Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee this week will seek to get a strong bipartisan vote for their farm bill draft from the panel, giving the measure momentum as it heads to the Senate floor in the following days.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan released the 1,006-page Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 on Friday after reaching a deal that preserved the structure of the 2014 farm bill while addressing some priorities of committee members from both parties and averting a regional battle over commodity policy.
Roberts and Stabenow will want to avoid fights over amendments in committee that would upset the bill's regional balance, but some committee members, disappointed by what they couldn’t get into the bill, may try again on Wednesday when the committee debates the legislation.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he would offer an amendment that he has proposed to previous farm bills to tighten eligibility rules for commodity programs. Grassley was unable to reach agreement with Roberts to include the provisions in the draft text. Grassley’s proposal would allow one manager or non-farming family member per farm to qualify for commodity program payments.
Grassley will get a chance to make a case for his amendment on Monday when he speaks at The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank, on “common sense farm subsidy reforms."
The bill makes just one change to eligibility rules, reducing the income limit for commodity programs from $900,000 to $700,000 a year.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told Agri-Pulse that he considering possible amendments to further expand the Conservation Reserve Program and to provide additional improvements to the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.
The draft text would increase the CRP cap from 24 million acres to 25 million acres, but that is far short of the 29 million acres that the House version would provide and that Thune wanted. Thune has been working with conservation groups on acceptable ways to pay for adding more acreage.
Thune also would like to add more elements of legislation that he and committee Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio proposed in a broad package of improvements to ARC, paid for by reducing some reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage program. Roberts rejected most of the ideas, including the PLC reduction that would have angered senators from Southern states.
The draft bill would increase the substitute “transitional” T-yield from 70 percent to 75 percent of the county T-yield when yields are lower than 75 percent. But the measure omitted a more expensive change, likely costing about $1 billion, that would change the way that average market prices are calculated for determining the ARC revenue guarantee.
Roberts was hamstrung by the lack of new funding for the bill and also wanted to “keep comity on the committee,” Thune said.
“There aren’t a lot of new programs or new spending” in the bill, Thune said.
Thune, who is the GOP conference chairman, said the farm bill could be on the Senate floor as soon as next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that he intended to pass the bill before the week-long July 4 recess.
McConnell has a personal interest in the bill because it includes his provisions to legalize the production of industrial hemp and make the commodity eligible for crop insurance.
Farm groups largely applauded the introduction of the draft bill.
Roberts and Stabenow “worked hard to address those economic challenges and assemble a bipartisan bill that provides the clarity, policy certainty and vital risk protection tools that our farmers need now more than ever,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“It is important that the Senate bill strike a balance that will help set the overall congressional tone for getting the farm bill done this year.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the Senate measure “makes significant improvements over the current version of the House bill.” He said his group would urge the Senate “to make important improvements to the farm safety net and to programs that enhance long-term sustainability and access to markets for family farmers and ranchers.”
NFU has been urging Congress to raise PLC reference prices, which are left unchanged by both the House and Senate bills. The House bill does include a trigger provision that would raise reference prices if the moving five-year olympic average of a commodity's price rises 15 percent above the reference price.
Meanwhile, House Republican leaders hope to resolve an internal GOP battle this week over immigration policy that ensnared the House farm bill last month. A group of moderate Republicans is supporting a discharge petition that would force the House to vote on legalizing Dreamers, adults who were brought to the country illegally as children. Supporters of the petition need to get 218 votes to force a vote on the issue this month. Conservatives opposed to the move helped defeat the farm bill May 18 as leverage to get a vote on a broader immigration bill.
Here’s a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, June 11
Noon - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks at The Heritage Foundation on “common sense farm subsidy reforms,” 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
4 p.m. - USDA releases weekly Crop Progress report.
Tuesday, June 12
9:30 a.m. - Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2019 spending bill, 124 Dirksen.
10 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 366 Dirksen.
Wednesday, June 13
9:30 a.m. - Senate Agriculture Committee meeting to consider its farm bill, 328-A Russell.
10 a.m. - House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee meeting to consider its fiscal 2019 spending bill, H-140 Capitol.
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversight hearing on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 253 Russell.
Thursday, June 14
10:30 a.m. - Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider its FY19 Interior-Environment and Commerce-Justice-Science spending bills, 106 Dirksen.
1 p.m. - Center for American Progress forum, “Silencing Science: Risks Posed to Climate and Energy Data from Political Interference,” 1333 H St. NW.
Friday, June 15
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