Chairman Stabenow makes case for reform-minded farm bill

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 4 - Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says she has a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to begin writing a new farm bill this week that represents “the most significant reform in agricultural policy in decades.” 

The Michigan Democrat told reporters during a conference call today that she expects to have the 60 votes needed for cloture and that the entire bill writing process could take 2-3 weeks.

After an initial postponement, members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012,” S.3240, in April during one of the fastest farm bill mark ups in recent history-just under five hours. The final vote was 16-5, with Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and John Boozman, R-Ark., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY., voting against the measure.

The new five-year plan would end direct payments to farmers and add a new Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program that, covers losses when revenues drop below a certain level, while maintaining crop insurance as a centerpiece of the farm safety net. Conservation programs would be streamlined, and automatic eligibility triggers for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would be trimmed.  Stabenow said that the bill eliminates 100 individual programs that had been included in the 2008 farm bill.  

Echoing themes that will likely be repeated during Senate floor debate, Stabenow emphasized that this is a “jobs bill” because every one billion in agricultural exports translates into 8,400 American jobs.

She also touted bipartisan support for the bill and the fact that the bill delivers more deficit reduction than required by the Budget Control Act and more than recommended by Bowles-Simpson or the Gang of 6.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the measure will save $23.6 billion over the next ten years.

Stabenow offered few details about the nature or number of amendments that will likely be offered, but acknowledged that there are likely to be several.

Responding to ongoing concerns expressed by rice and peanut growers, Stabenow said two recent reports which analyzed the Senate Agriculture Committee's commodity title indicate that ARC is “fair to all commodities.

“ARC would have provided the same level of support for all commodities except rice, which would have actually gotten more price protection,” she explained.

Stabenow also said it's “common knowledge that there's a different approach being taken in the House (Agriculture Committee),” but expressed confidence that the differences would be worked out in conference committee.

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