Farm Bill Gets House Hearing After Senate Panel Approval

May 15th, 2013


Category: Policy

Farm Bill(Bloomberg) – The U.S. House Agriculture Committee will debate legislation today to reauthorize farm programs, a day after the Senate panel approved a version that will cost $955 billion over 10 years.

The Senate bill would cut $24.4 billion in spending in the next decade by trimming $4 billion from food stamps, the biggest USDA program, $17 billion in farm subsidies and $3.6 billion in environmental programs the Congressional Budget Office reported. Crop insurance, which is making record payouts after last year’s drought, would rise by $5 billion. The full Senate will take up the bill next week, said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who heads the committee.

“There are significant reforms and consolidations” that save money, Stabenow said yesterday after the committee voted 15-5 for the measure. “I am absolutely confident we will have a strong vote” in the Senate for a new law, she said.

The Senate’s version includes $6.4 billion eliminated through mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect March 1. Crop subsidies benefiting buyers such as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) and food stamps subsidizing purchases at Supervalu Inc. (SVU) are targets for lawmakers seeking to trim the deficit. The House committee’s plan would cost $940 billion over a decade.

2012 Failure

Lawmakers are seeking to pass a bill after failing to renew farm policy last year. The Senate passed legislation last year by a vote of 64-35 that included the first major reductions in farm aid since 1996. The measure died in the House, where Republican leaders wanted deeper cuts to food stamps. The current law, passed in 2008, was extended until Sept. 30.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said he plans floor action bu August, giving both parties time to negotiate a final package before current law expires.

Senate and House committee leaders have said they’ll end a program that pays growers of corn, rice and other major crops regardless of market prices, and use some of the savings to insure revenues in less-profitable years. Food stamps also will be cut, with the House proposing more than $20 billion in reductions.

The House and Senate proposals would each also expand crop insurance and introduce some form of “shallow loss” protection for farmers with revenue reductions not covered by indemnities. Government-subsidized crop insurance sold by Wells Fargo & Co., Ace Ltd. (ACE) and others have soared to records, galvanizing groups fighting for less farm aid.

Record Drought

Indemnities for last year’s Corn Belt drought, the worst since the 1930s, are at $17.1 billion so far, according to the government.

Committee members differed on how payments should be distributed. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the top Republican on the committee last year, disagreed with successor Thad Cochran of Mississippi over provisions setting floor prices for commodities, which were added this year to satisfy lawmakers from the South.

It’s “beyond frustrating” the Senate last year passed a bill without target prices and is now approving “a rear-view bill” that continues obsolete policies and may bring challenges before the World Trade Organization, Roberts said.

Under a recent trade case, the U.S. is paying $147 million a year to Brazilian cotton farmers in a temporary settlement of a case over U.S. policies that support the fiber. “The WTO stove is hot,” said Roberts, who voted against the bill. “We should not reach out to touch it again.”

Food Stamps

Republicans unsuccessfully sought larger cuts to food stamp funding.

“The Americans who rely on” the aid “are not nameless, faceless people looking for a handout,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the lone Democrat to oppose the bill. “They are children, hard-working adults, struggling seniors, veterans, active duty troops and the families that stand by them. That’s who suffers in this callous political fight.”

Lawmakers adopted a measure from Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, to allow planting of alfalfa and clover on conservation lands to aid honeybee farmers. One-third of bee colonies collapsed this year, according to the government.

Total U.S. honey production from bees was valued at $290 million in 2012, according to the USDA. North Dakota leads the nation with $64 million in honey production.

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