As reported on Monday, the US Senate went on cruise control and passed their version of the 2013 Farm Bill by a robust 66-27 vote. The cloture vote last week reduced the timeframe for debate and amendments. In my opinion, the Senate leadership basically shoved it through “as is” in order to move on to “immigration” which is far more interesting to the press and the public than a Farm Bill.
The cynic in me is convinced that the US Senate “powers that be” are betting that the House of Representatives will be an upcoming bloodbath on the 2013 Farm Bill followed by a potential “conference committee” will give everyone interested in the Senate a “2nd bite at the 2013 Farm Bill apple”. Hence, let’s pass something and use the platform to challenge the House to do their part and then worry about it later.
Two New England members (concerned with SNAP cuts) joined 20 republicans in voting no on final passage. Two known Republican crop insurance supporters (Roberts of Kansas and Thune of South Dakota) voted against passing the bill. Both are specifically on record as opposing the inclusion of target prices in the final US Senate version. Each, prior to cloture, had planned to support amendments adverse to target prices and each voted against cloture, presumably to have these amendments voted on the record. In any case, the point is that the Senate is now standing down, but not yet done, as far as the 2013 Farm Bill is concerned.
We do congratulate Chairwoman Stabenow (D. Michigan) and Ranking Member Cochran (R. Mississippi) for their success in moving a Farm Bill in the Senate across the “initial finish line”.
Now, the attention moves to the US House of Representatives (House). The House leadership has indicated that the Farm Bill will be on the floor for debate the week of June 16th. We expect spirited (if not nasty) debate on a number of issues. The Dairy Program, for instance, although not particularly expensive will generate rancorous debate and a number of amendments. Even Speaker Boehner considers himself knowledgeable enough on this difficult subject matter to be in the mix on how the Dairy Program ultimately plays out.
The key difference maker in my opinion will be the nutrition title. The proposed SNAP cuts are considerable in the House Ag Committee (HAC) version of the Farm Bill. This will dial up the usual rhetoric from both the east and west coast democrats about farmers being protected in the HAC bill at the expense of hungry children and senior citizens. Various amendments will be offered to reinstate SNAP cuts at the expense of everything from soup to nuts but often by cutting the crop insurance budget or even the entire private sector crop insurance program.
One of the more annoying aspects will be stories in the press that state the HAC has indeed eliminated direct payments, but will then go on to say the $$ were not all saved but have been redirected into a “bloated” crop insurance program. The fact is that both the Senate and the House have included new “risk management” tools, but these are not necessarily designed to be part of the existing crop insurance program. In fact, they are likely delivered by local FSA offices, the same as ACRE and SURE in the last Farm Bill.
We must remain diligent in monitoring the debate and we must be in touch with our local members to urge them that “no harm” be done to the crop insurance program. We will provide industry information and our own observations on a daily basis once the debate begins. It could well last for several days and we expect it to be contentious. HAC Chairman Lucas (R. Oklahoma) and Ranking Member Peterson (D. Minnesota) are both committed to getting this done and they will need all the support that they can find.
As always, questions or comments are welcome.