Senate Democrats

Senate Republicans Block Passage of the Farm Bill, Obstructionism Hurts Rural America, Families, and the Environment

On November 16, 2007, Senate Republicans voted to block the Senate’s passage of the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 ("the Farm Bill") by refusing to invoke cloture on the Farm Bill by a vote of 55 to 42.  The Farm Bill has been the pending business before the Senate for ten days and Republican Senators have objected on multiple occasions to bringing up bipartisan amendments to the bill.

Despite widespread support for the bill in the Agriculture Committee, Senate Republicans have blocked the legislation to debate non-relevant issues like the alternative minimum tax (AMT) and the estate tax.  The following report outlines the costs of not passing a Farm Bill to rural America, families and the environment.

Senate Republicans are denying farmers and ranchers:

·        An extension of the farm safety-net for five years until 2012.

·        Financial certainty as rural America enters the upcoming planting season.

·        Investments of more than $2 billion in specialty crops like fruits and vegetables.  The new investments in specialty crops are important because only one in five Americans consume the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables each day.

·        Over $5 billion in permanent disaster assistance through the creation of the Agricultural Disaster Relief Trust Fund.  The disaster assistance trust fund will ensure that farmers have a dependable and timely safety net when disasters strike rather than having to wait for Congress to appropriate emergency funding.

Senate Republicans are denying low-income families and children:

·        A cost of living adjustment for food stamp (now called the Food and Nutrition Program) recipients to end the programs benefit erosion.  This is important because since 2000, both the percentage and the aggregate number of Americans living in poverty has increased, from 11.3 percent and 31.5 million in 2000 to 12.3 percent and 36.4 million in 2006.

·        An expanded fruit and vegetable program that is targeted to low-income children in every state of the country.  The current fresh fruit and vegetable programs are widely popular and successful but only available to a handful of school districts in very few states.  The Farm Bill would expand the program into every state by investing more than $1.1 billion and concurrently help prevent diet related chronic diseases in children.

·        Support for food banks and community food providers through an additional $110 million annually in mandatory commodity purchases that will be distributed to low-income households.

Senate Republicans are denying the following important environmental protections:

·        The annual enrollment of 13.2 million acres into the Conservation Stewardship Program.  The Conservation Stewardship Program will allow all agricultural producers, including livestock and specialty crop producers, the opportunity to achieve high levels of conservation on their soil and water resources.

·        A reauthorization of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) at $1.27 billion in 2008 and 2009, and $1.3 billion thereafter.  The reauthorization of EQIP offers voluntary contracts to agricultural producers with a particular focus on livestock production, and the new farm bill would strengthen the program’s assistance on forest management, fuels management, and pollinator habitat (bees) protection.

·        The protection of valuable wetland areas by reauthorizing the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll 250,000 acres per year through 2012.  The protection and restoration of wetlands are important because wetlands simultaneously protect wildlife habitat, defend against catastrophic flooding, and improve water quality by filtering out pollutants like nitrogen.

·        A continuation of the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program that partner with state, regional, and national fish and wildlife conservation plans.

Senate Republicans are denying the following modest reforms of producer income protection programs:

·        The elimination of the “three entity rule.”  The three-entity rule has previously been used by agricultural producers to exceed the statutory limits on payments by splitting their operations into multiple pieces and allowing each piece to draw farm payments.

·        Improved transparency through direct attribution of payments to an actual agricultural producer.

·        The lowering the adjusted gross income (AGI) limit for commodity programs from the current level of $2.5 million to $1 million in 2009 and $750,000 for 2010 and subsequent years. 

·        A new Average Crop Revenue program, similar to a program authored by Senators Durbin and Brown, that takes the first step towards moving the “commodity Title” away from the use of traditional of direct payments and counter cyclical payments tied to market prices. 

Senate Republicans are denying the competitive awarding of the following renewable fuel grants:

·        $300 million for grants and loan guarantees for biofuel refineries.  The grants may cover up to 50 percent of the projects eligible costs while the loan guarantees may cover up to 80 percent of project costs.

·        $230 million for grants and loan guarantees for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to help fund energy efficiency improvements or install renewable energy capacity that are focused on expanding the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency by state agencies, regional, state-based or tribal energy organizations, universities, rural electric cooperatives or public power entities.

·        $160 million in grants to assist farmers to begin to produce, harvest, and deliver biomass crops to biorefineries and other biomass user facilities.