On Monday evening, the U.S. Senate approved the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 with a vote of 66-27.
Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and other Senators then put the pressure on the House to get a farm bill passed. Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee Thad Cochran said the legislation approved by the Senate will provide farmers in all regions of the country with a robust and workable safety net, while also reducing the cost of the programs authorized by current law by $24 billion. He claims the bill will also encourage and reward protection of water, soil and forestry resources. Stabenow thanked Cochran for his leadership and commitment to bipartisan partnership, and her Senate colleagues for voting on behalf of the 16-million American jobs that rely on a robust, innovative agriculture sector. She claimed the bill proves that by working across party lines, Congress can save taxpayer money and create smart policies that lay the foundation for a stronger economy.
North Dakota Senator John Hoeven believes this year’s Senate bill will be easier to match with the bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee, because it contains a target price-based program as the House bill does. He said all regions of the country are on board, and called it a good bill that deserves to be passed.
Former Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts was one of 27 Senators voting against the bill; he says the bill looks in the rear-view mirror for outdated policies that cause the farmer to plant for the government and not the market. He claims the effects of this interference has been seen before with extended periods of depressed prices and excess supplies. In this budget environment, Roberts said he couldn’t justify a subsidy program that can pay producers more than the cost of production, and essentially becomes nothing more than an income transfer program, as opposed to a risk management tool.
Senate Ag Committee members Mitch McConnell and John Thune also voted against the measure. Thune said the bill contains an outdated counter-cyclical program with even higher fixed target prices for rice and peanuts and only offers a minimal attempt at making meaningful reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Thune was also displeased that Senators weren’t able to get votes on all the amendments they offered.
Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns, who voted in support of the Senate bill but against the measure in committee, said this isn’t the farm bill he would have drafted, but it’s better than no farm bill at all. He said long-term ag policy is a necessity for the nation’s farmers and ranchers who work hard to provide food, fuel and fiber for Americans and the rest of the world. Johanns said Congress has a responsibility to give them the certainty they need to continue feeding a growing population.
Committee member Chuck Grassley called the Senate-passed farm bill a step in the right direction, voting in its support. He said responsible payment limits on the commodity program are crucial to a defensible farm-safety net. He is hopeful the House will take notice of the reforms in the Senate’s bill and see the positive changes made to the farm payment system. While he sees the inclusion of his payment limits plan as very reform-minded, Grassley said the target price program included in the final bill is a step backward. Grassley also expressed concerns about the potential impacts of shallow loss and target price programs, but said farmers need certainty. According to Grassley, a 5-year farm bill that maintains the crop insurance program, includes his payment limit reforms, and streamlines conservation programs will provide that certainty.