Farm bill amendment votes on hold

Senate leaders announced there would be no votes on amendments to the 2012 farm bill (S. 3240) before June 18.

Senate leaders announced there would be no votes on amendments to the 2012 farm bill (S. 3240) before June 18.

In prior action, the Senate tabled an amendment which would have terminated the sugar program and another that would have converted the SNAP program to block grants to the states. Throughout the week, there were intense negotiations in an effort to develop a package of amendments that would be considered under a time agreement before proceeding to a vote on final passage. Negotiations included discussion of amendments that are germane to the legislation and amendments that are not germane.

Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) has publicly stated that the list of amendments to be debated must include amendments that would prohibit promulgation of any regulations prohibiting youth from working on family farms, prohibit any regulations on nuisance/farm dust, prohibit changes in the definition of waters of the United States, and one addressing implementation of certain provisions of Dodd-Frank. Among other non-germane amendments that have held up the process is a proposal from Sen. Paul (R-KY) to cut off aid to Pakistan due to that country's prosecution of a doctor who helped US forces locate Osama Bin Laden in ’11.

As debate continued, there were reports that Sens. Conrad (D-N.D.) and Chambliss (R-Ga.) were working on an amendment to create a new countercyclical payment program as a way to address concerns from peanut and rice growers that the pending legislation doesn't provide them with a safety net.

Senators had filed more than 250 amendments by June 14 when votes were postponed on an amendment by Sen. Coburn (R-Okla.) to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and an amendment by Sen. DeMint (R-S.C.) to convert all funding in the farm bill from mandatory to discretionary.

Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich.) said in floor remarks that she is “very optimistic as we move forward in this process.”

Crop insurance has been a point of contention and with the elimination of certain commodity programs in the Senate farm bill, including direct payments and counter-cyclical payments, crop insurance has become the key component of the safety net. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the Senate farm bill would cost $969 billion over 10 years, with crop insurance programs accounting for about 10 percent of total costs. Although there has not been agreement on which of the more than 250 amendments may be considered, it appears two bipartisan proposals on crop insurance subsidies to limit eligibility and premium subsidies could be difficult to defeat.

An amendment by Sens. Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Toomey (R-Pa.) would set a $40,000 limit on premium subsidies farmers can receive from the government. According to a Shaheen spokesman, the $40,000 limit was chosen because it is the limit currently applied to direct payments. The CBO estimated the amendment would save $5.2 billion over 10 years.

An amendment proposed by Sens. Coburn (R-Okla.) and Durbin (D-Ill.) would reduce premium subsidies by 15% for farmers with an adjusted gross income greater than $750,000. According to Coburn's office, CBO estimates the amendment will save $1.2 billion over 10 years. A Coburn spokesman told the Bureau of National Affairs that the 15 percent limit was decided on in order “to generate a reasonable amount of savings.”

In anticipation that the Coburn-Durbin amendment could pass, Sen. Thune (R-S.D.) has filed an amendment to delay implementation of applying the income test unless USDA can certify that the results would not increase the program’s cost, would not reduce participation, or result in higher premiums for remaining participants.

Other amendments that are a concern include a proposal by Sen. Coburn to cut Market Access Program (MAP) funds by $40 million per year and prohibit certain promotion programs, and an amendment by Sen. DeMint to convert all commodity check off programs from mandatory to voluntary. Other amendments include a proposal by Sen. Cardin (D-MD) to tie conservation compliance to crop insurance eligibility and an amendment by Sens. Begich (D-Alaska) and McCain (R-Ariz.) that would require disclosure of subsidy recipients. An amendment by Sen. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would cut subsidy payments to insurance companies and restore a $4 billion funding cut to nutrition programs.

The NCC is actively working with various coalitions in opposition to amendments that would: limit or restrict eligibility for crop insurance, reduce or restrict MAP, and modify existing research and promotion programs.

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