Senators bring their version of Farm Bill up for debate
As the Senate began work on its version of the Farm Bill - S. 3240 - this week some senators voiced optimism that the measure could be passed this summer and others were more pessimistic.
The Senate proposal would cut $23 billion from spending over 10 years - with cuts coming mostly in direct payments to farmers, conservation programs and nutrition programs.
That contrasts with the House measure that makes about $33 billion in cuts. The House is expected to finish its version of the bill before July 4.
Both houses must agree on a Farm Bill before it can become law.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) told the Des Moines Register that he thought it might be possible for a Farm Bill to get passed this summer, but said the current version in the House would be "dead on arrival" in the Senate because of huge cuts to nutrition programs.
Other senators worry that the flood of amendments being introduced in the Senate will kill any chances for quick passage.
Earlier this year, political experts doubted a Farm Bill could be passed in an election year.
But on June 7, the measure passed a crucial vote in the Senate when 90 members voted to bring the bill to the floor - called a cloture vote - and consider its passage. Only eight senators voted against cloture.
The overwhelming vote in favor of bringing the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate increases the changes that a Farm Bill, including dairy policy reforms, will get through Congress this year, said Jerry Kozak, head of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF.)
The Senate bill includes a new, voluntary margin protection program for dairy farmers, endorsed by NMPF, to better safeguard farmers against disastrously low margins, such as those generated by the low milk prices and high feed costs that cost dairy farmers $20 billion in net worth between 2007 and 2009.
Kozak said the dairy title contains a better safety net for farmers in the form of the Dairy Production Margin Protection Program, which offers them a basic level of coverage against low margins, as well as a supplemental insurance plan offering higher levels of protection jointly funded by government and farmers.
Those who opt to enroll in the margin program will also be subject to the Market Stabilization program that asks them to reduce milk output when margins are poor.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report outlines major spending changes from the Senate version compared to the previous farm policy bill. They include an end to direct payments to farmers but substitute a larger crop or income insurance program.
The government would save an estimated $19.8 billion from the end of direct payments.
According to Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel, talks with members of Congress from both parties earlier this year indicated that the direct payment program would be ended this time around.
In its place would be an estimated $5.1 billion added to the crop insurance programs.
According to the CBO report the Senate's version would create a new system for commodity payments and soybean growers expect to receive $1.3 billion more in payments, while most other crop payments would be cut over the next 10 years.
The bill would make cuts to conservation programs totaling $6.4 billion and would cut $3.9 billion over 10 years in nutritional programs, including food stamps. But some senators are already drafting amendments to eliminate the nutrition spending cuts.
The Farm Bill would add $647 million to agricultural research, extension activities, and related issues and would allocate an additional $780 million for energy programs, such as bio-fuels.