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After Amendment Vote-o-Rama, Farm Bill Clears Senate

Jun 21, 2012

This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.

The Senate on Thursday passed a five-year farm-reauthorization bill expected to cost $969 billion over 10 years, but there is now concern that a delay in a long-planned mark-up in the House Agriculture Committee could cloud the legislation’s future.

Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said action on the House’s version of the farm bill will be delayed until after the July 4 recess. According to Politico, Lucas decided on the delay after discussions with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who, according to aides, wanted to “push the pause button” on the measure to assess the political situation.

After a series of votes on amendments over two days, the Senate approved the measure on a 64-35 vote on Thursday afternoon.

A compromise amendment requires the administration to detail by August 15 the looming sequestration cuts enshrined in last year’s debt-ceiling deal.

An amendment from Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., linking crop insurance to conservation was passed. But one high-profile proposal, from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have restored strict asset tests for those who receive food stamps, went down to defeat, 56-43.

The bill reauthorizes and updates federal agriculture programs, including the massive food-stamp program, which the bill has trimmed by $4.5 billion over 10 years. Half-a-million households would have their benefits cut by about $90 a month, according to the Congressional Budget Office. An effort to block those cuts failed.

A host of other amendments were approved, including one that eliminates a loophole that gave federal conservation payments to millionaires and another extending to organic farmers the same type of crop insurance non-organic farmers now receive.

In all, the Senate bill provides $23.6 billion in savings over 10 years, essentially by ending direct cash payments to farmers and replacing them with a variety of so-called “shallow loss” crop-insurance programs. Southern rice and peanut farmers have objected to this measure, saying that ending the direct payments would hurt growers.

An amendment devised by Chambliss and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., would have given peanut and rice famers a target pricing safety net from the proposed changes ending direct payments, but the senators decided to shelve the amendment after talking to Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. They will try again when the bill goes to conference.

  • Read the complete June 21, 2012, edition of Executive Insight Briefing.
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