Lobbyists are girding for a slew of battles on the farm bill, which will hit the Senate floor in early June.
There are many hurdles to getting a farm bill to President Obama’s desk this election year. As a bipartisan group of senators work to pass the measure through the upper chamber, the farm bill is not on the House’s summer agenda.
Lobbyists expect numerous amendments on the floor aimed at reducing farm subsidy spending through payment limitations and means testing. It is not yet clear if an open amendment process will be allowed or if a consent agreement can be reached to limit changes.
Southern senators are also still dissatisfied with the bill because rice and peanut subsidies are cut too deeply in their view, and talks with Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowOvernight Finance: Trump takes victory lap at Carrier plant | House passes 'too big to fail' revamp | Trump econ team takes shape Senate Dems: Force Cabinet nominees to release tax returns Five things a President Trump can do to bring back and create new jobs MORE (D-Mich.) have not yielded results yet.
“We have no agreement,” Sen. Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.), a member of the Agriculture panel, told The Hill.
Chambliss voted against the bill in committee, which passed 16-5 in late April. The other no votes included Sens. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJuan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Republicans want to grease tracks for Trump This week: Government funding deadline looms MORE (R-Ky.), Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.), John BoozmanJohn BoozmanDeficits could stand in the way of Trump's agenda The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate SENATE: Republicans defy odds to keep majority MORE (R-Ark.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandMeet Trump’s ‘mad dog’ for the Pentagon McCain to support waiver for Mattis, Trump team says Dem senator comes out against waiver for Mattis to be Defense head MORE (D-N.Y.).
“We will wind up compromising,” Stabenow said on NPR Thursday. “Whether that gets done completely in the Senate or in conference committee, we will get it done.”
At this point objections by rice and peanut farmers to the bill are not likely to be resolved in the upper chamber, leaving them for an eventual House-Senate conference committee to work out, sources said.
But to get to conference assumes it will pass the House and Senate.
McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, is not fond of the bill. He said, “Instead of including initiatives that streamline the U.S. Department of Agriculture and reform nutrition programs, this year’s bill spends a trillion dollars and achieves insignificant reforms to major programs.”
Yet, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat RobertsPat RobertsGOP debates going big on tax reform Memo to the LGBT community: Donald Trump is not your enemy Bob McDonnell to join Regent Univ. faculty MORE (R-Kan.) has said he doesn’t view McConnell’s vote as an indication that the Kentucky senator will block it on the floor. Roberts crafted the Senate farm bill with Stabenow, who is up for reelection in 2012.
Stabenow this week said she has the 60 votes she needs to get it through the Senate.
However, the House summer floor schedule released by Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorChamber of Commerce overhauls lobbying operation Laura Ingraham under consideration for White House press secretary VA Dems jockey for Kaine's seat MORE (R-Va.) on Friday does not mention the farm bill.
The Senate Agriculture bill would end a type of farm subsidy known as direct payments. These go to producers based on historical levels of production, meaning that farmers who no longer farm can get the subsidy.
In place of direct payments, which have come under political attack, the Senate bill would set up an Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) shallow loss program of expanded crop insurance.
Rice and peanut farmers do not reap the benefits of this new system, their representatives say.
They are looking to have the choice of substituting countercyclical payments for participation in the ARC insurance.
These payments, which exist in current law but which would be eliminated in the Stabenow bill, kick in when commodity prices fall below a certain target price.
Last fall, Stabenow, Roberts, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were able to back optional target prices to satisfy rice and peanuts.
The four lawmakers produced recommendations to the failed debt supercommittee that would have actually increased current target prices and offered expanded benefits.
Congressional sources say that while target prices may have stood a chance if fast-tracked through a supercommittee process, including them in the farm bill make it impossible to pass in the House or Senate floor.
Conservatives who want to see deeper cuts may rally against a bill that distorts the free market as much as countercyclical payments do.
Supporters of the Stabenow-Roberts Senate bill point out that rice and peanuts benefit disproportionately from the current system compared to other major commodities like wheat, corn and soybeans. Rice is planted on 1.3 percent of planted acres, but gets 8.2 percent of government payments, while peanuts is planted on 0.6 percent planted acres but 1.9 percent of payments, they point out.
Backers of rice and peanut farmers say their members will be severely damaged if the ARC crop insurance program is adopted without target prices as an option.
Rice farmers typically do not carry enough crop insurance to prevent deep losses that the ARC does not address. On top of that, long-grain rice is facing low prices currently. Whereas corn has reached all-time highs, if a new revenue guarantee ARC program is adopted for rice it will lock in low levels of revenue.
Peanut farmers have run 50 models using the ARC system and it fails in all of them, one source said.
These sources are looking to Lucas and Peterson, who are said to be supportive of the option.
“Oh, they love target prices,” one lobbyist said.
A target price supporter discounted the idea that Tea Party House members would rebel against the notion of government set prices.
“It never comes up with them,” one said.
Key members of the freshman class are seen as allies.
Reps. Martha RobyMartha RobyWHIP LIST: Republicans breaking with Trump GOP women break with Trump Fiorina calls on Trump to drop out MORE (R-Ala), Austin Scott (R-Ga.). Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Steven Fincher (R-Tenn.), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.), Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.), Rick CrawfordRick CrawfordWhy a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform Convention calendar: Parties and events Southern lawmakers fight to keep USDA catfish inspections MORE (R-Ark.) and Robert HurtRobert HurtDemocrat defeats controversial chair of House Wall Street subpanel Republican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Armed protester stands outside Dem's office for 12 hours MORE (R-Va.) are seen as in the peanut camp.
Lucas and Peterson have a difficult task in crafting a bill that both satisfies the commodity groups and which can pass the House.