Both the House and Senate Farm Bill versions have passed out of committee and are ready to take to the floors. The Senate will move its bill to the floor next week, hoping to have it done before the Memorial Day Congressional recess that starts May 27th. The final Senate bill was approved in committee by a vote of 15 to 5, so the Senate is expected to approve the final package. The five Senators voting against the bill were Gillibrand (D-NY), McConnell (R-KY), Roberts (R-KS), Johanns (R-NE), and Thune (R-SD). Although expected to pass, the inclusion of target prices in the bill will be troublesome for some Senators and could potentially hold up passage. Four Republican Senators – McConnell (KY); Roberts (KS); Johanns (NE) and Thune (SD) want the target price program eliminated, saying that the government has no business setting target prices and messing with the free market system.
The House Ag Committee approved its version of the Farm Bill by a vote of 36 to 10. It was not an easy approval, as they debated it for over nine hours. The ten votes cast against the bill were from Democrats, heavily opposing the proposed $20 billion in cuts to SNAP (food stamps). Speaker Boehner and other House leaders have not scheduled a time to hear the Farm Bill on the floor, but have “guaranteed” that it will be heard by the full House.
The biggest issue facing passage of a full Farm Bill by the entire Congress is the SNAP issue. The House Farm Bill proposes $20 billion in cuts and the Senate proposes $4 billion, obviously a huge difference. As food stamps constitute over 80% of the cost of the $940 billion Farm Bill, this will not be easy to negotiate between the two legislative bodies.
For some more details, the Senate version reauthorizes funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program at the 2008 Farm Bill levels of $200 million and $34.5 million annually respectively. I’m not sure about the House version.
As for dairy, the Senate bill includes an amendment on the Federal Milk Marketing Orders, as proposed by Senators Leahy (VT); Gillibrand (NY) and Cowan (MA). The amendment would establish a process and time table on potentially changing the current pricing formula for Class III milk. The House Bill has no comparable amendment.
Hopefully, things will get settled fairly quickly and we'll get a full, five-year Farm Bill soon. Keep your fingers crossed.
National Grange Legislative Director