After nearly two years of waiting, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas was able to do what he has long wanted to do – bring a farm bill to the House floor. And Wednesday, he showed he could help guide along the legislation that many feared would not get wrapped up before the 3 p.m. departure time Thursday afternoon for House legislators.
Tuesday the House Rules Committee approved 103 of the 229 amendments filed to the bill, significantly more than Lucas' previously thought of 30-40 amendments. The first official farm bill vote came on approval of the rules set out, which passed on a 239-177 vote.
As of Thursday morning only five amendments remain to be debated, including the controversial dairy supply management program alternative from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) and changes to the domestic sugar program, which will each receive 20 minutes of debate. During last night's discussion, 17 amendments require a recorded vote Thursday, 15 were approved by voice vote, and 8 were voted down either by recorded vote or voice vote.
Lucas made a late night save after nearly 50 amendments had been debated when he proposed an en bloc amendment with nearly 40 amendments included. His ability to propose the amendments in a lump was the greatest victory in the night, giving hope that the chamber would be able to get through all of the amendments ahead of its scheduled recess break.
Included in the en bloc amendment were two crop insurance amendments including one that requires that government to disclose the names of those who receive crop subsidies. Another requires that any changes to current crop insurance policies be published and open for public comment for 60 days before the change would take into effect.
An amendment from Rep. Ron Kind (D., Wisc.) limits premium subsidies to those producers with an Adjusted Gross Income under $250,000 and limits per person premium subsidies to $50,000.
One of the biggest debates continued to center around how to handle nutrition cuts. Led by an amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) he said the $20.5 billion in proposed cuts were "too big, too hard and hurt too many people" of the projected 2 million fewer people and 200,000 children that would not receive benefits if the cuts were enacted. McGovern failed to win support for his amendment, with a recorded vote coming in at 188-234.
The McGovern amendment was one of only a handful of recorded votes that were taken about 6 p.m. Wednesday night.
Another amendment that secured passage was from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) which would cap spending on the farm bill at 110% of Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores beginning in 2016. It passed by a vote of 309-113 in the strongest vote of the night. What she coined the Spending Safeguard Amendment was a way to prevent taxpayers from paying for a bill's skyrocketing costs if prices drop. Actual costs of the 2008 Farm Bill versus CBO projected costs differ by 51%.
An amendment from Rep. Alcee Hastings, (D., Fla.) to improve the federal coordination in addressing the declining bee population passed in a vote of 273-149.
Although not passed, an amendment to reform the U.S. international food aid by capping no more than 45% of funds to be used to purchase U.S. commodities and coinciding with the budget proposal from President Obama narrowly failed on a vote of 203-220.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) to modify the exempt levels of the oil spill prevention passed by voice vote. Another one from him prohibiting EPA from disclosing private information of farmers and ranchers also passed by voice vote.
And an amendment by Steve Chabot (R., Ohio) and Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) that sought to repeal Section 3102, which reauthorizes the Market Access Program (MAP) until 2018, was defeated by a vote of 322-98.
In a tactical move what legislators said was to better set up conference committee negotiations, an amendment from Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) to adjust target prices was withdrawn.
A joint statement from the American Soybean Assn., National Corn Growers Assn., National Sunflower Assn. and U.S. Canola Assn. indicated that amendment would have made the farm bill more market-oriented.
"We expect Chairman Lucas to respond to the farm policy concerns raised by the amendment during Conference on the farm bill, as he committed to do during his colloquy with Rep. Gibbs. The final farm bill must be more equitable and market-oriented than the current Price Loss Coverage program in the House bill.”
An amendment from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) to tie conservation compliance to eligibility for crop insurance subsidies was withdrawn on the floor. His language is included in the Senate version and champion by a coalition of environmental and commodity groups.