WASHINGTON, June 8 – For anyone trying to figure out why some Southern senators are unlikely to support the current version of the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012,” S. 3240, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., delivered the answers Thursday during a speech on the Senate floor.
Sen. Chambliss was one of five to oppose the bill in committee, and although he was one of 90 that voted for the motion to proceed on Thursday he said that, “as of today, the bill is filled with inequities and is unbalanced.”
The Georgia Republican is now working on his fourth farm bill and he acknowledged that each one presents its own unique challenges and opportunities.
“My greatest concern with this bill is that the commodity title redistributes resources from one region to another, not based on market forces or cropping decisions, but based on how the underlying program, the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program was designed,” he noted.
“There are many reports illustrating the lopsidedness of the losers in the budget baseline for wheat, barley, grain sorghum, rice, cotton and peanuts. We should not convince ourselves that this is not going to have an enormous negative consequence for many regions of the country,” Chambliss emphasized. “But simply by making the bill too rich for a few at the expense of the many, it lacks balance.”
Chambliss acknowledged that planting shifts are responsible for much of the change in the budget baseline.
“But it does not take away the injury that would be inflicted on regions of the country nor does it tell the whole story. By squeezing all crops into a program designed for one or two crops, the bill will force many growers to switch to those crops in order to have an effective safety net. This is the very planting distortion caused by farm policy that we seek to avoid in any farm bill.”
Chambliss also pointed to what he described as “another very serious problem” with the bill.
“It’s not going to be there when farmers really need it…..Under this bill, a farmer has an 11% deductible, then the next 10% of loss is covered. But then farmers are left totally exposed down to the loan rate. If that happens, Congress will be asked to pass ad hoc disaster programs again.”
Chambliss said that crop insurance could cover the production side of a farmer’s risk if he or she can afford to buy higher coverage, but he is particularly concerned about problems with the 10% revenue band under the ARC.
“The 10% revenue band this bill does cover has problems. The revenue guarantee is based on the previous five years price and production. The guarantee is only as good as those previous five years. If they were bad or they become bad, the guarantee is also bad.”
“After deducting a share for deficit reduction, certain commodities received more resources than others, and crops such as peanuts and rice are left without any safety net whatsoever.
Chambliss also rebutted some press reports that southerners are upset with the bill because it eliminates direct payments.
“I have never been a fan of direct payments and, back in 1996, as a member of the House, I supported a much different proposal. Direct payments were always difficult to defend and we needed to find a different way to provide a safety net while doing so in a fiscally responsible way. Southern growers have not asked for direct payments at any time during the current discussions.
Chambliss said he believes “the farm bill needs to provide an effective safety net for farmers and ranchers in rural communities in times of deep and sustained price declines. It should also responsibly provide nutrition assistance to those in need in all parts of the country, urban and rural alike.
“The nutrition benefits in this bill, which are already inflated by the president’s failed stimulus package are reduced by only one half of one percent while the commodity title is cut roughly 15%.
“By this account, it is clear that the Agriculture Committee carefully determined how best to contribute to deficit reduction to ensure an undue burden was not placed on those truly in need.”
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