Agreement on farm bill floor amendments eludes Senate

Senate Democrats and Republicans were unable to finalize an agreement on floor amendments to the $955 billion farm bill this week, leaving the work to be hashed out at the last minute.

“We’re still working with the minority for a time agreement and we’ll have a clearer sense then on which amendments will be called up probably by Monday afternoon or evening,” a Democratic aide said late Friday.

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“All of this is still in the works,” a GOP aide emailed.

Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) are hoping to limit amendments to get the farm bill passed by the full Senate by the end of the coming week.

They are also said to be seeking to avoid additional limitations on farm subsidy payments that could further complicate the eventual task of getting a compromise with the House.

The Senate, by a 59 to 33 vote, passed a reduction in crop insurance subsidies for those making over $750,000 per year before the Memorial Day recess.  The amendment passed despite the opposition of Stabenow and Cochran. The House draft farm bill does not have such a limitation.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have been fighting for votes on other limits.

Toomey and Shaheen have an amendment that would limit crop insurance premium subsidies to $50,000 per crop per year. They estimate the provision will save $3.4 billion.

Flake has a crop insurance amendment that could save $7.7 billion. It would end a provision known as the “harvest price option” that allows farmers to get reimbursed based on what a damaged crop would have sold for at harvest time rather than what farmers predicted it would sell for at planting time.

Flake and McCaskill have another amendment that would allow the government to reduce the deficit by renegotiating reinsurance agreements with crop insurance companies. The last time the government did this, it saved $6 billion but the new farm bill has a provision prohibiting any savings being used to reduce the deficit.

As it stands the Senate bill cuts $23 billion in spending over ten years, with $4 billion coming from food stamps.

Stabenow argues that further cuts would weaken the farm safety net unfairly and she led an effort to defeat a Republican attempt to include deeper cuts to food stamps by converting it to a block grant program. That proposal failed 36 to 60.

The chairwoman also opposed a liberal attempt to restore the $4 billion in food stamp cuts. That effort failed 26 to 70.

The House is expecting to take up its own farm bill, which has $20.5 billion in cuts to food stamps, in mid-June. Last year, House leaders refused to bring a draft farm bill to the floor.

“I commend the chairman and his entire committee for their efforts and I look forward to a robust debate and an open process on the House floor,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a memo released this week. “This bill, together with the effects of sequestration, reflects almost $40 billion in savings reductions through eliminating and reforming wasteful government programs and consolidating more than 100 programs.”