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Senate to resume farm bill debate before noon

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said today that the Senate will resume debate on the farm bill about 11:30 a.m. and that she hopes to finish the bill late today or on Thursday.

“Yesterday we had 29 amendments voted on. We have 40 to go. We’re moving through them in record time. Hopefully by the end of the day will be able to get this done and if not, tomorrow,” Stabenow said in a telephone call to reporters.

Stabenow also noted that she and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., worked together last fall to reach agreement on $23 billion in deficit reduction and said that once the bill “moves out of the Senate,” she has “great confidence” that Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., will be “successful” in getting a bill through the House.

Both the Senate and House are maintaining the “broad parameters” of the agreement on the proposal that went to the supercommittee on deficit reduction, although there are some differences, Stabenow said.

Several amendments on crop insurance are expected to come up today, but Stabenow said that “at this point” she does not anticipate any of those amendments will pass.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., have an amendment restricting crop insurance, but Stabenow said that Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is working with them “trying to work out some common language.”

“My concern is that as we move to a risk-based system, we don’t undermine the reforms today,” Stabenow said.

The elimination of four other subsidy programs makes crop insurance more important, she said, adding it is important to encourage farmers to participate in crop insurance.

“We want to incentivize farmers, support them to have skin in the game,” Stabenow said, referring to the fact that farmers pay crop insurance premiums. “Whenever we look at other limits, we shift the cost to smaller farms,” she added.

Stabenow said that the 2012 farm bill should be allowed to play out and that Congress can “tackle” crop insurance in the next farm bill, picking up on a view of Peterson, who has often said there should not be cuts to crop insurance in the 2012 farm bill because the impact of such cuts in the 2008 farm bill and the Agriculture Department’s negotiations over the standard reinsurance agreement have not been fully analyzed.

Stabenow also noted that the conservation compliance is required for participation in the Title I farm subsidy programs and that a “sod-saver” provision will reduce crop insurance subsidies for people who plow up virgin land.

She said she remains opposed to tying conservation compliance to crop insurance because “it is a different kind of entity, it is a private insurance program, a different approach.”

Stabenow was joined in the news conference by four advocates who want the bill passed.
Michel Nischan

Michel Nischan
Michel Nischan, the owner of The Dressing Room restaurant in Westport, Conn., and the founder of Wholesome Wave, a group that encourages food stamp beneficiaries to buy more fruits and vegetables from local farmers, praised the bill for including incentives for food stamp beneficiaries to buy foods that will allow them to eat healthier.

“We think this bill is a huge step forward.,” Nischan said.

Robert Guenther

Robert Guenther
Robert Guenther, the co-chair of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and senior vice president of the United Fresh Produce Association, praised the bill for continuing the specialty crop programs in the 2008 farm bill, especially the fresh snack program for school children that feeds 3 million children every day.

Gene Schmidt

Gene Schmidt
Gene Schmidt, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, said that the bill “works for American agriculture and protects the natural resources for the future.”

Becky Humphries

Becky Humphries
Becky Humphries, director of the Great Lakes/Atlantic region for Ducks Unlimited, said the hunters and anglers who belong to her group have an impact of $76 billion per year and are particularly pleased with the sod-saver provision and regional conservation partnerships.

“We look forward to advancing this farm bill,” Humphries said.

In making her final campaign for the Senate to pass the bill, Stabenow maintained her position that reform is the most important message of the farm bill.

“Agriculture is still the riskiest business ever,” she said. Government needs to be there to maintain the safest, most abundant food supply in the world, Stabenow said, and needs to be there for the farmer when it’s needed, but not spend money when it’s not.