The Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday will begin markup of the 2013 Farm Bill, just one day ahead of the scheduled House markup. The committee will convene at 9 a.m. central time to begin discussion, which will range from food stamp benefits to farm payment regulation.
Notably, the Senate will be debating a bill that is very similar to last year's bill, which included $4 billion in cuts to food stamp programs and ends direct payments. Overall, the bill is estimated to cut $23 billion from the deficit over three years – even though a Congressional Budget Office report issued Monday indicates $18 billion is more likely.
The figure is contrary to the $13.1 billion predicted by the CBO in March. However, if sequestration is repealed, savings would grow to $24.4 billion, CBO said Monday.
Those savings come largely from farm subsidies at $16 billion and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at $4 billion. Both are hot-button issues that will likely keep debate interesting.
Much like last year, the 2013 Senate version eliminates direct payments and caps leftover risk management support following the end of direct payments at $50,000 per person, according to a bill summary.
Additionally, requirements would be more stringent as to ensure farm payments are not distributed to non-farmers via the "management loophole."
Regarding crop insurance, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, R-N.D., kicked things off Monday by hosting a Farm Bill discussion in her home state, focusing on ensuring a suitable safety net. Heitkamp is a member of the Senate Ag Committee and chair of the Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation.
"My first priority is to ensure that growers have a safety net that allows them to survive in tough years and thrive in good years. We have put together a solid Farm Bill," she said, further indicating that it will be passed out of committee on Tuesday.
Sen. John Hoeven also joined Heitkamp in the discussion, adding that he and Heitkamp would "do everything we can" to bring the bill to the full Senate yet this month.
Another hot topic that might be more evident as both House work towards crafting a bill they can both agree on is the large disparity between SNAP savings, amounting to $4 billion in the Senate and $20 billion in the House.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has already pledged to put forth an amendment eliminating any savings found in SNAP cuts, however Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., maintains the cuts will provide savings without eliminating support for food banks, seniors' food programs and healthy school lunch initiatives.
The Senate took nearly five hours for markup in 2012. The bill later moved on to the floor and was passed on June 21 with a vote of 64-35.