an extravagant entitlement for affluent landowners and insurance companies."
Debate over farm bill legislation has changed in the past two versions. The 2008 Farm Bill was more contentious as more food-focused groups have called for more significant reform. The 2012 measure is sure to see its share of debates. Stabenow, during a conference call earlier in the week, said she would not have a manager's amendment to the Senate measure, allowing for amendments from the floor.
While supporters of restoring proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been vocal, there's also concern among some in the Senate over regional changes needed for the current safety net provisions of the bill.
With the July 4 deadline looming, along with the bigger pressure of fall elections, the Senate and House would have to move quickly. The House version of the farm bill has not been finished, though there is talk that markup could begin yet this month. The clock is ticking if Congress wants to approve a farm bill in this session.