Senate farm bill cloture vote set but amendments uncertain
The Senate is scheduled to hold a cloture vote on the farm bill today at about 6 p.m., but what happens with amendments to be offered on that bill is uncertain.
The cloture vote occurs two days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed cloture because 17 senators had requested it, and the vote should put the Senate in motion to consider the bill this week.
McConnell has said he wants the bill considered before the Senate leaves late Thursday or Friday for the July 4 break.
Lobbyists said late last week that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was trying to develop a manager’s package of amendments that could be approved by unanimous consent.
But that package is unlikely to include contentious issues such as payment limits and other curbs on subsidies including crop insurance, the sugar program and curtailing the checkoff programs.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he will happily support the farm bill if Congress includes his amendment to limit the size of payments to big farmers.
Grassley last week noted that both the House and the Senate passed his amendment in 2014, but that it was not included in the final farm bill, which is technically a violation of congressional process. The farm bill that passed in the House last week would make it easier for big farm operations to get more payments.
Critics of the crop insurance program would also like the Senate to consider an amendment to limit that program, but last week the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau said 639 local, state and national organizations and individual companies signed a petition urging Congress to “do no harm” to the crop insurance program.
Specifically, the petition asks senators to oppose “harmful” amendments to crop insurance, including those that would reduce participation in crop insurance, make insurance more expensive for farmers during a time of economic downturn in agriculture, or harm private-sector delivery.
CIRB Vice President of Federal Affairs Tara Smith said, “We encourage everyone to reach out to their senators today to ensure they hear directly what folks in the countryside already know: that crop insurance works, and we need to protect it from harmful amendments in the farm bill.”
The Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, which is supported by the Sweetener Users Association, told The Hagstrom Report that Sens Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., want to offer an amendment to make changes to the sugar program, but don’t know whether McConnell will allow them to offer it.
A similar amendment fell to massive defeat in the House, but a spokesman for the alliance said that vote turned out the way it did because Democrats were grateful that House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had so vigorously opposed the Republican bill provisions to add work requirements and eligibility restrictions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
An internal memo from the sweetener users’ alliance said that in the House debate “the sugar modernization amendment was the victim of the broader partisan politics that have defined this year’s farm bill process. For Democrats, the debate was defined by their opposition to SNAP reform. For a handful of conservative Republicans, it was entangled with immigration reform.”
“We still feel that making the program work for manufacturing families and farm families makes sound policy and political sense and is something on which all stakeholders can agree,” the memo said. “We were disappointed that the sugar processors were unwilling to discuss any elements of modernization, but our position still gives us greater credibility with a wider audience.”
The Humane Society of the United States has also said it hopes Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Mike Lee R-Utah, will be able to offer an amendment to make changes to the research and promotion programs that charge producers each time a commodity is sold.
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