The Senate approved (90-8) a motion to begin debate on the 2012 farm bill (S. 3240) reported by the Committee on Agriculture. The vote allows debate to begin when the Senate returns on June 11.

The next step may be to attempt to reach agreement on the number amendments that will be debated and to establish a time for debate. More than 150 amendments had been filed as of June 8. Senate leaders have not indicated which amendments would be considered on the floor, a subject of negotiation between Democratic and Republican leaders. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) has predicted the debate could last as long as three weeks.

The Administration issued a statement supporting the bill reported by the Committee, saying it makes “meaningful progress toward the Administration's goals,” including eliminating direct payments and tightening payment and eligibility requirements.

Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking member Roberts (R-KS) praised the Committee bill as a major change in policy that replaces direct payments with revenue insurance, which pays farmers only when they suffer a loss. The switch to revenue insurance, called Agricultural Risk Coverage, accounts for more than $15 billion of the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated $23.6 billion in savings over 10 years.

“This is truly not your father's farm bill,” Stabenow said. “It's about the future.”

Some of the amendments that have been filed and may be considered include: a Grassley (R-IA) amendment to limit marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments to $75,000 per legal entity; an amendment by Shaheen (D-NH) and Toomey (R-PA) to limit crop insurance premium subsidies to no more than $40,000 per producer; an amendment by Coburn (R-OK) and Durbin (D-IL) to reduce premium subsides by 15 percent for individuals with an AGI above $750,000; amendments by McCain (R-AZ), Lugar (R-IN) and Shaheen to repeal and/or modify the sugar program; and a McCain amendment to prohibit federal spending on ethanol blender pumps. In addition, Sen. DeMint (R-SC) has announced his intention to offer an amendment to terminate all federal research and promotion programs such as the Cotton Research and Promotion Program which funds Cotton Incorporated.

Other amendments include one by a Cardin (D-MD) to require farmers who sign up for crop insurance to comply with conservation rules: a Graham (R-SC) amendment to replace the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with a block grant to states; and four amendments by Sessions (R-AL) to crack down on fraud and tighten eligibility requirements for food assistance programs. Additional fights are possible over payment limitations.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Grassley praised a provision in the bill that limits payments to $50,000 per producer through a new revenue insurance program but said he expects Southern lawmakers — who believe the number is too low — to try to remove it.

“Behind the scenes they're really raising Cain about this $50,000,” Grassley said.

The prolonged debate likely will generate numerous amendments. Go to the “Farm Bill” (Member’s Only) section of the NCC website’s home page, www.cotton.org, for background information and talking points on many of the amendments listed above (updates will be posted there throughout the process). Also at www.cotton.org in the “Find Your Congressional Contacts” section is a list of staff contacts in Cotton Belt offices.