CHN: Farm Bill Movement in the Senate
After House passage of a Farm Bill in July (see August 3rd HNR http://www.chn.org/humanneeds/070803b.html), the process stalled in the Senate over where to find funds to expand existing programs or for new initiatives. The budget allows for an additional $20 billion over 5 years to be spent in the bill, but the new money must come from somewhere, either from program cuts or revenue increases. Recently Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus (D-MT) indicated that he plans to propose an $8-10 billion tax bill to fund new initiatives in the Farm Bill paid for by “various provisions” within the committee’s jurisdiction not yet disclosed. This announcement seems to have jump-started the Farm Bill in the Senate.
The road ahead, however, will not be smooth. Senator Baucus, working closely with Senator Conrad (D-ND) who is a member of both the Finance and Agriculture Committees, has indicated that $5-6 billion of the new money would be designated for a trust fund that would pay for weather-related disaster assistance to farmers not covered by crop insurance who typically have depended on assistance from supplemental appropriations when crops are destroyed. Agriculture Committee Chairman Harkin (D-IA) instead supports using additional money for investments in conservation, nutrition, energy, rural development, and specialty crops. He is also looking for some savings from within the $280 billion 5-year Farm Bill by putting a limit on the amount of money farmers can receive in crop subsidy payments.
Nutrition advocates fought hard for $4 billion in improvements over five years in the Food Stamp and The Emergency Food Assistance Programs in the House bill and are working to get additional money for these programs in the Senate bill. Senator Stabenow (D-MI), a member of both the Finance and Agriculture Committees, is spearheading an effort to secure funds to provide financial support to growers of fruits and vegetables so that more of their products will be made available in nutrition programs.
Senator Harkin has indicated that he plans to mark up a Farm Bill in the Agriculture Committee the week of September 24. Action in the full Senate on the Farm Bill will not occur until at least October. The current farm/nutrition legislation expires on September 30th. Current law will almost certainly be extended pending final agreement on a new bill.