Senate opens farm bill floor debate

Published on: May 20, 2013

Less than a week after the Senate Agriculture Committee held its markup of its farm bill, Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) set the stage for full floor debate on the bill on the Senate floor Monday afternoon along with her counterpart ranking member Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.).

Stabenow said the "top goal of the Agriculture Reform bill is risk management" and these market-based risk management tools will serve to be the "hallmark of this farm bill" she said during her floor speech.

She cited the bill strengthens crop insurance, which is the number one risk management tool farmers use, adding it is important to strengthen and protect crop insurance.

Ironically, the first amendment filed on the bill was from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) that would eliminate crop insurance for tobacco. McCain introduced the amendment with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).

Stabenow asked McCain to refrain from calling for a vote on the amendment, and instead said she was "committed to a vote on this amendment" but preferred to have the flexibility to look at a group of amendments that relate to the same subject area.

Stabenow took to the floor again after McCain made his case for the elimination of tobacco crop insurance, stating that insurance allows farmers to deal with risk and moving forward there will be a lot of discussion on crop insurance.

She asked colleagues to resist sweeping changes to the successful public-private insurance system that does allow farmers to have skin in the game. She cautioned to view the situation through a "broad lens" as farmers move away from direct subsidies.

"As we move towards that broad cornerstone, I urge against efforts to weaken that around the edges," she said of eliminating one crop from being able to participate in crop insurance.

Crop insurance remains one of the sticking points still for the White House, who has called for farmers to pay a greater portion of the premiums. "Consistent with the President's Budget, the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to achieve crop insurance and commodity program savings that are not contained in S. 954, while at the same time strengthening the farm safety net in times of need and supporting the next generation of farmers," the White House said in its official statement of administration policy. 

Earlier in the afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Stabenow and Cochran's work together "exemplary – some would say old-fashioned – the way things used to be." He welcomed their cooperative spirit, and noted the committee included many of the amendments approved last year when the Senate considered and passed its farm bill as its original mark to help advance the bill quicker when it reached the floor.

In his opening remarks, Cochran focused on farm program reforms and savings in the legislation. “I think we have produced, with the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow, a responsible but fair bill. It deserves our support,” he said.

Stabenow closed her speech saying she was looking forward to working with colleagues to pass the bill as soon as possible, but there is no indication as to how long the bill would be debated and whether an agreement would need to be made on how many amendments would be included in the discussion.

The Senate will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning to consider the farm bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee reported.