Blog courtesy of our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
This week, the full Senate started its consideration of the Senate Agriculture Committee-passed version of the 2012 Farm Bill — the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240). On Thursday, after several hours of floor statements, the Senate voted 90-8 to proceed with the bill’s consideration and begin debating the bill. The eight Senators who voted against the “motion to proceed” on the bill are fiscally conservative Republicans who generally oppose large spending measures.
In a joint statement with Ranking Member Roberts (R-KS) in support of the bill, Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) pressed the Senate to pass the bill quickly. “The 2008 Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of September — we must pass this commonsense bill immediately to give farmers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy,” said Stabenow. Roberts stressed the deficit reduction savings included in the bill.
Upon a successful vote to proceed with debate on the farm bill, the Obama Administration released a statement cautiously supporting Senate passage of the farm bill. The Administration has not advanced its own farm bill proposal, preferring instead to provide “technical assistance” to Congress as it crafts the farm bill. However, the Administration has made its funding priorities clear in current and previous years’ budget proposals. With respect to the bill currently being considered by the Senate, the Administration would make further cuts to commodity and crop insurance programs, and restore cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In its statement, the Administration also mentioned support for beginning farmers and ranchers, streamlining conservation programs, bioenergy, and agricultural research.
With the debate about to begin on the farm bill, Senators have started to file amendments both related and not related to the farm bill. As of Friday afternoon, over 80 amendments had been filed to the bill, and many more are expected to be filed at the beginning of next week. It is very unlikely that all of the filed amendments will be debated and voted on during the floor debate.
The rules governing which amendments get considered are being negotiated by Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY). There are a number of amendments that were filed that are not relevant to the farm bill. These “non-germane” amendments are on hot-button political issues that could draw the debate on for several weeks. If Reid and McConnell can come to an agreement that would limit or eliminate non-germane amendments, and Senators abide by that rule, then consideration of the bill will continue without another procedural vote. The risk is that without a vote, Senators may disregard this agreement and bring up non-germane amendments anyway.
If Reid and McConnell want to limit debate to only relevant or “germane” amendments, then they will have to vote to limit debate. To do so, they will need sixty votes. To get sixty votes, there will have to be bipartisan support for moving ahead with the farm bill. While we don’t want to make any predictions in this age of extreme partisanship, if there is a big bill that could move ahead with bipartisan support, it would be the farm bill. With a successful vote to limit debate, the Senate would then consider only germane amendments. At that point, the Majority and Minority Leaders often also reach an agreement on the number and order of amendments to be debated.
A number of the filed amendments will make it into a “managers’ amendment.” This is an amendment that includes changes to the committee-passed bill that Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts have agreed to. The amendment is then voted on by the full Senate and are usually passed without debate. It is unclear at this point whether there will be one managers’ amendment, a series of smaller managers’ amendments perhaps organized by section of the bill, or no managers’ amendment, though the betting is on a series of smaller managers’ amendments.
A large number of filed amendments ultimately will be withdrawn. Senators file amendments that they know have little chance of being debated or passing when they want to make a statement about a priority or use the filed amendment for political purposes.
Finally, some of the amendments filed will actually be debated and voted on. We anticipate that Senators will debate a series of amendments and then stack the votes so that votes on different amendments will occur within a short time frame.
It is very difficult to estimate the timeline for debate, and all of our estimates are likely to change.
Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts have been pushing to wrap up debate on the farm bill by the end of next week. Much depends upon whether or not Minority Leader McConnell supports moving ahead with a bill because bipartisan support is needed to move forward (see above). If there is no vote to limit debate and non-germane amendments are allowed, then the debate could go on for weeks.
We anticipate that Majority Leader Reid will have to file “cloture” on the bill — thus calling for a vote to limit the debate to only germane amendments — and that that will potentially happen on Thursday of next week. If the cloture vote is successful, debate and voting would spill into the week of June 18.
Chairman Lucas (R-OK) had been saying that the House Agriculture Committee would markup its version of the 2012 Farm Bill during the week of June 18. There have been hints, however, to indicate that he is preferring to wait until the Senate finishes debate on its version of the bill to move ahead with the House’s version. It is therefore starting to seem more likely that the House will markup its version of the bill the week of June 25.
Currently, floor consideration of the farm bill is not on the House’s summer calendar. Senate passage of the bill may spur House leadership to consider adding the bill to its summer agenda. But that is far from a certainty.
June is a very busy month for the farm bill. If you care about the outcomes of the farm bill, sign-up to receive alerts on when to take action in support of a sustainable food and farming future!