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Farm Bill Passes The Senate Ag Committee

It now heads to the Senate floor.

WASHINGTON - On a 20-1 vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved on Wednesday a five-year farm bill that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said will be called for a floor vote in the next two weeks, a timetable that would give the Republican-controlled Congress the opportunity to enact a major bill before election-year tension stalls legislative work.
 
Committee leaders avoided fights over payment limits, expansion of the Conservation Reserve and updating of base acres during a comparatively smooth "mark up" session. Iowa Sen Chuck Grassley, unable to offer a payment limit amendment before the committee, said he will ask a floor vote for a "hard" cap of $125,000 a year per person in subsidies with only farmers, spouses, and one manager per farm eligible for the payments. Grassley casts the only vote against the bill.
 
Backers of a larger Conservation Reserve and the base-acre update said they might ask for a floor vote on their amendments but would work in the meantime with Roberts and Sen Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the committee, for a compromise.
 
"I do think a 20-1 vote certainly indicates we have a sold, bipartisan majority," said Roberts after the two-and-a-half-hour committee meeting. The farm bill could be called for debate as early as next week, he said - "Could be. Hope so." A member of the Agriculture Committee, McConnell attended the committee meeting to promote his plan, a part of the farm bill, to legalize production of industrial hemp. 
 
"We will turn to the farm bill before the Fourth of July," said McConnell, adding that he hoped the House "will get to theirs shortly,and we can make a law, which we all are interested in doing." The Senate is scheduled to leave June 29 for the Independence Day recess.
 
Roberts and Stabenow wrote an evolutionary bill that tweaks rather than overhauls the 2014 farm law with the goal of a broad support and easy passage. If the Senate bill passes with a large majority, senators would be in a strong bargaining position with the House, which defeated a Republican-drafted farm bill on May 18 in a fight over stricter work requirements for food stamp recipients. GOP leaders have until June 22 to revive it.
 
"That bill is different. It will be a totally partisan bill. That is unfortunate," said Roberts. 
 
The Roberts-Stabenow bill would allow farmers a one-time choice between ARC and PLC subsidies, increase the CRP to 25 million acres from its current 24 million acres, combine export-promotion programs into an umbrella grouping, and deny farm payments to people with more than $700,000 adjusted gross income; the ceiling now is $900,000 AGI.
 
Grassley was unable to offer his payment limit amendment at committee because he had to re-draft it on short notice so its legislative citations would match the revised text of the Roberts-Stabenow bill. "The printer didn't get it here in time," Grassley told reporters. He answered with a loud "Yes" when asked if he would seek a vote by the full Senate. The House and Senate adopted similar language for the 2014 farm law but it was deleted from the final version of the bill.
 
Roberts declined to take a position on the Grassley amendment. 
 
South Dakota Sen John Thune proposed a 26.25 million-acre CRP with landowners able to graze livestock and harvest hay on one-third of the land each year, but withdrew the amendment in hopes of a compromise with committee leaders. Thune and Ohio Sen Sherrod Brown proposed the update in base acres as one of several stes to make ARC more attractive, including a potential cap on PLC reference prices. Roberts said Plains states would be hurt if acreage bases were changed. Once again, Thune accepted an offer for further discussions with Roberts and Stabenow.
 
The Senate farm bill leaves PLC reference prices at current levels. The House farm bill allows for an increase in the reference prices if there is a sustained rally in market prices.
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