It's been 354 days since the Senate passed a farm bill in a vote of 66-27. Monday evening in a vote that looked very similar to the 75-22 cloture vote last week, the Senate passed a new farm bill and again puts pressure on the House to do the same.
S.954 would achieve $24 billion in savings, although $6 billion of those savings would have already occurred in sequestration cuts while the remaining $17 billion comes from farm support programs including eliminating the direct payment program to producers.
In all, the measure recommends the elimination of almost 100 federal programs. Conservation programs have also been streamlined and consolidated.
The bill includes $4 billion in nutrition cuts over 10 years, much less than the $20 billion in suggested nutrition cuts proposed in the House version.
The bill also makes changes to the crop insurance program, expanding it to several segments that did not previously have access to the program.
Only 14 amendments were voted on during the full floor debate, significantly fewer than last year's 73, although all but one of last year's approved amendments from the floor debate were incorporated into the original bill that came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) criticized the lack of debate on this year's farm bill. “We considered 73 amendments on the floor. This year we only voted on 15 amendments even though more than 250 were filed. I was one of the few to have a vote on an amendment, but I had two more amendments filed and I cosponsored others that would have improved the bill. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle were shut out of the debate entirely.”
The most significant amendment agreed to was Sen. Dick Durbin, (D., Ill.) and Sen. Tom Coburn's (R., Okla.) amendment 999, which would reduce crop insurance premiums from 62% to 47% for the richest 1% of farmers with adjusted gross incomes over $750,000 (an estimated 20,000 farmers total). The change would save an estimated $1 billion.
The inclusion of target price supports allowed Southern senators to get on board with supporting this year's Senate version, however it forced several Midwest senators to vote no on the bill. This includes last year's ag committee ranking member. Roberts voted no during committee and during last week's cloture vote because of what he says is a step back in farm program reforms and could set up the United States for additional world trade challenges.
The House looks to take up its farm bill version the week of June 17. Nutrition funding and the dairy program look to be the major sticking points. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) has expressed some concern of crossing the line of 218.
Peterson said he's optimistic the House will be able to consider its farm bill next week. "It’s going to be difficult but if everything stays on track, I believe it’s possible to get a bill to the President before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers," Peterson said.