When the Senate moves it apparently doesn't mess around. At least that's how it appears with the 2012 Farm Bill. Just two days ago Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought the measure to the floor for consideration and initial debate, but for the bill to move forward 60 Senators must vote for cloture. While Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is confident the 60 votes are there, the rubber may meet the road on that question today when that vote could take place.
UPDATE: The Senate voted 90-8 for cloture. The bill - S.3240 - will now move forward to amendments and debate, a process that Stabenow says could last two to three weeks. The good news is that the Senate is moving forward on the 2012 Farm Bill.
After the cloture vote the essential work begins with a potentially wide range of amendments could be raised and considered. Stabenow, when discussing the measure before it came to the floor, says she believes debate would last two to three weeks. The busy, and shortening, Senate calendar could influence that.
Meanwhile, more groups and organizations are weighing in on the Senate measure that could spend $969 billion over the next 10 years, but still cut overall spending by $23.6 billion compared to the current bill.
The Club for Growth, a group that promotes itself as being in favor of economic freedom, is urging Senators to vote "no" on its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. In comments on its Web site, the group says the bill "makes some material reforms and spending cuts, but it still enables the government to maintain a heavy and unacceptable presence in various parts of the private sector."
The group likes the 2012 Farm Bill to the "Stimulus, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank and Cap and Trade" noting that the "massive bill" asserts too much government control in the private sector. The group says the 1,010 pages of the farm bill with its 12 titles deals with "unrelated programs ranging from commodity subsidies, forestry programs, community development, broadband service, food stamps, and conservation."
The group advocates breaking up the farm bill so each part can be judged on its merits rather than "tying them together for political reasons."
Young farmers speak
A press event on Capitol Hill Wednesday had several groups speaking in favor of the Senate measure. The event, hosted by Stabenow, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who is minority leader in the Senate Ag Committee, offered comments from a range of groups.
Ben LaCross, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation and a young fruit grower from Michigan, says that without the bill, crop losses could be catastrophic, especially for beginning and young farmers.
"If the committee's farm bill were in existence today, I would have the opportunity to cover more of my crops under crop insurance, using new programs that would provide better coverage at a lower cost," LaCross says. "It would also provide the ability to use more realistic production numbers by increasing the 'yield plug' in years like this one, when my production is going to be almost zero. Importantly, the bill also increases crop insurance assistance to beginning farmers."
Michigan fruit producers saw their trees blossom early due to unseasonably warm weather only to have a subsequent frost kill those fruiting buds. The hit to production could be devastating for production in 2012. LaCross says that in a normal year his farm would produce about 4 million pounds of cherries, but in 2012 he would be lucky to harvest 40,000 pounds, or about 1% of normal production. "Crop insurance keeps families like mine in business," LaCross says.
Midland, Va., dairy producer Sarah Leonard, told those at the press event the supports the Senate farm bill version. "On our farm, we don't focus on the latest polls, or whose campaign is raising the most money," she says. "We focus instead on how much rain we received last night, how much milk the cows are generating today, and what the market price of corn and soybeans are. That's our daily reality. But part of the reality is, we need a new farm bill."
Leonard says that the farm bill has tools she can use to keep the family's 325-cow dairy going. "I would like to sell milk, not sell our land to developers," she says.
For corn grower Lyle Pugh, a member of the National Corn Growers Association Public Policy Action Team, the Senate farm bill makes sense. "Since I have been involved in agriculture, the industry has changed dramatically," says the Chesapeake, Va. grower. "Farmers have sent a strong message that direct payments are now longer defensible and do not provide assistance when it is most needed. Instead, we want a program that will help less the blow when farmers are facing years of bad weather or depressed markets."
Those direct payments will be a major point of contention in floor debate. While new programs the Agricultural Risk Coverage will take the place of some risk management programs, and there re supports focused on specific crops there's a geographical divide ahead.
Southern peanut and rice growers content that without direct payments this farm bill would hurt them financially and impact their long-term stability. When the farm bill went to the floor this week, Stabenow told reporters in a press call that ARC is fair to all commodities adding that the new program would have provided producers protection during the last big price drop - the 1990s - above what current programs would have paid.
She says the five-year Olympic average approach would have provided about the same level of price protection for all commodities in that same time period. She notes that rice would actually have received more support from ARC. Rice and peanut producers are pressing their case for programs that are regionally sensitive to grower and crop needs.