The following was done with the cooperation of Jess Barr of the Louisiana Cotton Producers and David Ruppenicker.
Senate Debates Amendments and Passes Farm Bill
On Monday evening (June 18), Senate leadership reached an agreement to debate around 73 of the roughly 270 amendments that were proposed for the farm bill. Debate on the amendments began the afternoon of June 19, and the Senate considered 27 amendments before adjourning for the day. The Senate resumed debate on June 20 and handled all but 10 of the remaining amendments. These remaining amendments were debated on June 21 before the bill was passed by a 64-35 margin. It required 60 votes to pass.
The Senate has been largely non-functional for much of the last two years but came together to debate and pass this bill. While I do not like many of the provisions in the bill, for this piece of legislation, the process worked.
Under the agreement on how the debate would proceed, amendments were brought up by alternating between Democrat and Republican sponsors. Germane amendments required a majority for passage while non-germane amendments required 60 votes to pass. Only two minutes were allotted for each side to argue for or against each amendment, so the process moved fairly quickly. For most amendments, the roll-call vote (10 minute votes) were longer than the discussion. A few non-controversial amendments were handled by a voice vote.
It is interesting to note that several proposed amendments were not considered. The amendment by Senators Conrad (D-ND) and Chambliss (R-GA) to restore a counter-cyclical program to the bill was withdrawn. The amendment faced opposition from Senate Ag. Committee leadership (particularly Senator Roberts) and was unlikely to pass. Another amendment to impose a $40,000 limit on crop insurance benefits was not included in the list to be debated.
Here is a list of some amendments that may be of interest.
Amendment #2167 by Senator Grassley (R-IA) would reinstitute a payment limit of $75,000 per person for marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments for all covered commodities. A separate $75,000 limit would be established for peanuts. This amendment passed.
Amendment #2181 by Senator Paul (R-KY) would deny any farm program benefits (including ARC, marketing loan, crop insurance and conservation) to any person or legal entity with an adjusted gross income exceeding $250,000. This amendment failed.
Amendment #2199 by Senator McCain (R-AZ) would eliminate USDA’s inspection program for catfish and leave all inspections to the FDA. This amendment passed on a voice vote. A requirement for USDA to inspection catfish was inserted in the 2008 farm bill because the FDA was not conducting sufficient inspections and poor quality imports were harming our domestic catfish industry. Vietnam had threatened trade retaliation against U.S. beef if the USDA inspection process was not discontinued.
Amendment #2156 by Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) would restore the approximately $4.5 billion taken from the SNAP by reducing the payments made to crop insurance companies for administrative and operating expenses. This amendment failed.
Amendment #2366 by Senator Hagan (D-NC) would require the Risk Management Agency and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to use plain language in crop insurance policies. It would also require these organizations to improve their website so that agricultural producers in any State may identify crop insurance options in that State. The website should also provide answers to frequently asked questions. This amendment passed on a voice vote.
Amendment #2263 by Senator DeMint (R-SC) would maintain funding at current levels for programs providing access to broadband telecommunications services in rural areas. The amendment failed.
Amendment #2268 by Senator DeMint (R-SC) would prohibit the Secretary of Agriculture from offering loan guarantees for any program operated by USDA. This amendment failed by a substantial margin.
Amendment #2321 by Senator Landrieu (D-LA) would prevent the Secretary of Agriculture from granting a rural development loan for any project that would drain, dredge, fill, level, or otherwise manipulate a wetland or that would result in impairing or reducing the flow, circulation, or reach of water. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Amendment #2276 by Senator DeMint (R-SC) would provide that no program to promote and provide research and information for a particular agricultural commodity without reference to specific producers or brands (commonly known as a “check-off program”) shall be mandatory or compulsory. This amendment would have made all commodity check-off programs voluntary. The amendment failed.
Amendment #2273 by Senator DeMint (R-SC) would cap any USDA grant for broadband projects at 50% of the development cost and establish a priority system for the grants. The amendment failed.
Amendment #2289 by Senator Coburn (R-OK) would reduce funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) by 20% and limit how the funds may be utilized. The amendment failed. This amendment was prompted by a recently release report from Senator Coburn titled “Treasure Map: The Market Access Program’s Bounty of Waste, Loot and Spoils Plundered from Taxpayers”. This report targets several “potential” misuses of program funds. One of these is a reality TV program in India called “Let’s Design” created by Cotton Council International and also supported by Cotton Incorporated. The report can be found at http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=5c2568d4-ae96-40bc-b3d8-19e7a259f749.
