Senate votes 75-22 to end farm bill debate

Jun 10, 2013

Farm bill advocates got one step closer in the Senate last week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for cloture on Tuesday.

The Senate voted 75-22 last Thursday to end debate on a fiveyear farm bill, clearing way for passage of the legislation next week.

Thursday’s cloture vote allowed leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee to avoid other possible changes to the legislation and broke the gridlock over just how many amendments warranted debate, according to Chris Clayton with DTN. Twenty-two Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting for the bill. All 22 votes opposing the cloture vote were Republicans.

Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster. Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of threefifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

The bill would cut $24 billion from farm spending over 10 years, including a $4 billion reduction to food stamps. Final votes on the bill could occur early this week.

Before Thursday’s vote, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, said the current version supported 16 million U.S. jobs.

“I don’t think there will be a single bill on this floor that affects more jobs than this one,” Stabenow said. “This is an opportunity to cut spending by more than $24 billion.”

But the amendments and changes continue to role in, with crop insurance one of the hot topics.

U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson, D-CA, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, introduced H.R. 2260, The Crop Insurance Accountability Act of 2013, prior to the vote. Under this legislation, in order for farmers to qualify for taxpayer subsidies of crop insurance, they must meet basic conservation requirements that minimize the impact to some of our most sensitive areas such as highly erodible lands and wetlands.

“Our farmers and ranchers are the first stewards of the land. This bill continues the practice of conservation planning for our most fragile lands to ensure we meet important environmental stewardship goals,” said Fortenberry. “This concept is widely upheld as an important conservation initiative by many in the ag and environmental communities. I look forward to its passage or inclusion in this year’s Farm Bill.”

The Senate passed a controversial amendment before the Memorial Day recess that reduces crop insurance subsidies by 15 percent for those making more than $750,000 per year.

Meanwhile, the House is working on its own version, riddled with amendments. The House version cuts spending by $39.7 billion over 10 years and comes in at $940 billion, with $20.5 billion of the cuts coming from food stamps. The House bill is expected to get a floor vote later this month.

For the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), portions of the House farm bill included priorities important to cattlemen and women such as permanent disaster programs along with the elimination of the livestock title, maintaining of conservation programs, and a strong research title.

Also included in the House version of the farm bill is an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, that would prohibit states from setting production standards for foods brought in from other states. The amendment would render federal production mandates such as the Humane Society of the United States/ United Egg Producers proposal, untenable.

“We are encouraged by the amendment introduced by Rep. King which would keep decisions regarding how to raise livestock and poultry in the hands of farmers and ranchers, where they belong,” said NCBA President Scott George.

The shallow-loss provisions in both versions of the farm bill have also created some controversy.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates spending on the shallow-loss program could total $23 billion to $24 billion in the next decade.

A shallow-loss provision would trigger payments when a farmer sees revenues fall below 90 percent of the previous five years’ average. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor