Opinions about the state of the farm bill have begun to turn around since an agreement was reached last week to allow both sides of the aisle 20 amendments. Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., is certain that the Senate will pass a farm bill before adjourning for Christmas, and House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who last week said he didn't see how a farm bill could get done, now believes the Senate can finish before adjournment. He says a House-Senate Conference Committee could get a bill to the President's desk by the end of January.
Five weeks after the 2007 Farm Bill was brought to the floor, the Senate held its first vote on amendments Tuesday. The Farm and Ranch Equity Stewardship and Health Act was debated and rejected by a vote of 58 to 37. Introduced by Senators Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the FRESH Act sought to replace the current farm subsidy program with a crop insurance program that would cover all farmers and ranchers. Critics of the amendment said the program was too drastic; changing too much, too quickly.
More debate and votes are expected Wednesday. Among amendments that will likely be considered this week is the amendment authored by Senators Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., which seeks to set a hard cap limit on farm payments.
"There is no doubt that the vote on this amendment will be close," Grassley says. "There are a lot of members who have yet to decide their vote, but I'm confident senators will see the benefit to having a real cap on farm payments."
Grassley says he too is optimistic about completing Senate action on the farm bill before Christmas. However; conference work will have to take place in 2008 and there is the threat of a veto, which he says may be unavoidable.
"Most of what the President has found fault with is taxes that have been imposed," Grassley says. "I don't mean raising rates of taxation, I mean closing loopholes to raise money to spend on agriculture. That is what they have raised veto threats over more than anything else."
A vote on the final farm bill is expected next week.