Farm Bill Update: June 8, 2012

June 8, 2012 03:44 AM

Amendments potential key for entire bill's Senate fate | Lucas on 'shallow loss', permanent law prospects | Who voted against cloture on farm bill

— Number and scope of amendments remains key on Senate farm bill: Regional divisions continue as another big hurdle. Despite a 90-8 vote to proceed to the bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants an agreement on amendments. That's up to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). If there is no limit on amendments, Reid could limit them via a procedural tactic called "filling the tree." If that occurs, Republicans would balk, likely forcing Reid to eventually pull the measure from the floor. Negotiations among farm bill stakeholders and others will continue in hopes to avoid a major impasse.

— Senate farm bill amendments take on many non-ag issues: Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) filed an amendment to include a 20-point Sportsmans Act of 2012 as part of the farm bill. The measure contains a host of provisions, including barring EPA from regulating lead relative to ammunition. Tester's argument that it should be included in the farm bill: "The farm bill is the No. 1 source for conservation funding, and it's something we're on right now," he said. "This is entirely appropriate."

— House Ag panel Chair Lucas outlines issues with ARC; talks farm bill extension need in interview: House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) confirmed in an interview with National Journal that the House farm bill will contain the elimination of direct payments like the Senate version does. "The Senate focuses more on a revenue kind of insurance program commonly referred to as 'shallow loss,' which in effect helps to guarantee the good times," Lucas explained. "My personal perspective has been that the real issue is not keeping the good times good, it's what do you do when you have a free-fall? I don't know that it's government's responsibility to make the good times the best, but we do have a responsibility to keep the industry from collapsing."

As for nutrition funding, Lucas is also adamant that while he understands how sensitive the issue is in the Senate, nutrition programs need to participate relative to reducing spending. "I think we've clearly identified in the House Ag Committee where we can save $33 billion without taking one calorie off the plate of a deserving person," he told National Journal. "In the Senate, they're very sensitive-and I appreciate that. But you can't take 80 percent of the farm bill and refuse to make the kind of reforms that will make real savings and then demand that the lion's share of all the savings come out of the remaining 20 percent.

— The need for extending current law: As lawmakers continue to work on the farm bill, the longer the process takes the more likely an extension of current law will be needed. Rep. Lucas had an interesting take on an extension of current law given the fact that permanent legislation will take over - the so-called 1949 Act - if a new bill isn't in place. The 1949 act would return a system of archaic programs, including parity, allotments, quotas, production based on what was being farmed in 1949. "When my colleagues in this body figure that out, they will go ballistic," Lucas said. "That's, in agricultural-production history, like going back to the Stone Ages-when the average tractor was 55 horsepower and the average wheat yield in my neighborhood was 18 bushels. If we cannot address a new farm bill through the regular process, then you have to look at some kind of an extension. "

However, farm bill extensions do not have to occur as soon as most things. As evidence, Congress waited until late 2007 to begin its multi-extensions of the 2002 farm bill until the work was completed on what became the 2008 Farm Bill.

— The eight voting against cloture: The 90-8-2 vote for cloture on the farm bill contained a not-too-surprising list of lawmakers, as some have strong Tea Party ties: Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dean Heller (R-NV), James Inhofe (R-OK), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Mike Lee (R-UT). Those not voting were Mark Kirk (R-IL) and David Vitter (R-LA)

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