Stabenow releases Senate farm bill draft

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on Thursday released her draft 2013 farm bill.

The bill saves $23 billion, by the committee's unofficial estimate, over the next 10 years by replacing the existing farm safety net with new crop insurance and price-based supports and by restricting some eligibility for food stamps. 

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Next Tuesday, the committee will mark up the measure, which governs farm subsidies and food stamps as well as rural energy, trade, conservation and development programs for five years. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill this month.

“The current Farm Bill expires Sept 30.  A new Farm Bill must be passed this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery. Sixteen million jobs hang in the balance,” the committee says its press release. 

For the most part, the Stabenow bill resembles the bill the full Senate passed in a 64-35 vote last year. The House never took up its own bill, which passed out of the House Agriculture Committee. Farmers are currently operating under an extension of the 2008 farm bill. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told The Hill his bill — to be marked up on Wednesday — will cut $38 billion with $20 billion coming from food stamps. Negotiating a compromise will be a major undertaking, he said. 

The Stabenow draft saves $16 billion from commodity programs by repealing direct payments, counter-cyclical payments and Average Crop Revenue Election Program and replacing them with expanded crop insurance. 

Stabenow has also included some changes to farm subsidies to enhance payments to rice and peanut growers in ways that resemble the House approach last year. These growers — important constituents of new committee ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) — will receive more generous target-price based supports. 

The new bill stops farmers with gross adjusted income of more than $750,000 from receiving payments. This provision, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was inserted on the Senate floor during last year’s floor consideration. 

On food stamps, the changes are similar to the 2012 draft, which cut about $4 billion. The bill gets savings by ending a loophole whereby individuals that do not need home heating assistance are given it in order to automatically qualify for food stamps. It also blocks lottery winners and some college students from getting food stamps and stops liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food stamps. 

A leading environmental critic of farm supports said the bill has strong features, like a requirement for conserving natural habitat in order to participate in crop insurance and the $750,000 cap.

“We are pleased that the conservation compliance and means testing are in there but disappointed it contains higher target prices,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group. “It encourages farmers to plow up more wetlands and prairie and to put the land into production.”