The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Chambliss critiques farm bill, says leaders reject changes


Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said today that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have rejected all proposals for changes to the farm bill that would create a workable safety net for peanuts, and also offered a critique of other aspects of the bill.

Chambliss, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., made floor speeches this afternoon after the Senate passed a motion to proceed on the bill by a vote of 90 to 8. Meanwhile, Senate leaders and their aides struggled to come up with a strategy dealing with more than 80 amendments that have been filed on the bill.

The Senate is not expected to take up the bill again until next week.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss
Reflecting most southern senators’ decision to vote for the motion to proceed, Chambliss, a former chairman and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, told the chamber, “While it is my hope to support the bill at the end of the legislative process, the bill before us is inequitable and unbalanced."

“I do not intend to impede the movement of a farm bill that if repaired through an open amendment process has the potential of providing for all of America,” Chambliss said. “I want to work with the chair and the ranking member, but the proposals we offer are summarily rejected.”

Despite a media report that he wants to continue the direct payments that farmers get whether prices are high or low, Chambliss noted in the floor speech and in an interview that he did not support direct payments when they were first enacted in 1996 and that neither he nor the peanut growers want to continue them.

“Peanut producers have offered no proposal that includes direct payments but yet they are labeled as ‘unwilling to change from the status quo,’” he said in the speech.

Stabenow has said that the discussion about peanuts should take place within the Agriculture Risk Coverage proposal in the commodity title, but Chambliss said in the interview that the University of Georgia’s National Center for Peanut Competitiveness evaluated the ARC program and determined “it just doesn’t work.”

Chambliss said the bill’s distribution of benefits “is skewed to one particular region”—presumably the Corn Belt — and that wheat, barley, grain sorghum, rice, cotton and peanut farmers would all lose baseline.

“Put simply, by making the bill too rich for a few at the expense of the many, it lacks balance,” he said.

(Stabenow has said that the point of the bill is not to divide up money according to past spending, but future needs. Committee aides have said that while the bill cuts spending on all commodities, corn suffers a smaller loss and soybeans get an increase because acreage in those crops has grown.)

Chambliss acknowledged that it is “partly true” that “planting shifts are responsible for much of the change in budget baseline,” but he said “it does not take away the injury that would be inflicted on regions of the country nor does it tell the whole story.”

“By squeezing all crops into a program specially designed for one or two crops, this bill will force many growers to switch to those crops in order to have an effective safety net,” Chambliss said. “This is the very planting distortion caused by farm policy that we seek to avoid.”

But Chambliss also said he believes the ARC program is flawed overall because it does not address price declines over several years.

ARC “will not be there when farmers really need it,” he said. “Whether offered on an on-farm or area-wide basis, offering farmers a narrow 10 percent band of revenue protection will not provide a safety net if crop prices collapse and they will. Under this bill, a farmer has an 11 percent deductible, then the next 10 percent of losses is covered, but then farmers are left totally exposed to a plunge in crop prices all the way down to the loan rate.”

“If that happens, Congress will be asked to pass ad hoc disaster again,” Chambliss added. “We should seek to avoid such disaster packages. Crop insurance can cover the production side of the risk if you can afford to buy higher coverage but it does not cover year-on-year low prices. “

Chambliss said he and his staff had traveled through south Georgia recently.

“Just last week my staff and I witnessed crop damages and in some cases total losses of crops which were the result of a hail storm that occurred across a 40 mile stretch of over 10,000 damaged or lost acres,” Chambliss said. “I just don’t see how a small band of revenue protection that is limited to $50,000 is helpful to some farmers who lost over $1 million in one field. The ARC proposal in this bill is not an effective safety net.”

Chambliss also described the ARC program as “not new; it’s a derivative of a program in the 2008 farm bill [the ACRE program] that experienced low participation. “

But he noted that the bill includes a new cotton program that he believes “complies with our international commitments and will show our trading partners we will abide by our international agreements.”

Chambliss also said that the commodity title has born most of the cut to reduce the deficit.

“The nutrition benefits in this bill which are already inflated by the president’s failed stimulus package are reduced by only one half of 1 percent while the commodity title is cut roughly by 15 percent,” he said. “By this account, it is clear the Agriculture committee carefully determined how best to contribute to deficit reduction to ensure an undue burden was not placed on those truly in need.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

Sen. Jeff Sessions
While Chambliss did not appear to propose a bigger cut to the nutrition programs, Sessions, who has filed several amendments to curb food stamp use, said it is “not mean spirited” to take benefits away from people who should not get them.

Sessions also said he believes that the increase in food stamp beneficiaries shows that the country “has moved back” from the welfare reform achieved in 1996.

Grassley in his floor speech noted that he has been engaged in farming since 1960 and with son his since 1980 and now with his grandson. Providing certainty to the food supply, he said, “is important to the cohesion of society."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa
Grassley said that “behind the scenes … somebody from the South undoubtedly" is "raising Cain” over the $50,000 payment limitation that is in the bill because he pushed for it.

He said the limitation is in there because the government does not need to help farmers get bigger. He also noted that if it had been included in the 2008 farm bill the government would have saved $1.3 billion in farm payments.

Grassley said he had been prevented from offering the limit as an amendment in 2008 because 60 votes were required to end debate on it, and said he hoped that 60 votes would be required this year if a senator offers an amendment to take it out.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Using charts similar to those of the retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Hoeven noted that the bill would cost $960 billion over 10 years, of which $800 billion would be food stamps or $480 billion over five years, of which $400 billion would be for food stamps.

He noted those figures show that the cost of the farm program is only $100 bllion over years or about $20 billion per year.

Hoeven called the Senate bill “an effective market-based approach” and “something to support every single American.”