With a farm bill floor debate looming next week, House members have filed more than half a dozen amendments attacking various aspects of the crop insurance program and others seeking to tighten rules for commodity subsidies and to roll back the sugar program.
Another amendment would cap the total cost of the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs. Other amendments include proposals to prevent food stamps from being used to buy soda and to allow farmers to start growing industrial hemp.
The House Rules Committee will decide at a meeting Tuesday evening which of the 103 amendments that have been filed can be debated on the House floor.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is pressing the Rules Committee to allow the House to only debate amendments offered by lawmakers who are committed to supporting the bill on final passage, regardless of the outcome on their proposals.
Democrats are expected to be united in opposition to the bill on final passage, and they largely avoided offering amendments. Only two Democrats are sponsoring amendments, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.
Critics of the crop insurance program appeared to be pursuing a different strategy this year than they did during debate on the 2014 farm bill. Their amendments each target different aspects of the program rather than packaging proposals together, which some observers say makes them easier to defeat.
In 2013, the Republican House narrowly defeated, 208-217, an amendment sponsored by Kind that would have capped premium subsidies at $50,000 per farmer, imposed a means test on policyholders, imposed limits on returns to the crop insurance industry, and provided for public disclosure of benefits that individual farmers receive.
Among the amendments filed this year, Mark Sanford, R-S.C., is proposing to reduce the target gross rate of return for insurance companies from 14.5 percent to 12 percent. An amendment by Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., would lower crop insurance premium subsidies for insurance policies by 15 percentage points.
Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., is proposing to restrict crop insurance subsidies to producers with adjusted gross incomes (AGIs) under $500,000. Kind filed an amendment to require public disclosure of premium subsidies.
A letter signed by more than 300 state and national farm organizations and agribusiness interests appeals to lawmakers to protect crop insurance as well as the sugar program and avoid imposing “unworkable” limits on commodity program payments.
“Given current economic conditions and the fiscal achievements of the farm bill, we strongly urge members not to impose even greater burdens on farmers by attaching harmful amendments during House floor consideration of the farm bill,” the letter says.
Jon Doggett, executive vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, said his group "supports a robust crop insurance program and is urging members to vote against any amendments that would weaken the program during House floor debate."
An amendment by Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., would remove provisions of the bill allowing members of LLCs and S corporations to individually qualify for up to $125,000 of crop subsidies annually and adding cousins, nieces and nephews to the list of a farmer’s family members who can be eligible for commodity programs.
An amendment by the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., would tighten existing law by allowing one person to qualify as a farm manager. A Rothfus amendment would reduce the existing AGI limit for commodity and conservation payments from $900,000 a year to $500,000.
Critics of the bill are already noting that it would ease farm payment rules at the same time it would expand work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and would force many states to lower income eligibility limits for SNAP.
“How would it look if conservatives and libertarian legislators try and reduce the food stamp safety net and improve the well being of the poor by reducing dependence on government but at the same time we expand the farm safety net and increase the dependence on government by wealthy agricultural producers?” asked Daren Bakst, a farm policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation. Bakst was speaking at a briefing Friday for congressional staffers.
One of the amendments that could be the most difficult for Conaway to defeat would make some changes to weaken the sugar program, but the proposal by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican is more modest than a bill she introduced last year.
An amendment sponsored by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, would would cap PLC and ARC at 110 percent of the cost of the programs projected by the Congressional Budget Office. A similar amendment that Foxx sponsored in 2013 was adopted by the House but tossed in final negotiations with the Senate.
Other amendments that have been filed would:
-Freeze the cap on enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program at the existing limit of 24 million acres. The bill would raise the cap to 29 million acres. (Sponsored by Mike Rogers, R-Ala.)
-Allow the production of industrial hemp. (James Comer, R-Ky.)
-Prevent SNAP benefits from being used to purchase soda. (John Faso, R.N.Y.)
-Tighten rules for state waivers from the SNAP work requirements and provide a transition for parents with children between the ages of 6 and 8. The bill would require parents with children over 6 to work at least 20 hours a week. (Garret Graves, R-La.)
-Increase the SNAP work requirement to at least 30 hours a week. (Glenn Grothman, R-Wis.)
-Allow for the interstate shipment of pasteurized milk to states that permit retail sales of raw milk. (Tom Massie, R-Ky.)
All of the the proposed amendments can be downloaded at the House Rules Committee website.
(Updated May 12 with latest number of amendments filed.)