Mike's Blog

Insights from the President of ProAg

2013 Farm Bill – Senate Floor Debate – Let’s Go!

by Mike Connealy on 05.18.2013

By now, it is widely known that the Senate Ag Committee (SAC) passed their version of a 2013 Farm Bill on Tuesday May 14th. The SAC took only 3-4 hours to debate the base version known as the “Manager’s Amendment” as drafted by SAC Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D. Michigan) with general concurrence from the ranking minority member Thad Cochran (R. Mississippi).
 
The basics of the SAC version (S. 954) were debated in the committee with a few amendments voted on and added to the “Manager’s Amendment”. Some amendments were discussed and then withdrawn with the general feeling that the SAC would not approve them, but perhaps the full Senate, without so many knowledgeable agriculture interests, would be agreeable.
 
The SAC narrative and rhetoric was generally toned down and amiable. Even though five senators voted against the final passage of the Manager’s Amendment as amended (Republican Roberts of Kansas, Johanns of Nebraska , Thune of South Dakota and McConnell of Kentucky plus Democrat Gillibrand of New York), most of the debate was polite and reasoned. The Republican no votes were generally due to special target price treatment for rice and peanuts.  Kirsten Gillibrand (D. New York) still hopes to raid the crop insurance program of billions in order to reinstate what she considers unfair cuts to SNAP (nutrition programs including Food Stamps). The passed SAC version did – as we hoped – no harm to crop insurance. 
 
The full Senate will take up the Farm Bill early the week of May 20th. We can expect numerous amendments to the base bill as passed by the SAC and presented for consideration to the full Senate. There will certainly be lively debate of the various germane topics. Hopefully the Senate leadership can keep the ball moving forward and some version of S. 954 – as amended – will pass the full Senate around Memorial Day.    
 
The genteel activity of the SAC was finished on May 14th by early afternoon. This set the stage for the House Ag Committee (HAC) to begin their deliberation on the morning of Wednesday May 15th as Chairman Frank Lucas (R. Oklahoma) brought the gavel down and opened up the session. Chairman Lucas and ranking minority member Collin Peterson (D. Minnesota) made opening remarks about their basic support of their base Farm Bill (en bloc amendment) and opened up the session for amendments and discussion. The 46 member HAC immediately went to work tearing apart the en bloc amendment beginning with Dairy and ending 14 hours later arguing about whether the slaughter of horses was appropriate or not.  In between were numerous spats where Democrat took on Democrat and Republican took on Republican debating, states’ rights versus federal jurisdiction, north versus south, east versus west, rural versus city, and chickens versus pork, etc. etc.
 
In the end and just before midnight, Chairman Lucas managed to herd the 46 HAC members into a vote on his base bill – as amended – and will be sending H.R. 1947 on to the full House of Representatives with a resounding 36-10 vote. The best guess is that the full House will take up this bill in June or July.
 
Again, the HAC passed version “did no harm to crop insurance” thanks to the support of Chairman Lucas and minority leader Peterson. Similar to those that lurk in the Senate, Representative McGovern (D. Massachusetts) stated his intent to reinstate what he considers draconian cuts to SNAP by gutting crop insurance during the floor debate.
 
My guess is that the Senate floor debate will be lively and the House will at times be chaos. The faint of heart can probably handle the Senate debate but should probably not watch when the House goes in to action. Agents and employees should keep an eye on their e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts and be prepared to call their Senate or House members for various amendment votes. We will attempt to clearly state what the amendment is and which way we encourage the member to vote. You can be assured that EWG and those opposed to crop insurance and production agriculture will be gearing up and we cannot let them out work us.
 
We expect this to be a long, hot summer in Washington DC, and while we are encouraged by the SAC and HAC progress, we can take nothing for granted. As the Charlie Pride country classic goes, “the easy part’s over now and the hard part begins”.   

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