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Farm Bill amendments bringing some drama to Senate floor

Seal of the United States Senate

The hopes of a Farm Bill sailing smoothly through the floor of the Senate, may have hit a snag on Wednesday. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted he would block any amendments to the Farm bill unless a Heitkamp amendment to the bill concerning trade with Cuba was struck from the ag legislation or a Cruz amendment was adopted.

During the markup of the farm bill in the Senate Ag Committee, a amendment was included from Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) that would affect the USDA Market Access Program. The amendment would allow this program to be used to open markets in Cuba. Agriculture groups have been anxious to expand trade with our neighbor 90 miles off our coast. Heitkamp had broad support for her amendment during markup of the Farm Bill.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has offered an amendment that would block taxpayer money from being used to invest in programs that benefit businesses owned by the Cuban military.

Rubio said on the floor of the Senate he would not “object to the ability for American farmers to market our products to a market. In the end, it’s food. What I do think we should not allow, however, is the ability to spend taxpayer money in properties and in other places on the island that are owned and controlled by the Cuban military.”

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are trying to bring both sides to the table and work the situation to an agreement, so a Farm Bill can be moved on. Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst said there may be amendments she agrees and disagrees with, but farmers do not need any of those holding up the farm bill.

Earlier in the Wednesday session Senator Bob Corker (R-TN.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) tried to introduce an amendment that would limit a President’s authority to impose tariffs under national security provisions. Senator Corker argued the amendment would do more to help farmers than the “next 20 farm bills.”

The amendment was blocked by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) who said the amendment would have pitted the needs of farmers against the needs of the steel industry. Senator Brown said a situation like that would be unnecessary.