Farm Bill Faces Uphill Battle

Posted June 12, 2012 at 7:01pm

While there might be some glimmer of hope for approval of a bipartisan farm bill, it was hard to see the light today as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filled the amendment tree on the sweeping legislation and moved on to another issue.

The managers of the bill, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), came to the floor after Reid announced he would be proceeding to flood insurance legislation. They reiterated their dedication to completing the bill and weeding through the many amendments that others are hoping to attach to it.

But their tone could be described as cautiously optimistic at best, and Roberts reached back to the Revolutionary War for a rallying cry that rang both genuine and weary from the enormity of the task at hand.

“Well this isn’t exactly the trail that I had hoped that we would take to get to … a successful conclusion to a farm bill that we need so vitally in farm country and for all the reasons that the distinguished chairwoman has outlined,” Roberts said. “So we will persevere and we will get this done. I guess we’re John Paul Jones. We have just yet begun to fight.”

Jones, a Naval fighter for the colonies in the Revolutionary War, is infamous for taunting, “I have not yet begun to fight!” to the British during a battle that so badly damaged his ship it eventually sunk.

While the $969 billion vessel for a farm bill that would reform the nation’s crop insurance and food stamps programs as well as eliminate direct subsidies to farmers has not yet sunk, it is being punctured from all sides by nongermane political amendments, regional battles and GOP Senators who do not want to take another vote on a bill doomed to fail in the House.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote to table two amendments of the six on the tree, which would make room for a large manager’s amendment if Stabenow and Roberts were able to thread the needle on all of the competing interests, both geographic and political. Several aides tracking the bill suggested they would have a better idea of whether it eventually will be able to pass based on how Senators vote Wednesday.

Reid defended filling the amendment tree in his floor speech this evening.

“I have not given up hope, and I know that Sen. Stabenow has not given up hope, to have a universal agreement so we can really legislate on this bill. As I’ve indicated, we don’t do this very often in this manner, but it’s important because we have an issue here that needs to move forward,” Reid said. “A lot of times when the tree is filled, we walk away from it. We’re not going to walk away from this. This bill is far too important, it affects the lives of millions of people.”

In many ways, however, just how far the bill can go depends on how strongly Republicans insist on including amendments that fall outside the purview of the farm bill, such as an amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) regarding defense spending cuts or a measure from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on cutting off aid to Pakistan. Paul blocked Reid from moving on a broader amendment deal today.

And while both parties spar on procedure, it’s unclear how committed either side is to ensuring that relevant amendments are offered and considered and the bill approved.

“Republicans have filed a number of amendments that we’re hoping to get votes on, and we’re still hopeful for a fair amendment process,” a senior GOP aide said.