Grassley Pay Cap Amendment Defeated With Help of Three Democrats

March 26, 2009 07:00 PM

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Proponents of stricter pay cap language promise continued efforts

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

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday continued his efforts to modify the existing farm program payment cap language by offering an amendment to the budget resolution that was being debated in the Senate Budget Committee. The language would have capped farm payments at $250,000 per farmer, a proposal supported by President Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. However, the amendment failed by a vote of 10-13.

Senators Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reversed their previous positions in support of the farm payment cap language, providing the decisive votes to defeat the subsidy payment cap amendment. Proponents of the more restrictive pay cap language noted that all three voted in favor of the Grassley amendment to a prior budget resolution and it passed 13-9.

In a successful attempt to oppose the pay cap language, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) offered an alternative amendment to cut crop insurance funding, an amendment that passed on a 14-10 vote. The successful Conrad amendment would reduce spending designated for the budget function for farm support and would shift part of the savings to the budget function for nutrition programs.

Conrad's proposal assumed crop insurance funding cuts of about $350 million over the next five years. That amendment was approved, 14-9. How such savings would be ultimately achieved is up to a plan devised in the Agriculture Committees, not the Budget Committee. The Budget Committee, though, makes assumptions about where the money comes from.

Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Policy Director, said, "We are saddened to see the three Senators reverse their previous position in support of family farmers, but today's vote is not the end of the line. Budget assumptions are just that - assumptions. Everyone may well have a second chance to vote on commodity payment reform later this year."

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said on Wednesday that the Obama Administration would continue to push for subsidy reform through legislation later this year.

Hoefner said USDA and the White House also have “another prime opportunity for reform that does not require additional legislation. The congressional report accompanying last year's farm bill directed USDA to rewrite the regulations for determining who is eligible to receive payments and determining what constitutes schemes and devices to evade payment limit law. The Bush Administration issued interim rules at the end of December, and the public comment period on that rulemaking expires April 6.” After that, Hoefner added, “the Obama administration can produce a final rule that eliminates the biggest loopholes in current rules that allow landowners to collect hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars of year from the taxpayer despite far lower payment limits in law.”

Voting in favor of the more restrictive pay cap language during Thursday's Senate Budget Committee markup were Senators Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Grassley, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Voting against the pay cap language amendment were Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Byrd, Conrad, John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Murray, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Wyden.

Comments: There will continue to be attempts to further modify the pay cap language that was modified in the 2008 Farm Bill, but it will be a hard task to get any such language into law.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee Thursday approved its FY 2010 budget resolution, sending it to the floor on a party-line vote of 13-10.

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


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