The 2012 Farm Bill is Ready to Rumble

In my first post about the 2012 Farm Bill, I laid out the basics of the enormous piece of legislation making its way through Congress. Since then, the Senate voted to move the bill to the floor, which is when Happy Fun Time with Amendments began. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on Thursday that there would be no more votes on amendments until next week, a signal that the bill may be stalling. Look for the House to begin their markup next week, with a floor debate to follow in July. Since the versions must be reconciled in a joint committee later this summer, there’s still plenty of House input to be had. But for right now, here’s another snapshot of what seems to be going on.

Hot Amendments and Floor Fights

Not many surprises here. As predicted, the Midwest and the South are in a hot debate about crop insurance replacing direct payment subsidies. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) continues to lead the opposition to proposed SNAP cuts; the Senate quickly voted down an amendment by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) which would have eliminated the program in favor of a state block grant. John McCain (R-AZ) complained about others' “pork barrel” amendments.  (Apparently his own, which would require the Department of Defense to file a detailed report on the effects of budget sequestration on military operations and security is completely germane to this bill, though.)

Almost three hundred amendments were filed by members of the Senate after the bill’s introduction, including some which may be of particular interest to Ecocentric readers:

  • A proposal that would transform egg production by requiring “better living conditions for every one of the 250 million egg-laying hens in America.”  And in this time of unparalleled political rancor, I give major bipartisan props to the United Egg Producers (the largest industry group) and The Humane Society of the United States (among the most prominent American animal welfare groups) who joined forces to support this legislation. It’s a Farm Bill miracle!
  • Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed an amendment requiring the labeling of GMO’s in food. (No word on whether Monsanto has threatened to sue the US government in the – highly unlikely – case this passes, as they've done in states where such legislation has been floated.)
  • Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced an amendment that would eliminate the proposed Organic Certification Cost Share program. Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch characterizes this as amounting to “meager savings in the federal budget” while dealing “a huge blow to organic farming.”
  • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) proposed the restoration of funds directed at young farmers. Bear in mind that 125,000 American farmers (at least) will have retired by the next time we pass a farm bill. That’s a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge to lose.

The Farm Bill, Nose to Tail

GOOD produced a lovely Flash-y infographic that breaks down the entire Farm Bill in a user-friendly slideshow.

Center for Livable Future created this incredibly informative, incredibly wonky Farm Bill Visualizer for all of you policy analysts who enjoy color-coded representations of every title and proposed amendment in budgetary terms. (Complete with YouTube instructional video!)

What’s Next?

The House will convene to markup their version of the bill. Again, we anticipate tremendous cuts to be proposed by House Republicans. In the meantime, the Senate will be negotiating behind the scenes to determine which amendments will be introduced and included in their final bill. We'll continue to keep you posted.