June 20, 2012
The good news continues! Yesterday we reported on major farm bill floor victories on amendments to improve funding for rural economic development and beginning farmers and to cap commodity subsidies.
Today, on the second full day of the Senate’s “vote-o-rama” on the 2012 Farm Bill, NSAC-supported amendments to reform federal crop insurance were victorious, against great odds and the strenuous opposition of the crop insurance industry.
The Senate voted, 52-47, to reattach basic conservation requirements to federal crop insurance subsidies. Importantly, the amendment enjoyed bipartisan support. NSAC has long advocated for this change and applauds Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) for his leadership on this issue.
Senator Chambliss filed his amendment (S.A. 2438) last week, replacing an identical amendment that Senator Cardin (D-MD) had offered days prior (S.A. 2219). We detailed that amendment in a previous blog post. Over 90 organizations sent a letter to the Senate in support of the previous Cardin amendment, and since that time more than 20 additional groups joined the letter to support the Chambliss Soil and Wetlands Conservation Amendment.
Subsidized crop insurance is the only piece of the safety net that is not currently subject to highly erodible land and wetland conservation requirements. Yet, it has become the centerpiece of the safety net, costing taxpayers over $9 billion per year. This Chambliss amendment makes an extremely important change to the farm bill, and NSAC commends the Senate for adopting it. Other organizations supporting the amendment included American Farmland Trust, American Rivers, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, National Farmers Union, National Wildlife Federation, Soil and Water Conservation Society, Trout Unlimited, and World Wildlife Fund, among many others.
The Senate also voted, 66-33, to support an amendment by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to reduce the amount of crop insurance premiums paid for by federal taxpayers for farm owners with over $750,000 adjusted gross incomes. This needs-test amendment passed only after a poison pill substitute amendment by Senator John Thune (S-SD) that would have negated the reform was beaten back by the closer margin of 44-55.
While not the bigger targeting reform that is badly needed to put limits on the size of taxpayer subsidies any one farm can expect to receive, the Durbin-Coburn measure is nonetheless an important first step in the right direction of aligning this portion of the safety net with publicly supported goals of supporting family farms and new farming opportunities. We applaud Senators Coburn and Durbin for their leadership.
Continuing on the same theme of improving the crop insurance program, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also succeeded today in passing his amendment to give organic farmers a fairer deal under the federal crop insurance program. The Merkley amendment, approved on a 63-36 vote, directs USDA to develop the means with which to pay organic farmers at organic rather than conventional prices in the event of a disaster that triggers insurance payments. We greatly appreciate Senator Merkley’s leadership on the issue.
Additional good news today came when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had his amendment to advance farm to school programs approved by voice vote. The Wyden measure will establish five pilot programs, one in each region of the country, in which school food authorities can experiment with purchasing unprocessed and minimally processed food from local farmers rather than using the conventional national distribution system.
Defeated today were several amendments opposed by NSAC including an amendment by Senator Mike Lee to abolish the Conservation Stewardship Program and Conservation Reserve Program (defeated 15-84) and one by Senator Chambliss, defeated by voice vote, to eliminate all funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
For more details on the first day’s voting on the Senate farm bill, refer to our Day One blog.
We also issued a brief press statement at the conclusion of today’s voting.
The vote on final passage of the Senate farm bill will come tomorrow (Thursday). Before that final vote, there will be votes on 7 or 8 amendments that are not germane to the farm bill. All of those votes will require a super majority of 60 votes to be approved.