Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Senate Votes To Approve Farm Bill (S.954) 66-27

Jun 10: The U.S. Senate passed Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow's (D-MI) 2013 Farm Bill -- S. 954 (Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 ) -- by a wide bipartisan margin, 66-27. Senator Stabenow indicated in a release that the bipartisan proposal which was supported by 16 Republicans, is one of the most significant reforms in decades. Two Democrats, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Jack Reed (RI) were the only Democrats who voted against the bill.

    The bill cuts $24 billion dollars in spending in agriculture programs by eliminating unnecessary direct payment subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. Sen. Stabenow said, "Reforming agriculture programs will save taxpayers billions of dollars while helping Michigan farmers, ranchers and small businesses create jobs. Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries. Congress needs to work across the aisle to help spur job creation and reduce the deficit. I'm proud that the Senate was able to accomplish that with this Farm Bill."

    Stabenow was joined by Ranking Agriculture Committee Thad Cochran (R-MS) in introducing the bipartisan Farm Bill. A Farm Bill sets the nation's agriculture policy and must be passed every five years. If a new Farm Bill is not passed by September 30, the U.S. reverts back to 1940s agriculture policy, an antiquated patchwork of costly subsidies and other badly outdated programs. Just prior to the vote, Sen. Cochran said, "The Senate debate on the Farm Bill has included votes on a number of amendments over the last two weeks.  American agriculture producers deserve the certainty that comes with a strong five-year farm bill.  I'm pleased that we've come up with a bill that will meet that need. This legislation will provide farmers in all regions of the country with a robust and workable safety net, while also reducing by $24 billion dollars the cost of the programs authorized by current law. This Farm Bill will also encourage and reward protection of water, soil and forestry resources. This bill also authorizes and improves federal nutrition programs administered by the Department of Agriculture.  It contains reforms to the nutrition title to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse."

     U.S. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) commented on the Senate approval saying, "Today's Senate vote brings us one step closer to having a new, five-year farm bill in place this year. Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran did an excellent job and I applaud their leadership. This process has gone on far too long but with the strong bipartisan support in the Senate, I'm optimistic the House will be able to consider our 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."

    The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) commended the Senate for quickly moving forward to complete work on the bipartisan 2013 farm bill. AFBF President Bob Stallman said, "We appreciate the Senate's decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options. This approach to farm policy will encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than basing planting decisions on anticipation of government farm benefits. Most importantly, the program will be viable because the Senate stood firm on a budget savings level of $24 billion. We now look forward to working with the House as it moves forward with its farm bill legislation. Timely completion of the farm bill will help provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year and allow the Agriculture Department to plan for an orderly implementation of the bill's provisions."

    Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) said in part, "It has been a long process, but a very worthwhile one. After much thoughtful dialogue, the Senate passed a Farm Bill that is forward-looking and positive for America's renewable fuels industry. We believe the House, like the Senate, will also recognize the job-creating, value-added economic engine that the ethanol industry has become. In 2012, the ethanol producers across this country supported over 300,000 jobs. It is important to note the inclusion of programs like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biorefinery Assistance Program. These programs signal Congress' desire to see more world-class innovation and deployment of ethanol and other renewable fuels into the marketplace. . . "

    A release from Senator Stabenow highlights that the Senate Farm Bill represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. With the approved bill, the era of direct payments is over. Instead of subsidies that pay out every year even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control. By ending unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs (eliminating over 100 programs and authorizations in all) and cracking down on abuse, the bill reduces the deficit by$24 billion -- over double the amount the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission ($10 billion) and Gang of Six ($11 billion) recommended in total agriculture cuts.

    The Senate's 2013 Farm Bill strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs. The current Farm Bill expires September 30th. A new Farm Bill must be passed this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery. Sixteen million jobs hang in the balance. Last year's similar Senate Farm Bill also passed the Senate with a wide bipartisan vote, 64-35. The Farm Bill is broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans across the country for its major reforms, common sense deficit reduction and strengthened job creation initiatives. The bill:

  • Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy
  • Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person
  • Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the "management loophole," through which people who were not actually farming-in many cases not even setting foot on the farm-were designated as farm "managers" so they could receive farm payments
  • Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather
  • Includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters
  • Reforming farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars

    By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities. The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction. For example:

  • The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs-while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife
  • The bill includes a landmark agreement making conservation compliance required for crop insurance, keeping crop insurance strong while protecting the natural resources on which farmers rely.
  • Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands
  • These reforms save money while still increasing resources for top priorities
  • Changes to conservation policies are supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states

    At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program. The Senate Farm Bill increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill also increases efficiency and accountability, saving  billions while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:

  • Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods
  • Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers' markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations
  • Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground
  • Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses
  • Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs
  • Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power
  • Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations
  • Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses
    Access a release from Sen. Stabenow (click here). Access a release from Sen. Cochran (click here). Access a release from Rep. Peterson (click here). Access a release from AFBF (click here). Access a release from RFA (click here). Access legislative details for S.954 including amendments and roll call votes (click here). [#Agriculture, #MIAgriculture, #Land, #Water, #Energy]
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