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Floor Fight Will Test Farm Bill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow hopes the farm bill will survive the rash of amendments expected from Senators on the floor.

Southern rice and peanut growers have been especially vocal about their concerns regarding massive reforms to the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, which compliments crop insurance against both price and yield losses, and the proposed elimination of direct cash payments to farmers.

According to documents released by the committee, the elimination of direct payments would amount to $15 billion in deficit reduction during the next 10 years.

“The bottom line, in the reforms, the era of direct payments is over,” Stabenow told reporters. “We’re not going to be paying farmers for crops they don’t grow, and we’re not going to be paying farmers when they’re already doing well.”

One place of difficulty for Democrats could be the $4.5 billion in cuts slated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), the only Democrat to vote against the bill in committee, has proposed an amendment that would replace those cuts with further cuts to crop insurance.

“This Farm Bill is much more than a set of esoteric numbers. It’s very much about the decisions we are making regarding economic growth, regarding our agriculture industries, and the moral obligation we have to our families that are at risk,” Gillibrand said in a statement Monday. “Food stamps are an extraordinary investment because for every dollar that you put into the SNAP program, you get out $1.71.”

Stabenow, however, defended the cuts, saying the Senate took an approach of “accountability.” She said the Senate bill would preserve the core of the program more than previous House efforts but would eliminate fraud and waste at the state level.

In answering a question over whether Gillibrand’s amendment might put Democrats in a tough spot, Stabenow revealed the central conflict coloring the pending debate: “We’ve struck a very delicate balance. With any large piece of legislation that’s been negotiated, it’s very important to keep that balance that’s fair to both sides.”

Though there are plenty of provisions that Republicans should like, from consolidating 23 conservation programs to 13, trimming billions of dollars from the deficit and ending direct government payouts to farmers, Stabenow and Roberts are still facing a tough haul.

And if the bill doesn’t get done now, months out from the Election Day, it’s unclear whether it will wrap before the campaign season does. Beyond tough national politics, pushing toward November could create logistical issues for Stabenow, who is up for re-election. Besides the pressure of campaign events, leading a huge authorization bill on the floor can be very time-consuming.

Recent history shows the task to be daunting. On the previous farm bill, Congress had to override two vetoes from President George W. Bush to make the full measure law.

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