Thursday, June 21, 2012

US Senate Passes 2012 Farm Bill, 64-35

US House begins work on Farm Bill on July 11th...
In what is in the history of the Senate a rapid course of action, lawmakers on Thursday passed S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, on a vote of 64-35, after just three days of debate and roll call and voice votes on more than 73 amendments. It was authored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Ranking Member Senator Pat Roberts (R-K). The $500 billion bill, almost 1,000 pages long, reduces the deficit by more than $23 billion dollars by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and "confronting misuse in food assistance programs."

"This Farm Bill is the most significant reform to farm programs in decades," Sen. Stabenow said in a statement shortly after the vote.

 "We have now passed a bipartisan bill that supports 16 million American jobs."

The legislation eliminates direct payments and three other subsidy programs. There will no longer be direct payments to farmers regardless of whether they plant a crop, but a greater emphasis on crop insurance and a new revenue protection plan that will compensate farmers for minor losses until crop insurance kicks in. Supporters say this will save $15 billion over the next 10 years.

The bill limits subsidy payments to those with adjusted gross income of less than $750,000, half the current ceiling, and caps payments at $50,000 for an individual, and at $100,000 for a couple. An amendment approved Wednesday will reduce  the taxpayer share of crop insurance premiums by 15% for those with incomes of more than $750,000. The government now pays an average of 62% of crop insurance premiums. Payments to "farm managers"--those who have an interest in a farm but don't live on the property or engage in farming--are eliminated.

In one of the most closely watched parts of the process, the funding for and changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka Food Stamps), the Senate agreed to "improve program integrity" by reducing opportunities for fraud and trafficking--such as barring lottery winners from receiving benefits (full details below), while leaving benefit payments unchanged.   SNAP makes up about 80% of the Farm Bill budget, and about 46 million Americans participate in the program monthly; it cost more than $76 billion in FY 2011.

Senators did not pass an amendment from Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY) that would restore full funding for the program, but declined to pass amendments that would make deeper cuts.  The Republican-filled US House is another story.

Funding for food banks was increased, and a program for a non-profit partnership was created, so SNAP recipients' benefit values are doubled when participants purchase healthy produce from farmers’ markets.

There is also increased support for farmers’ markets, and for spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers. Specialty Crops were protected: Among other things, the bill maintains 2008 levels of funding for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). The Senate accepted an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which calls for a feasibility study of insurance products that could cover recalls, quarantines and market disruptions in the fruit and vegetable sector.

The Senate, in a move that was a disappointment to many, declined to pass an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) that would require labeling for GMO foods. It was the final vote on Thursday before the Senate passed the bill.

$6.4 billion was cut from conservation programs, though there was an effort to make conservation efforts more effective by consolidating some programs and creating an emphasis on leveraging additional resources from local and state governments and other partners.  These are designed to assist farmers and other producers in voluntary, cooperative efforts to address "local, state and regional conservation priorities."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement praising the Senate for acting in a "bipartisan spirit."

"I am grateful for the Senate’s progress toward providing a reformed safety net for producers in times of need, supporting agricultural research and trade promotion, honoring World Trade Organization commitments, furthering the bio-based economy, conserving our natural resources, strengthening local and regional food systems, and promoting job growth in rural America," Sec. Vilsack said.

The bill summary and the Roll Call votes.  See the bottom of this post for the breakdown of which Senators accepted and which rejected the Farm Bill in the final 64-35 vote.

The House begins work after July 4th recess...
The US House now must take up its own version of the legislation, but the House Agriculture Committee this week announced it will delay consideration of the bill until after the July 4th recess, and first meet on July 11th. Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) said he will move “hell or high water” to get the work completed. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has not listed the Farm Bill for action on the House Floor this summer. On Wednesday, Cantor's aides told Politico he wants to “push the pause button” on the bill and assess the political situation.

