Senate farm bill seen soon

May 10, 2013
by DTN

—Senator vows to fight Food Stamp cuts

The farm bill could come up on the Senate floor as soon as next week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said last Tuesday as she listed her priorities for the legislation, beginning with no cuts to food stamps.

In a conference call to reporters shortly after Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, announced the committee markup of the bill will be next Tuesday, Gillibrand, D-NY, said she believes the bill “will move to the floor as early as next week.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, has said he wants the Senate to take up the bill this month, but has not specified a date. Congress is scheduled to leave for a Memorial Day recess on May 24. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA, told reporters Tuesday he believes the bill will not come up on the Senate floor until June.

Gillibrand said she believes there will be “some small changes in committee, but not many.”

She also said she believes the House will act on the bill this year because of “the anger of farmers across the country” about the performance of the House in not passing the bill last year.

Outlining her own priorities, Gillibrand started with food stamps and the $4.1 billion cut over 10 years that she expects Stabenow to include in her mark.

“I have very serious concerns about the bill because of its draconian cuts to the food stamp program,” Gillibrand said.

Referring to the food stamp program’s official title, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, she said, “SNAP is being targeted for major cuts that will literally take the food out of the children’s mouths."

Asked by DTN whether she was using the term “draconian” to refer to Stabenow’s $4.1 billion cut or the $20 billion and $35 billion cuts proposed in the House, Gillibrand said, “They are all horrible — you are only talking degrees.” Under the $4.1 billion cut, she said, hundreds of thousands of children will receive less food.

Gillibrand acknowledged that only 33 senators voted for an amendment to reverse the cuts in the Senate version of the farm bill last year, and that the same number of senators have signed a letter to support her amendment to strike the cuts this year, but she said she intends to make it “a moral issue.”

Noting that food stamp beneficiaries include children, seniors and active military duty personnel, she said, “I don’t know in what world our colleagues think this is acceptable.”

Gillibrand’s amendment would reverse the proposed cut with an offset to the crop insurance program by reducing some payments to crop insurance companies and reducing the profit goal in the program from 14 percent to 12 percent.

Crop insurance is “arguably a better design” than direct payments, Gillibrand said, but added she does not believe the insurance companies need to make a 14 percent profit. She also noted some crop insurance companies are based overseas.

She said Stabenow has already agreed to include several provisions she has written in the chairman’s mark that cover farm credit, rural development partnerships and specialty crops.

Gillibrand said she wants to include an “apple red-tape elimination act” that would eliminate duplicative inspection fees for apples, a community-supported agriculture education act, a healthy food financing initiative and a measure to make sure all farmers’ markets can accept SNAP benefits, which are delivered through electronic benefit transfers.

She also said she expects to offer a dairy amendment she has written with Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, in both committee and on the Senate floor. She acknowledged the fight to include her dairy provisions will be difficult, but the final dairy provisions will depend on regional alignments.

Gillibrand supported the final farm bill last year even though it included a cut to food stamps. She said even though another extension of the 2008 farm bill might avoid a food stamp cut, Congress needs to pass a fiveyear farm bill.

Noting that current dairy policy is not working, Gillibrand said, there is “a need to refine agricultural policy in this country.” — Jerry Hagstrom, DTN