Amendment #2293 by Senator Coburn (R-OK) would establish a $1 million AGI test for conservation program eligibility. Conservation program benefits are already subject to an AGI test but USDA may waive this requirement in certain circumstances. This amendment eliminates the option of waiving the AGI test. The amendment passed.
Amendment #2457 by Senator Warner (D-VA) would modify the rural broadband program to also provide for USDA grants, cap the grant amount at 50% of the project development cost and provide a priority system on how funds are awarded. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Amendment #2314 by Senator Lee (R-UT) would eliminate the Conservation Security Program and Conservation Reserve Programs. This amendment failed.
Amendment #2433 by Senator Toomey (R-PA) would heavily modify the sugar program by reducing the loan rate to 18 cents/lb., eliminating the feedstock flexibility program, changing the tariff-rate quota and giving the Secretary of Ag. the authority to suspend the entire program. The amendment failed 53-46.
Senator Lee (R-UT) offered a motion to send the entire farm bill back to the Ag. Committee and instruct the Committee to reduce spending to the 2008 level ($714.3 billion). The motion failed.
Senator Johnson (R-WI) offered a motion to send the entire farm bill back to the Ag. Committee and instruct the Committee to remove the nutrition title and report it as separate legislation. The motion failed 40-59.
Amendment #2363 by Senator Vitter (R-LA) would make it illegal to attend an event with animal fighting and would exempt people involved in the film and television industry, who bring their pets to work, from the Animal Welfare Act, as long as the animal was not the primary source of income. The amendment was ruled not germane and needed 60 votes to pass. It passed.
Amendment #2438 by Senator Chambliss (R-GA) would require those purchasing crop insurance to comply with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions. The amendment passed 52-47.
Amendment #2437 by Senator Thune (R-SD) would discourage or counteract any reduction in the crop insurance premium subsidy based on an AGI test (see next amendment #2439). The amendment would prevent the Secretary of Ag. from reducing crop insurance premium subsidies to those with an AGI in excess of $750,000 if the Secretary determined that this reduction in premium subsidy caused: a) an increase in the premium amount paid by producers with an average adjusted gross income of less than $750,000; b) a decline in the availability of crop insurance services to producers; and c) an increase in cost to the Federal government to administer the Federal crop insurance program. The amendment failed.
Amendment #2439 by Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (R-OK) would reduce the premium subsidy for crop insurance by 15 percentage points if the producer/entity has an AGI greater than $750,000. The application would be delayed until the Secretary of Ag. conducts a study on how the provision would affect the operation of the crop insurance program. The amendment is estimated to save $1.1 billion over the 10-year budget baseline. It passed 66-33.
Amendment #2340 by Senator Chambliss (R-GA) would change the date on which the Secretary of Ag. must announce any adjustment to the sugar import quota from April 1 to February 1 of each year. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Amendment #2456 by Senator Boxer (D-CA) deals with aerial inspections of agricultural operations by the EPA. Specifically, the amendment stated that the EPA shall only conduct aerial overflights to inspect agricultural operations if the EPA Administrator determines that aerial overflights are more cost-effective to the taxpayer than ground inspections and the Agency has notified the appropriate State officials of such flights. It was ruled non germane and required 60 votes for passage. The amendment failed.
Amendment #2372 by Senator Johanns (R-NE) also deals with aerial inspections of agricultural operations by EPA. This amendment stated that the EPA shall not conduct aerial surveillance to inspect agricultural operations or to record images of agricultural operations. It was ruled non germane and required 60 votes for passage. The amendment also failed.
Amendment #2310 by Senator Sanders (D-VT) would allow the states to label food that is genetically engineered or contains genetically engineered ingredients. It was ruled non germane and required 60 votes for passage. The amendment failed.
The National Cotton Council released a statement yesterday that encouraged the House to complete the process and deliver Farm legislation to the President in a timely manner. The Council also stated that the Senate passed cotton provisions show that cotton is willing to substantially contribute to deficit reduction and that the program will meet and fulfill cotton’s obligation under the WTO Framework agreement.
The House is expected to take up the Farm Bill after the Fourth of July Recess around July 10-11. Long delays in this process could put STAX in jeopardy for the 2013 crop. We encourage a speedy process as well.