WASHINGTON – The Senate reached an agreement late last week to consider 40 amendments – 20 from the Democrats and 20 from the Republicans – to its version of the farm bill.
The amendment issue had stalled the Senate measure, which still needs to be reconciled with the House version in conference committee before we can say we have a new farm bill.
What to add on. After a monthlong stalemate, due to what Sen. Tom Harkin called “procedural maneuvering,” debate on the amendments was set to continue this week.
Harkin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate ag committee, is hoping the discussion will close by the end of this week (Dec. 14) and move the bill to conference, although he admits it’s an optimistic timetable.
“With goodwill and a spirit of compromise, we can pass a good farm bill before the holidays.”
Payment limitations. One of the Senate amendments addresses federal farm payment limitations, and that’s sure to be a sticky subject. One Democratic amendment proffered by Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard Durbin of Illinois would set limits at $750,000 for a full-time farmer and $250,000 for a part-time farmer.
The bill as it was reported out of the Senate ag committee includes a provision to reduce the income level for program eligibility by 70 percent over two years, from $2.5 billion down to $750,000.
The ag committee’s version says that by 2010, if income exceeds $750,000, the individual is not eligible for payments unless two-thirds of that individual’s income is from farming or forestry.
Saxby Chambliss, the ranking minority member of the Senate ag committee, is ready for the fight.
“This has always been a controversial issue in every farm bill, and this is my third farm bill,” Chambliss said.
“We made significant reforms in the 2002 farm bill to ensure with every precaution we could possibly take that payments going from Washington to any state in the union went to the pockets of farmers.”
“There were abuses,” he admitted. “There will always be abuses.”
Split personality bill. The new farm bill will carry a strong domestic energy element, in addition to its existing food and nutrition, and production agriculture support components.
“America’s agricultural policy is, in part, an energy policy because agriculture is looking at not only its input costs of energy, but its opportunity to produce energy,” said Sen. Larry Craig, D-Idaho.
Farmer “have a role to play in putting fuel in the fuel tank,” Craig said. “We ought to encourage that in every way.”
Also on front burner. At the same time that the farm bill is hot on Capitol Hill, so is a federal energy bill. The House passed its comprehensive energy bill Thursday, Dec. 6, but a Senate vote Dec. 7 failed to end debate and move its version to a vote, although it remains on the agenda for the week ending Dec. 14.
Farm lobbyists like the House energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act, which would increase the amount of renewable fuels that must be produced each year, beginning with 9 billion gallons in 2008 and increasing to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The House bill sets the hotly contested Renewable Fuels Standard for grain-based ethanol at 15 billion gallons by 2015, and would reduce the 51-cent blender’s tax credit to 46 cents per gallon.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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