Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Monday, October 24, 2005

Senate Ag Committee Passes Farm Bill Cuts

- from the desk of Ferd Hoefner,, Sustainable Agiculture Coalition

Senate Agriculture Committee Passes Farm Bill Cuts

On Wednesday, October 19th, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a budget reconciliation bill by a high drama, razor thin 11-9 vote, cutting $4 billion in mandatory spending over 5 years from farm bill programs and extending the MILC dairy payment program through 2007 at a cost of $1 billion, for a net $3 billion savings.

The bill proposed by Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and adopted by the Committee without any changes was basically identical to the Chairman’s earlier version from two weeks ago, except that cuts to the food stamp program totaling $574 million were dropped from the bill, with the difference offset by a reduction in the percentage of direct commodity payments received during the crop year and a corresponding increase in the percentage received at the end of the crop year.

It is widely rumored the food stamp change was required for the Chairman to secure the vote of Senator Jim Talent (R-MO). The Chairman also made minor changes to the structure of the sugar program cuts and, in response to an issue first raised by SAC, applied the 2.5 percent cut to commodity payments to generic certificates and loan forfeitures rather than just to loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains.

The vote on final passage was high theater. Former Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) joined the Republicans in support of the bill, the result of a deal he made to always vote with the chairman provided the MILC payments were extended.

Former Chairman Dick Lugar (R-IN), on the other hand, joined all the Democrats but Leahy in opposing the measure, to register his ongoing opposition to commodity programs as we know them. Former House Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who played the leading role in getting markup postponed two weeks ago and who badly wanted to vote against the measure, was forced to vote for the measure when Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who was prepared to vote yes, first abstained, and then switched to no, forcing Roberts to vote yes or watch the whole bill and GOP effort fail.

After what felt like an endless half-minute pause of silence, he finally voted yes, mumbling that this reluctant choice was better than letting the Budget Committee decide how to allocate the cuts.

Over the next five years, the bill cuts the following:

** Conservation Security Program by $821 million -- or 27 percent of the bill’s net cuts -- while reducing the program’s baseline for years 6-10 by an additional $646 million;
** Conservation Reserve Program by $129 million and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program by $135 million;
** Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems by $336 million -- or 11 percent of the bill’s net cuts -- though it would leave IFAFS still considerably above the level provided in recent years by the Appropriations bill;
** Commodity programs by $2.732 billion, though $1 billion of that amount was the smoke-and-mirrors savings from changing the timing, but not the amount, of payments.

The Step II Cotton program was terminated, as per the Brazilian WTO cotton case, but the cut was made effective August 1, 2006 rather than the July 1, 2005 date in the WTO ruling. The Administration continues to say it wants the program to end this calendar year, but the cotton interests say no.

During mark-up, Senator Crapo (R-ID) and Senator Roberts (R-KS) offered an amendment that aimed to restore cuts to commodity, conservation and research programs by preventing extension of the MILC program, arguing that cuts to farm programs were poorly timed due to rising fuel and fertilizer costs and it that it was unfair to penalize non-dairy farmers for the costs of the extension. The amendment garnered the votes of only the 5 Westerners on the committee - where the dairy program is opposed by large-scale confinement dairy operations -- plus Senator Lugar.

Payment Limitation Reform On-Deck: During the markup, Senator Grassley promised that the Grassley-Dorgan payment limitation reform amendment would be offered to the Budget Reconciliation bill when it comes to the Senate floor in November. He reminded the Ag Committee members that the last time the Senate had an opportunity to vote on payment limits the measure passed with 66 yes votes. Following the mark-up, the entire press gallery made a beeline for Grassley, who spoke to them about payment limitations at some length.

We expect to know the more precise outlines of the payment limitation reform amendment possibly as early as the end of next week. The basic outline of the amendment is clear, however-- comprehensive payment limitation reform, yielding savings that will offset a substantial amount of the cuts to commodity and conservation programs, including the CSP.

The timing of floor consideration is unknown. The first big event of next week will be Finance Committee markup of its health care portion of budget reconciliation – the biggest overall portion and the most politically sensitive – on Monday afternoon. If that passes and the other 6 committees with reconciliation instructions get through their respective markups next week, the Budget Committee will likely report a combined bill to the floor bythe end of next week.

From there, it will depend on Senate GOP leadership decisions as to when it gets scheduled for floor action, but we need to be prepared for possible action the week of October 31.

for more information post a question or comment here or contact
John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am from Kansas and I wish Senator Roberts had voted no. I suppose Senator Lincoln from Arkansas would have voted yes if he had and it still would have passed out of committee. But I would rather have the budget committee write this bill, especially when I read about Senator Chambliss' proposal. If Roberts would have voted no perhaps we could have gotten payment limits out of the budget committee. I am going to call his office and tell them that he should vote no unless the bill has payment limits.

  • At 12:51 AM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    Akaka (D-HI), Yea
    Allen (R-VA), Yea
    Baucus (D-MT), Yea
    Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
    Bond (R-MO), Yea
    Breaux (D-LA), Yea
    Burns (R-MT), Yea
    Carnahan (D-MO), Yea
    Cleland (D-GA), Yea
    Cochran (R-MS), Yea
    Edwards (D-NC), Yea
    Frist (R-TN), Yea
    Graham (D-FL), Yea
    Helms (R-NC), Yea
    Hollings (D-SC), Yea
    Hutchinson (R-AR), Yea
    Hutchison (R-TX), Yea
    Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
    Jeffords (I-VT), Yea
    Kyl (R-AZ), Yea
    Landrieu (D-LA), Yea
    Leahy (D-VT), Yea
    Lieberman (D-CT), Yea
    Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
    Lott (R-MS), Yea
    Miller (D-GA), Yea
    Nelson (D-FL), Yea
    Reed (D-RI), Yea
    Sessions (R-AL), Yea
    Shelby (R-AL), Yea
    Thurmond (R-SC), Yea

    The Senators listed above are the Senators who voted against payment limits the last time there was a vote on the floor of the Senate (2002 farm bill - vote was to table amendment, so yea vote was against payment limits)

    John Crabtree,

    Center for Rural Affair
    Values. Worth. Action.

  • At 1:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why in the world did Max Baucus vote against payment limits? For that matter, why would Joe Lieberman and Jean Carnahan vote against payment limits?

  • At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Considering the sad state of rural America and the same old same old with the farm program, and our inability to get payment limits passed, isn't it about time to reconsider our whole approach to the farm program? What about eliminating subsidies altogether? Heck, it can't get any worse. The CFRA and others have been preaching payment limits for decades with no success. Let's just eliminate all commodity supports and let the free market decide this thing. Again, it can't get much worse than it has been and is.

  • At 9:58 PM, Blogger Center for Rural Affairs said…

    In response to the previous post. That is not the first time we have heard something like what you propose. And I am confident it will not be the last. Although the details of your idea may be troublesome in some ways, there are many farmers that believe exactly what you say.

    I will offer one thought about your suggestion, however. Considering how difficult it has been, in spite of overwelming popular support, to win payment limitations reform of commodity programs would it not be even that much more difficult to eradicate commodity programs altogether?

    Thank you for your comments.

    John Crabtree,

    Center for Rural Affairs
    Values. Worth. Action.

  • At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't agree with the idea of throwing out these programs. Farm programs were created to help family farmers make a living and subsidies CONSUMERS by allowing Americans to spend less of their money on food than just about any other developed country. Farm programs were NEVER intended to subsidize huge, corporate farms. Why should we throw out the idea of supporting family farmers just because Congress has forgotten why there is a farm bill in the first place?


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