Farm Bill Update: June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012 01:57 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Spreading the money and wooing more votes | Crop insurance supporters go on defense

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

A consent agreement for finishing the Senate farm bill early next week is "very possible" without a difficult cloture vote, said ever-optimistic Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Behind some growing optimism is word that enough changes are being made to possibly garner enough votes to clear the nearly $1 trillion food and farm policy package.

A target price/counter-cyclical bipartisan amendment worked out between Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), among others, is a move seen by southerners as a first step on that topic, and one that Stabenow termed an "important contribution."

ARC changes ahead? Some supporters both inside and outside Congress are complaining that the much-pushed and controversial Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program does not adequately protect farmers and efforts are being made to made that shallow loss program even more attractive.

Lawmakers from both parties are being wooed by promises that some of their amendments will be part of the draft agreement, including a possible substitute bill incorporating those changes. "We are looking at both," Stabenow said, according to press accounts. "We are putting together a consent agreement to do everything."

Crop insurance key focus. Besides the move toward target prices/counter-cyclical payments, despite apparent early opposition from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the other key issue is crop insurance. Supporters are trying to fend off several amendments aimed at limiting the growing subsidies. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) favor an amendment that would reduce the level of premium discounts allowed to the wealthiest growers. The government currently covers about 62 percent of buy-up premiums, but Durbin and Coburn would reduce this by 15 percentage points in the case of those with an adjusted gross income of more than $750,000.

Limiting crop insurance payouts. The Senate farm bill should include payment limits for crop insurance, similar to limits for other farm safety net programs, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said in a press conference June 14. The senators spoke in support of an amendment to the Senate farm bill, which would cap crop insurance premium subsidies at $40,000 per farmer. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the savings at $5.2 billion over 10 years. CBO estimates that crop insurance, as outlined in the Senate farm bill, would cost $94.6 billion over 10 years — about 10 percent of total farm bill costs.

Study the probelm tactic to be tried. Crop insurance supporters favor a second-degree amendment to one that would cut subsidies for farmers earning more than $750,000. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) will reportedly offer an amendment that would demand USDA conduct a study within a year to assess the potential impacts of the proposed amendment regarding crop insurance before actual implementation. A longstanding tactic in Congress to avoid something is to study the matter, hoping it will go away later.

Senators filed more than 250 amendments by June 14. Without an agreement on how many to consider, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has used procedural maneuvers to take up amendments on a case-by-case basis while talks continue. Both Democrats and Republicans have several non-germane amendments they want considered as part of the farm bill debate.

Other amendments include a proposal by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to tie conservation compliance to crop insurance payment subsidies and an amendment by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would require disclosure of subsidy recipients.

Food nutrition supporters eye crop insurance cuts. Another amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would cut subsidy payments to insurance companies in order to restore a $4 billion funding cut to nutrition programs.'

Another sugar policy changing amendment could also be voted on, following a very close vote that rejected a move to phase out the current U.S. sugar policy.

Perspective: Despite the apparent movement on the ag-related portion of the farm bill, the center stage of the farm bill circus remains on whether or not Sens. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can reach what has been called a "global agreement" not limited to ag-related amendments, but an accord on both germane and non-germane amendments. If it were just up to ag-related amendments, the process would already be over. But it is not. The watch is on for official comments about the topic from Sen. McConnell, the one party in all of this that has been very quiet.



NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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