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Farm Bill Advances in the Senate

Source: NY Times

Posted on 08 Jun 2012 by Neilson

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Crop InsuranceThe Senate on Thursday voted to advance a farm bill that will set the nation’s nutrition and agriculture policy for the next five years.

The vote was 90 to 8. With the vote, the Senate will begin about a week of debate to consider the bill and amendments, according to Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, who is chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee and managing the legislation.

The bill is expected to cost about $969 billion over the next 10 years, but cuts overall spending by $23 billion. The cuts mainly reflect the elimination of direct payments to farm landowners, which cost about $5 billion a year, and cuts about $4.5 billion over 10 years from the food-stamp program. In a statement, the Obama administration said that while it supported the new farm bill, it opposed cuts to the food-stamp program and wanted deeper cuts to farm programs, including crop insurance.

Among other provisions, the bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers and make expanded crop insurance program the primary safety net for farmers. The government now spends about $7 billion a year on crop insurance to pay about two-thirds of the cost of farmers’ premiums. Under the federal program, farmers can buy insurance that covers poor yields, declines in prices or both.

To replace the direct payments, the bill would create a crop insurance subsidy, costing $3 billion a year, that would cover any losses farmers suffer, known as deductibles, before their crop insurance policies kick in.

The bill has drawn opposition from Southern cotton, peanut, and rice farmers who say that without direct payments the proposed farm bill would hurt them financially and affect their long-term stability.

Ms. Stabenow said the new insurance program was fair to all crop producers.

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, and Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, jointly introduced an amendment that would put income limits on crop insurance subsidies.

A study released last week by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research group, found that in 2011 more than 10,000 individual farming operations received federal crop insurance premium subsidies ranging from $100,000 to more than $1 million apiece. About 26 farming operations received subsidies of $1 million or more last year. Unlike other farm programs, the crop insurance program does not cap the amount of subsidies. An amendment introduced by Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, would limit insurance subsidies to $40,000 per individual farmer or farming organization.

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey,  introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill to require a study into the links between sugary soft drinks and obesity.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would restore the $4.5 billion in cuts to nutrition programs by cutting financing for crop insurance. Ms. Gillibrand’s amendment would lower the cap on payments made directly to crop insurance companies to service and sell policies to $825 million per year from $1.3 billion.

“As a mother, as a lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something I will not stand for.” Ms. Gillibrand said in a speech Wednesday. “In this day and age, in a country as rich as America is, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated, and certainly should not be advocated for.”