"As the legislative process moves forward, the Administration will continue to seek policy solutions and savings consistent with the President’s Budget, and we are hopeful that the House of Representatives will produce a bill with those same goals in mind," Sec. Vilsack said.

"Swift action is needed so that American farmers and ranchers and our rural communities have the certainty they need to continue strengthening the rural and national economy."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) said in a statement about the Senate's bill passage that "there will be differences between the Senate approach and our own."

"The House Agriculture Committee will consider a balanced proposal that saves taxpayers billions of dollars, recognizes the diversity of American agriculture, respects the risks producers face, and preserves the tools necessary for food production," Lucas said.

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn) said he has issues with the Senate's bill, but hopes to see the House version on the Floor before the August recess:

"I’m not on board with everything they’ve done but think that we’ll be able to work out our differences in conference committee," Peterson said.

“It is crucial that we finish the farm bill before the current bill expires in September. Waiting until the mess that will occur during the lame duck session will not only make it more difficult, but could also result in several unintended consequences."

What the Senate's bill does, according to the Agriculture Committee:

Eliminates direct payments, strengthens Risk Management
*Eliminates direct payments and three other subsidy programs. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields.

*Strengthens risk management and expands crop insurance access so farmers are not wiped out by a few days of bad weather.

*According to CBO, eliminating subsidies and strengthening crop insurance yields a net savings of $15 billion.

SNAP, aka Food Stamps
*The bill does not eliminate standard benefits, but increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:

-Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.

-Ending misuse by college students.

-Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.

-Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from becoming retailers.

-Eliminates misuse by states.

Consolidates and streamlines programs
*By ending duplication and consolidating programs, the bill eliminates dozens of programs under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction. For example, the bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, while maintaining the existing tools farmers and landowners need to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Grows America's Agricultural Economy
*Expanding export opportunities and helping farmers develop new markets for their goods.

*Investing in research to help commercialize new agricultural innovations.

*Growing bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) by allowing bio-manufacturers to participate in existing U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs, expanding the BioPreferred labeling initiative, and strengthening a procurement preference so the U.S. government will select bio-based products when purchasing needed goods.

*Spurring advancements in bio-energy production, supporting advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and pellets from woody biomass for power.

*Helping family farmers sell locally by increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based consumers.

*Extending rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create an environment for small businesses to grow.


How the Senate voted:
Approving the Farm Bill:  64

Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Mark Begich, D-Alaska
Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Scott Brown, R-Mass.
Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.
Thomas Carper, D-Del.
Robert Casey, D-Pa.
Daniel Coats, R-Ind.
Susan Collins, R-Maine
Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Christopher Coons, D-Del.
Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.
Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Al Franken, D-Minn.
Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa
Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Kay Hutchison, R-Texas
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii
Mike Johanns, R-Neb.
Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
John Kerry, D-Mass.
Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Herb Kohl, D-Wisc.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn.
Richard Lugar, R-Ind.
Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Harry Reid, D-N.V.
Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
John Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Olympia Snowe, R-Maine
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Jon Tester, D-Mont.
John Thune, R-S.D.
Mark Udall, D-Colo.
Tom Udall, D-N.M.
Mark Warner, D-Va.
Jim Webb, D-Va.
Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Rejecting the Farm Bill:  35

Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
John Boozman, R-Ariz.
Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
John Cornyn, R-Texas
Mike Crapo, R-Idaho
Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Dean Heller, R-Nev.
James Inhofe, R-Okla.
Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.
Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
Mary Landrieu, D-La.
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Mike Lee, R-Utah
John McCain, R-Ariz.
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Jack Reed, D-R.I.
James Risch, R-Idaho
Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.
David Vitter, R-La.
Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Not voting: 1
Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

In related news, on Thursday the White House issued a statement "strongly opposing" HR 5973, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food And Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act 2013, authored by Rep. Rogers (R-KY). President Obama will veto the bill if he is presented with it as it currently exists, warned the statement from the Office of Management and Budget.


*Updated with the final vote roll call, courtesy of The Hagstrom Report