As the 2012 Senate Farm Bill was released to the floor, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said she expects amendments. Now that the bill has cleared a 90-8 cloture vote, those amendments are starting to surface ahead of initial debate on the bill slated for Monday afternoon. In fact, so far 90 amendments have been filed for consideration as S.3240 moves along.
You can see the list of amendments filed here, and they range from wording changes to parts of the bill to significant ideas that are already getting reaction. Here are just a few in detail thanks to the Obama Foodorama Blog. We run down a few in more detail below.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has introduced an amendment that would allow direct sale of raw milk products across state lines, which two major dairy groups oppose. In a letter to the Senate, the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association expressed their concerns over the idea. The groups say the amendment, if passed, would enhance the "chances of that people will become sick because of increased consumption of unpasteurized milk."
Adds Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF: "Pasteurization is one of the greatest public health tools. To compromise or reduce its use through this legislation is not just bad politics - it's a huge, inhumae step backwards, and one that will cause sickness and death." Federal law currently prohibits interstate sale of raw milk, but allows states individual discretion to regulate raw milk sales within their borders.
As noted last week in our initial look at the cloture vote, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is offering an amendment to ban members of Congress, their spouses and immediate family members, from benefitting from ag programs authorized in the bill. He called the current situation, where farmer-members of Congress are included in the farm bill, a situation where they are using their "position of elected office for personal gain." That amendment, though detailed on Heller's site, was not on the official list of amendments online yet. It'll be interesting to see if that moves forward.
Key moves involve payment limits. For example, Sen. Tom Coburne, R-Okla., would limit crop insurance premium subsidies to farmers with an average adjusted gross income of $750,000. In addition, Coburne would limit individuals with delinquent tax debt from receiving federal farm subsidies. Paul, on the other hand, wants an AGI of $250,000 for receipt of farm bill payments.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., aims to restore proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and would get that money out of the crop insurance side of the bill. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., would replace the food stamp program with a block grant and he's not the only one proposing amendments to food stamps that would change how that program is administered at the state level.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and former Secretary of Agriculture, has three interesting amendments he's proposing. First he wants clarification of congressional intent regarding regulation of pesticides in or near navigable waters; second an increase in state efforts to transition food stamp participants off the program; and finally a limit to federal regulation of dust. During the markup hearing on the Senate farm bill, it was clear Johanns added knowledge as an Ag Secretary defined his approach to this bill, and his regulation-focused amendments show his focus as well.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., offers up several amendments, among them a move to prevent use of federal funds to build, fund, install or operate blender pumps - also called flex fuel pumps. It's a move that the head of the Renewable Fuels Association has criticized soundly.
And the amendments can be detailed in their moves. For example, Jon Tester, D-Mont., is offering changes to definitions of the terms "public breed" and "public cultivar." His language amendments would also define "conventional breeding." The amendment would also change research spending so "not less than 5% shall be made available to make grants for research on conventional plant and animal breeding…"
Interestingly, while there's been a lot of talk and review of the regional differences in this farm bill version - with the end of direct payments and crop insurance that may favor corn and soybeans over peanuts, rice and cotton, the amendments offered don't tackle that issue. This is just the beginning of the process, and Stabenow expects a two to three week debate process to finish up the Senate version of the bill.
Readers can see that amendments cover a wide range of issues and agendas. From key issues like crop insurance to major issues like regulation of crop protection products. The challenge for the Senate, and the House after that, is getting a 2012 Farm Bill crafted and signed by President Obama ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration date. While all parties say they don't want an extension, the legislative calendar is not on their side.
Meanwhile, the House version, which may have some significant differences, could be up for review by the House Ag Committee as early as next week.