The Senate Ag Committee today approved on a 16-5 the Senate Ag Committee Farm Bill Mark, as amended, providing savings of at least $23 billion over 10 years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a member of the panel, opposed the measure by proxy, but his vote did not count in the final tally since he was not physically present.
The exact level of savings in the bill is yet to be determined as amendments approved during the markup session utilized some of the savings scored for the bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). CBO initially scored the package at $26.4 billion, some $3.4 billion above the projected savings mark for the package. But based on changes made via the Manager's Amendment put the savings level at $24.7 billion. And the action in the committee pared that savings level further, but it is not clear how much.
"We have made our $23 billion (in savings) commitment and are over that," Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said, "but we don't know by how much." (Link to latest Congressional Budget Office/CBO estimates.)
"We examined every program in the farm bill, and we reformed, streamlined, and consolidated to get perhaps the most significant reforms in agricultural policy of any farm bill in recent memory," Stabenow said.
Four southern lawmakers voted against the package -- Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- citing concerns about the commodity provisions in the bill. Specifically, their concerns focused on how it is believed that rice and peanuts in particular would be disadvantaged compared to other commodities under the approach approved by the committee.
"The farm bill in front of us attempts to shoehorn all producers into a one-size-fits-all policy," Chambliss said. "Producer choice is a better course to follow and I regret the commodity title does not recognize its power."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate would take up the measure soon. Stabenow said it could be "a few weeks" before the measure reaches the Senate floor.
Among amendments approved:
Changes to ARC - Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.): Would strike the 10-year average of prices and replace it with a five-year Olympic average for the individual revenue trigger and would move the eligible acres for individual coverage to 65% from 60% that was in the manager's amendment.
Undersecretary for Trade - Sen. Mike Johans (R-Neb.): Would require a USDA study on the creation of an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.
Energy title changes - Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.): Would provide mandatory funding for agricultural energy programs, with the funds to come from savings above the $23 billion mark for the bill. An approved amendment added $800 million in mandatory funding to programs in the energy title, including loan guarantees for biorefineries and subsidies for biofuel feedstocks and rural energy projects.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said, "This is not the best possible bill, but the best bill possible in the current circumstances."