The Senate voted 90-8 to begin debate on the 2012 Farm Bill, S. 3240, “The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act.” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) are working together in trying to get this bipartisan bill passed. Senator Stabenow told the Senate, “If Congress cannot come together in a bipartisan way and pass this bill, it will create tremendous uncertainty and job losses in communities all across America and have a serious impact on economic recovery.”
Senator Roberts reminded members of the Senate that if it fails to pass a farm bill, federal programs will revert to the 1949 act and that would create “chaos in the countryside.” Stabenow and Roberts continue to highlight the major changes in this bill – cuts over $23 billion in mandatory spending; eliminates four commodity programs – direct payments, counter-cyclical program, Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program and Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) program and replaces them with a single, new revenue-based program and also increases emphasis on crop insurance; streamlines 23 conservation programs into 13 programs to avoid duplication; and eliminates and streamlines over 100 programs and authorizations in the bill.
They argue the bill reforms, reduces and streamlines programs while maintaining a safety net for the farmers and ranchers, natural resources and the needy. There could be over 200 amendments offered during the Senate debate. Some amendments that are expected include:
- Senator Grassley (R-IA) has filed an amendment that would ban a packer from owning, feeding or controlling livestock 14 days prior to slaughter.
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)-United Egg Producers (UEP) – Implement the HSUS-UEP agreement on laying hen cages.
- Commodities – There will be a number of amendments concerning the various commodity programs. Southern crops, especially rice and peanuts, have major objections to the bill.
- Crop Insurance – There will be a number of amendments concerning crop insurance. They include cap crop insurance premium subsidies, linking crop insurance participation to conservation compliance and cuts to crop insurance. Senators Coburn (R-OK) and Durbin (D-IL) have filed an amendment that would cut premium subsidies by 15% for farmers with annual adjusted gross income exceeding $750,000, projected to save $1.2 billion over 10 years.
- Nutrition – The committee bill cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) by approximately $4.3 billion over 10 years. There will be amendments to cut the program further and there will be an amendment to restore the cuts.
- Payment Limitations – A possible amendment to further limit program payments to producers.
- Sugar – Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) have filed an amendment that would phase out the sugar program.
- Blender Pumps – Prohibit federal funds from being used for the installation of blender pumps.
There are some senators who are talking of offering nonfarm bill amendments (aid to Pakistan, effects of defense cuts, ban federal funds for national political conventions, etc.), which will cause major problems.