Senate Ag Committee passes bipartisan Farm Bill with regional differences

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 26, 2012- The Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version of the 2012 Farm Bill this afternoon with a total of 16 supporting votes and five negative votes. The markup of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 that began this morning took less than five hours, “when historically it would take days,” said Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kans. 

The bill will next go to the Senate for full consideration. Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., focused on the bipartisan support and efforts of committee members and staff to reform the Farm Bill when they spoke to members of the press after the markup. 

“This is the best Farm Bill I have seen to date,” Roberts said. “This is truly a reform bill. The number of programs we consolidated and streamlined is rather incredible.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected the Senate Farm Bill would save $24.7 billion over the next 10 years over the 2008 Farm Bill levels, although that number likely changed during today's markup through the amendment process.

The bill, which eliminates direct payments and emphasizes risk management tools and crop insurance and will reduce the deficit by at least $23 billion, failed to gain support from some southern representatives on the committee today. Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and John Boozman, R-Ark., vowed to bring up amendments when the Farm Bill hits the Senate floor to further protect cotton, rice and peanuts that do not benefit from crop insurance.

“As we move toward a mark on the floor, I hope the issues of rice and peanuts will be given greater consideration,” Chambliss said during the markup. “If enacted under the current proposal, both peanuts and rice are going to take a huge hit.”

Stabenow assured them considerations for southern crops are already in the bill, including the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) for cotton, but that "this is not all fully developed."

“It's not about one region over another, but it is complicated,” she said. “We do have STAX for cotton, a new ag risk coverage program, special prices for rice and peanuts and new crop insurance options. I know this is not all fully developed. We realize we're not there yet.”

“We've known from the beginning as we moved away from direct payments that it would affect the South. This is not a bill without provisions for cotton, rice and peanuts,” Stabenow explained after the markup. “It's a legitimate issue about transitioning.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the other negative vote in the committee, drew back with concerns about the $4 billion in reductions to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spending.

“Under this current draft, families in New York will lose about $45 a month in their food stamps, which means the third week of the month, many families' children will go to school hungry,” Gillibrand said during the markup.

However, Stabenow defended the cuts to the Nutrition Title, which accounts for approximately 80 percent of Farm Bill spending, as responsible closures to loopholes and assurances against SNAP fraud. “I'm certainly proud as compared to what the House is doing,” she said. The House Committee on Agriculture approved $33 billion in reductions to SNAP over 10 years to meet the House-passed budget reconciliation requirements. 

“We have focused on ways to strengthen accountability,” Stabenow said regarding the Nutrition Title. “It addresses areas of loopholes and abuse in a responsible way.”

Although regional differences are evident, Roberts lauded the bipartisan approval of the legislation today.

“I haven't heard a partisan word throughout the markup,” he said. “And I think that's remarkable given the current political climate. This is a proud moment.”

Stabenow said she felt the Farm Bill is in a “good position now with a strong bipartisan vote,” and that she expects it to reach the Senate floor “within a few weeks.” She indicated that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is “interested and anxious to sit down and go through the bill.”

 
 

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