SD senators hail passage of farm billBill still needs to clear House, be signed by president.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune cheered the farm bill that was passed Thursday by the Senate.
“All in all, there’s no farm bill perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” said Thune, R-S.D. “Given the process we have to deal with in the Senate … this is a farm bill I think we can move forward.”
“The Senate has done its work,” said Johnson, D-S.D. “The House Agriculture Committee needs to move a farm bill so that we can give our producers certainty.”
The Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, better known as the farm bill, 64-35. Both South Dakota senators voted for it.
It now goes to the House, which is expected to bring the bill up for debate in July and, if a version acceptable to both the House and Senate can be forged in a conference committee, to President Obama for his signature.
The current farm bill, passed in 2008, expires Sept. 30 but could be extended.
A Johnson staffer said the senator thinks Obama would sign this version of the bill. But he offered a note of caution, saying the House Agriculture Committee has delayed marking up its version of the bill.
Thune also thinks Obama would sign the Senate version of the legislation.
“I think he will,” he said. “My guess is if the end product takes too much out of the nutrition program, he might veto it.”
But Thune said Obama would make a “real mistake” by vetoing the bill and harming agriculture. Thune said the bill that was passed by the Senate was a pleasant surprise to him and, he feels, is good for the country.
“That’s something I didn’t know a few months ago if we would be able to get across the finish line in the Senate,” Thune said in a teleconference with South Dakota journalists shortly after the bill passed.
But he said it passed with “a strong bipartisan vote” and will provide needed reforms. In a press release, Johnson agreed with Thune, and said the support from both sides of the aisle was impressive.
“A good, strong farm bill is crucial to South Dakota’s future,” Johnson said in the release. “The Senate bill will reduce the deficit by more than $23 billion over 10 years and will support the millions of jobs around the country that rely on agriculture.”
The Senate bill ends direct payments to producers, which is one reason most Southern senators, whose constituents have come to rely on those dollars, voted against it.
“The Senate bill takes several important steps to ensure the continued integrity of our farm programs,” Johnson said. “We eliminate direct payments and establish a new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program that will help address losses not covered by crop insurance. At the same time, we maintain a strong crop insurance program, which producers have told me time and time again is the most critical risk management tool.”
Johnson said the bill will also ensure payments are directed to farmers who deserve the support, and not to big businesses or nonfarmers.
“We have also finally included meaningful payment limitations with an overall $250,000 hard cap on the commodity programs,” he said in the release. “The bill also takes some historic steps to close loopholes which have allowed non-farmers to receive payments.”
The crop insurance program is the one area that absolutely should not be stripped from the bill, Thune said.
“That is the one non-negotiable,” he said. “That’s the thing we’ve got to keep intact.”
The bill also includes a sod-saver provision that Thune said he inserted when the bill was marked up in committee.
Thune and Johnson both co-sponsored an amendment to authorize $200 million each year from 2013 through 2017 to help fight the pine beetle epidemic, double the previous amount.
The pine beetle infestation has killed over 41 million acres of trees in the western United States, including in the Black Hills.
“All and all, it’s a nice one,” Thune said of the farm bill. “We had to process 73 amendments through the floor of the Senate. It’s nice when you get it to the finish line and it’s still in relatively good shape.”