On Wednesday, October 31, the Senate Agriculture Committee finally began the process of marking-up a farm bill. The Committee began by debating and approving the credit provision to be included in the overall bill and intends on completing a farm bill by mid-November. Other proposed provisions include nutrition (food stamps & WIC), commodities, trade, competition, insurance, forestry and possibly energy and conservation provisions.
On Thursday, Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-IA) Chairman of the Committee, introduced his own farm bill. His bill will be the primary legislation debated by the full Senate Committee as the mark-up process continues. However, Sen. Lugar, (R-IN) the Ranking Member, has also introduced a bill. And, the House of Representatives has already passed its version of a bill as well.
The White House has been sharply critical of the House bill, saying it would encourage over production and primarily help big farms that need assistance the least. The cost of Sen. Harkin's bill is approximately the same as the legislation passed by the House, about $170 billion over 10 years, but spends the money in a slightly different manner, such as increasing spending for conservation initiatives. Under his plan, conservation spending would double over the next decade and farmers would have two new subsidy programs to choose from as they implement more environmentally friendly farming practices.
Due to the ongoing national security crisis, the Administration has urged Congress to delay final action until next year, however, the Administration has endorsed several of the provisions in Sen. Lugar's bill, including a measure that would phase out crop subsidies in favor of giving farmers vouchers to buy revenue insurance.
Sen. Harkin has expressed confidence that the Committee will finish its work on a farm bill by the end of next week but he has also cautioned that the legislation may not go the Senate floor until January or February.
We will be monitoring Senate action on the Farm Bill as will NCRLC and CRS. The Catholic bishops have demonstrated their concern for the family farm for decades. They do so not out of some quaint notion of a bygone era, but out of genuine concern about food safety, abundance, affordability and, most importantly, sustainability. They have repeatedly argued that food production is unlike any other sector of the economy precisely because it is necessary for life itself.
They also believe that a highly diversified system of agriculture is preferable to a concentrated one for a number of reasons. First, it enables many more people to make a living from the land. Second, it better insures diversity in plant and animal life, reducing the possibility of some catastrophic disease or pest destroying herds or acreage.
For more information contact Andy Rivas at 202-541-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.