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More trims to crop insurance?

DANIEL LOOKER 06/06/2012 @ 7:07pm Business Editor

An amendment to limit crop insurance premium subsidies to America's largest farms is one of some 30 changes that farm groups will be watching for when the Senate begins active debate on its farm bill on Thursday.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who ranks 2nd in Democratic leadership in the Senate, promised Wednesday that he and Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican  deficit hawk from Oklahoma, will offer an amendment to the bill to reduce spending on crop insurance premiums for large farms.

"In our opinion, it is not unreasonable to ask the largest, wealthiest farmers in America to pay a little more for their crop insurance," said Durbin. He noted that federal spending on crop insurance premiums has risen in recent years, along with higher commodity prices, to a level of about $7.4 billion for 2011. 

Crop insurance companies, which have already seen federal support cut twice  since the 2008 farm bill was passed, are still doing well. "By selling these policies, they get a 14% return--not a bad deal," said Durbin, who is Senate Majority Whip. 

Durbin didn't say exactly how he and Coburn plan to trim crop insurance spending, but Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Agriculture.com in an email message today, "We are watching the AGI [adjusted gross income] limit on crop insurance.  Durbin and Coburn will offer that instead of a $40,000 payment limit, I think.  They will probably say something like someone who has more than $750,000 in AGI has to pay 10% more for crop insurance.  Nothing official yet."

This was just part of the opening volley in the farm bill debate. Amendments won't be offered until Thursday, when the Senate may vote, perhaps around noon EDT, on cloture, a procedure that limits debate and also has the effect of requiring 60 votes to approve amendments to the bill. 

Thatcher and our sources at National Farmers Union think that about 30 amendments may be debated. The leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) said Wednesday that they believe the process will take about a week, less than earlier estimates.

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