Thursday, May 23, 2013

Senate Will Finish 2013 Farm Bill In June

This week, amendments voted on included Food Stamps, Crop Insurance, Subsidies, and GMO labeling...
The Senate on Thursday finished four days of debate on amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill, and will resume work late on June 3rd, following the Memorial Day recess, Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich) announced today. 

"The next vote will be 5:30 on the Monday that we return and we will proceed and complete the bill," Stabenow said. 

Speaking on the Floor, Stabenow noted that the Senate passed the Farm Bill last year as she thanked her colleagues for the progress on amendments considered this week beginning on Monday.  

A wide slate of amendments awaits consideration on the $955 billion legislation, S.954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, which reauthorizes Department of Agriculture programs for five years.  It includes $24.4 billion in total cuts, $1 billion more than last year’s bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  

The 2008 Farm Bill was extended, and expires at the end of September.  If a new Farm Bill is not passed, the nation's farm support policies revert to provisions put in place in 1949, when Congress enacted the first Farm Bill.

Food Stamps...
The legislation calls for slashing Food Stamps funding by a total of $4.1 billion, or $400 million annually over ten years.  More than 47.5 million Americans received benefits in February, the latest month for which data is available. with monthly spending topping $6 billion.  Participation in the program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, has more than doubled since 2008.

Earlier on Thursday the Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to turn the Food Stamps program into a block grant to the states.  The vote was 36 to 60, with four Senators absent.  All who voted to turn the Food Stamps program into a block-grant program were Republicans.  

Speaking on the Floor, Inhofe said that people in Oklahoma are shocked to find that a high percentage of farm bill spending is for nutrition programs.  He noted that participation has not gone down as rapidly as the national unemployment rate. 

Stabenow acknowledged that the participation rate has gone down slowly, but noted that the Congressional Budget Office says it will decrease as the economy improves.

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to restore the $4.1 billion in SNAP funding, on a vote of 26 to 70.  The Senate also rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan), that would have increased the cut in Food Stamps to $31 billion. The amendment failed on a vote of 40 to 58.

In a statement from the White House, President Obama on Monday expressed concern that the cuts the Senate legislation makes to the Food Stamps budget will hurt families.  The President's own budget proposal called for keeping funding intact.

"The Administration also strongly supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a cornerstone of our Nation's food assistance safety net, which is why it was not subject to cuts in the President's Budget," the White House statement said.  "SNAP helps families put food on the table, while also benefitting farm and rural economies."  

Crop Insurance, subsidies, GMO labeling...
The Senators on Thursday also rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) that would have allowed states to require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients.  The roll call vote was 71 to 27.

The Senate also voted 94 to 0 to pass an amendment sponsored by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) to strengthen systems against fraud and abuse in the crop insurance program.

A vote on an amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill), and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) to reduce premium subsidies for high-earning farmers was 59 to 33. 

Stabenow urged a vote against the amendment, which she said would raise premium costs by 40% percent for the affected farmers, and would reduce the amount of acreage that must comply with federal conservation standards.  Durbin and Coburn said they did not believe it would lead the big farmers to drop out of the program.

"The vote for the Durbin-Coburn amendment was a defeat for the crop insurance industry and the coalition of farm and conservation groups that reached agreement on linking crop insurance to conservation compliance with no income restrictions on subsidies," noted The Hagstrom Report.

"But the measure was passed last year, and is supported by a combination of groups concerned about federal spending and advocates for small farmers who believe subsidies going to large farmers encourages concentration and that money should be spent on other programs. Neither the conservation compliance nor the premium subsidy limit is in the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee."

The House takes up its own version of the legislation in mid-June.

Downloads: S.954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 {PDF, 1,150-pages}.   

*White House OMB statement {PDF}.  

*The Congressional Budget Office's Score for the legislation {PDF}.