Stabenow defends farm bill provisions

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) offered a defense of controversial aspects of the farm bill, in an appearance on C-Span's Newsmakers airing Sunday. 
 
During the interview, she explained why a provision requiring lawmakers to disclose crop insurance aid they themselves get from the government was not in the final bill. 
 
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The farm bill has passed the House and is heading for a Monday vote in the Senate. 
 
Stabenow, her House counterpart Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and other top negotiators decided to remove some payment limits in the farm bill as well as a requirement that lawmakers disclose what crop insurance aid they receive.
 
Stabenow said that the lawmaker disclosure requirement was removed because the issue is in the jurisdiction of the Ethics Committee.
 
“The decision was made that we have already financial disclosure forms as to where we get our income. This is done through other committees, we have an Ethics Committee, we have a Rules Committee,” she said. “This is beyond our jurisdiction so we indicated that if there is more that needs to be done there, that should be done over there. I certainly would support that.”
 
Supporters of the disclosure requirement, which was in the House-passed bill, argue that the financial disclosure forms do not capture the aid lawmakers are receiving.
 
Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense criticized Stabenow's explanation.
 
"As Sen. Stabenow was fond of saying about crop insurance versus direct payments farmers 'get a bill not a check.' The subsidies are built in, there isn't money changing hands to report. But there is a financial benefit of reduced payments," he said.  
 
"It is in the committee's jurisdiction to direct USDA to make this information available; it has nothing to do with the Ethics Committee. Besides the provision applied to the cabinet as well, which Ethics has no jurisdiction over. Disclosure was gutted to reduce oversight, plain and simple," he added. 
 
Stabenow also defended a decision to remove payment limits on specific types of commodity subsidies in the bill. The final farm bill caps payments at $125,000 per individual for the first time, but negotiators removed $50,000 limits on revenue and price-based supports and a $75,000 limit on marketing loan deficiency payments. 
 
“For the first time ever, ever there is an overall cap on the commodity title,” Stabenow noted. She said the caps within the overall cap were removed to give “flexibility.”
 
She also touted the fact the bill ends direct payments that go to farmers regardless of losses and instead makes all subsidy payments contingent on disasters or price collapses.
 
“This is not a bait and switch shuffle,” she said.
 
On the food stamp section of the bill, Stabenow defended the $8 billion in cuts in the program as far better than what the House initially sought. The House bill had $39 billion in cuts and the House budget had $134 billion.
 
She noted that the farm bill now requires individuals to either get $20 a year in heating aid or produce a utility bill to qualify for food stamps. She said the Agriculture Department will be engaging in outreach to help renters prove they pay for utilities as part of their overall rent.
 
“I can't with a straight face say to anybody that it's okay to get a utility credit if you don't have a utility bill,” she said. 
 
The chairwoman expressed confidence of Senate passage of the farm bill.
 
“Our senators are very comfortable with this,” she said. “This is very close to what we passed in the Senate.”