THE Senate pulled together in a bipartisan vote of 66-27 to pass its farm bill June 10. Overall, minor changes were made during floor debate, with only 15 amendments receiving a vote.
S. 954 touts roughly $24 billion in savings over 10 years, although $6 billion of those savings would have already occurred in sequestration cuts, and the remaining $17.9 billion comes from farm support programs, including eliminating the direct payment program to producers.
The bill includes $4 billion in nutrition program cuts over 10 years, much less than the $20 billion in cuts proposed in the House version (Figure). The bill makes changes to the crop insurance program, expanding it to several segments that did not previously have access to the program.
In all, the measure recommends the elimination of almost 100 federal programs. Conservation programs have also been streamlined and consolidated.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) criticized the lack of debate on this year's farm bill, noting that last year, "we considered 73 amendments on the floor. This year, we only voted on 15 amendments, even though more than 250 were filed.
"I was one of the few to have a vote on an amendment, but I had two more amendments filed, and I co-sponsored others that would have improved the bill. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle were shut out of the debate entirely," Roberts added.
Some expected that Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) would come up with several approved amendments to allow members to vote on them. However, that wasn't the case.
Attempts to roll back nutrition cuts and expand nutrition cuts failed. Sugar program reform failed, in addition to an amendment to give states the right to label whether food is genetically modified.
The most significant amendment agreed to was from Sens. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) that would reduce crop insurance premiums from 62% to 47% for the richest 1% of farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000 (roughly 20,000 farmers total). The change saves an estimated $1 billion.
The inclusion of target price supports allowed southern state senators to get on board with the bill; however, it caused several midwestern senators to vote no on the bill, including Roberts, who was ranking member of the agriculture committee last year.
Roberts voted no during both the committee and cloture votes because he said the bill takes a step backward in farm program reforms and could set up the U.S. for additional world trade challenges.
The House is expected to start its farm bill debate this week.
Mary Kay Thatcher, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said she expects the House Rules Committee to limit amendments on the farm bill somewhat, but because the bill hasn't been officially filed, no one can draft amendments yet. Thatcher said debate and votes could happen as soon as June 19-20, with the chamber out of session June 21 and June 24.
Nutrition funding and the dairy program look to be the major sticking points on the House side, although there are calls for an amendment to separate the nutrition title and agriculture portion so each could be voted on separately.
During House debate, Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) is expected to introduce an amendment that would address the concerns of corn, soybean, sunflower and canola growers by setting reference prices at a percentage of recent average market prices, which do not exceed production costs. His amendment would also provide payments on a historical crop acreage basis rather than on current-year plantings and would offer $10 billion in savings.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) has expressed some concern with garnering the 218 votes needed.
Still, Peterson said he's optimistic that the House will be able to consider its farm bill this week, noting, "It's going to be difficult, but if everything stays on track, I believe it's possible to get a bill to the President before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers."