Thursday, June 14, 2012

Senate Farm Bill Reauthorization- Bipartisan Success or Partisan Failure

Link to Senate Ag Website
The long reauthorization process began in earnest earlier this spring with series of hearings on conservation, rural development, healthy food initiatives, risk management and commodities in what was seen as the buildup to the 2012 Farm Bill. The anticipated action finally came to fruition in late April: the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the FY13 Agricultural Appropriations bill and the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill. Chairwoman Stabenow officially introduced the Farm Bill into the Senate on May 24th. The bill has been heralded as a bipartisan success in deficit reduction and job creation, but there are obstacles that can make it a partisan failure.

Current Issues:

Amendments- Over 200 amendments have since been filed and many are not related to agriculture. This has led Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to fill the amendment tree, a procedural move that allows him to filter which amendments will be considered on the floor. This has angered several Republican Senators. Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking member Pat Roberts (R-KS) say they are currently working with members to narrow down the pool of 200+ amendments into a group of 40 amendments to be debated and voted on. If Republicans feel unfairly treated, the bill may be killed with procedural moves.

Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) - Budget Hawks are looking to cut more funds from SNAP (formerly food stamps) while other members are looking to restore funds ALREADY cut from SNAP. This will likely be a sticking point if the House passes a Farm bill because SNAP is already starting at a much lower level.

Commodities/Crop Insurance- Southern Senators with large constituencies of rice and peanut farmers still feel that they are being treated unfairly in the new crop insurance structure. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) is leading the charge with an amendment that addresses this concern. Unfortunately, Sen. Stabenow and Roberts DO NOT believe this amendment “fits well” with the market based approach to crop insurance the Farm bill is using.

Latest intelligence is that further votes on Farm Bill amendments are unlikely this week and at the earliest Monday. They are probably going to work over the weekend to find a consensus on amendments.

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