Farm Bill Update: June 20, 2012

June 20, 2012 06:34 AM

Via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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

Senate work resumes today | House farm bill schedule now pushed back

House farm bill action now delayed: The House Ag Committee is now not going to release their farm bill language Thursday or Friday or hold a markup session next week, according to high level sources. They now expect that the release of the farm bill is moving into July with markup now likely the week of July 9.

Ag spending bill impact on House farm bill: One of the key reasons for the now delay in House farm bill action is the full House is set to take up the FY 2013 Ag Appropriations bill next week. During that action, there are expected to be several amendments that are ag policy related measures to the package. Contacts advise it will be easier for farm-state lawmakers to fend off those amendments saying the matters can be considered as possible amendments to the farm bill. Also, typically lawmakers are opposed to policy decisions being made via the appropriations process.

Senate farm bill action: The Senate as 43 amendments left to consider for the farm bill S 3240, based on action Tuesday (link). The chamber held votes on 27 amendments - 11 voice votes and 16 recorded votes. Plus, two amendments were withdrawn.

Expectations are additional amendments could be withdrawn today as the chamber will take some some potentially controversial amendments, including several of the "non-germane" amendments.
The chamber is expected to return to the farm bill this morning, potentially not until 10:30 am CT.

Finish line expectations: Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said while leaving the chamber floor late Tuesday that she was confident the bill would be finished today, according to a report from Congressional Quarterly's Niels Lesniewski. "There will be a number of voice votes," she said. "I'm whipping it." Pat Roberts of Kansas, the panel's ranking Republican, said there were some "key amendments that could provide some problems for us. Challenges, not problems. We don't have problems."

As for action Tuesday, following are some highlights:

Nutrition program cuts maintained: Sen, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sought to reverse some $4.5 billion in cuts to nutrition programs that were part of the bill approved by the Senate Ag Committee, but the full Senate rejected the amendment on a 33-66 vote. Gillibrand's effort would have taken the funds from the crop insurance program via reductions to crop insurance agents, not farmers, she insisted. But opponents decried Gillibrand's amendment, with Senate Ag Committee Ranking Republican Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) charging the plan was "pillaging" the crop insurance program.

Under current law, households qualify for a Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowance (HCSUA) if they provide proof that they pay heating or cooling expenses or receive any assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The bill would eliminate the automatic qualification for those allowances for households who receive less than $10 each year in energy assistance. Some states had been sending out allowances of $1 to $5, thus allowing households to qualify for the SNAP benefits. Gillibrand voted against the bill in committee due to this provision.

Other efforts to cut funding for the nutrition programs were rejected although the chamber did approve an amendment to make some technical changes to nutrition programs.

Payment limit on marketing loan benefits: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed a $75,000 limit on marketing loan gains and LDPs and the measure won adoption via a 75-24 vote.

Currently, there are no payment limits for benefits under the marketing loan program - either loan gains or LDPs. Given where prices have been - considerably above the loan rates established by law -- the program has not been utilized in a major way recently and likely would not be projected to be used heavily in the future.

Lower AGI level. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed an amendment that would set the limit on adjusted gross income (AGI) at no more than $250,000 for all payments and benefits under the farm bill, but it was rejected 15-84. Paul noted sports figures and others who have received farm program payments in the past but would no longer be able to do so under his amendment. Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) countered that reforms already in the bill would have prevented some of those mentioned from getting payments under the bill.

Currently, farm program payment recipients can receive no more than $500,000 in off-farm AGI and $750,000 in farm AGI. But the Paul amendment would have applied to all payments and benefits, going well beyond current law.

Other amendments of note:

Dairy: A provision from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) that would direct USDA to eliminate end-product price formulas in setting certain milk prices would overhaul the process of amending federal milk marketing orders. That amendment was approved 66-33.

Approval of the Snowe amendment prompted the withdrawal of an amendment from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) on dairy provisions.

An amendment from Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to require a study on reforming milk marketing orders was approved 73-26.

Livestock disaster aid: Amendment from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to address a technical issue for livestock producers relying on grass for their production relative to disaster programs was approved on a voice vote.

Pulse crops in school lunches: A provision to established a pilot program to get more pulse crops used in the school lunch program, authored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.), was approved 58-44.

Crop insurance: A plan requiring plain language to be used in the crop insurance program to make sure producers know and understand what program options they are purchasing and making the Risk Management Agency website work better, authored by Sen. Kay Hagan (R-N.C.), was approved on a voice vote.

Checkoff programs: An amendment to allow producers to voluntarily opt to not participate in the commodity checkoff programs from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.D.) was rejected 20-79.

Crop insurance debate looms large in Senate farm bill: Some of the most active lobbying has been taking place relative to crop insurance and an amendment from Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to effectively increase crop insurance premiums by limiting the subsidy for those with adjusted gross income over $750,000. The premium increase would hinge on a USDA study that would be conducted with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to determine whether the means test would prompt a sizable increase in premiums for other farmers or increase the overall costs of the crop insurance program.

Others favor an alternative amendment from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that would require USDA to consult with crop insurance companies, not the GAO, and would thwart the premium increase if it would cause an increase in overall premiums for the program or boost administrative costs.

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


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