WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed the conference report on a highway bill that would also prevent Congress from making a $3 billion cut to the crop insurance program which was included in the budget agreement.
The vote was 359 to 65, with no Democrats voting against the bill.
The bill next comes up in the Senate.
The Environmental Working Group said Thursday that Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.N., plan to introduce a point of order to the bill over the crop insurance provision, possibly later Thursday.
The bill, formally known as H.R. 22, the conference report on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, authorizes $305 billion in spending. It is the first five-year transportation authorization bill in more than 10 years and received support from key farm groups due to its basic provisions, which are important to rural America, and for its provision eliminating crop insurance cuts.
"The House and Senate conferees' agreement on multi-year surface transportation legislation will provide greater certainty for transportation infrastructure projects that are critical to all sectors of U.S. agriculture," said Max Fisher, director of economics and government relations for the National Grain and Feed Association.
"We urge Congress to pass this legislation as soon as possible, as it is vital for U.S. agriculture and its ability to be a competitive supplier in serving domestic and international markets, as well as to the economic well-being of the entire country."
The agreement also includes a port performance statistics program.
"Keeping track of port performance data, at least at the nation's busiest ports, should help draw attention to the damages of port disputes before they impact the entire supply chain," Fisher said.
NGFA added, "While the bill does not include NGFA's priority provision -- one that would have allowed trucks with six axles to transport up to 91,000 pounds on Interstate highways -- it does include the following:
-- A national highway freight policy with the express goal of strengthening U.S. economic competitiveness.
-- A national multimodal freight network that will focus federal policy on the most strategic freight assets and assist in directing resources to improve multimodal freight network performance.
-- Minimum financial responsibility -- requires DOT to consider prior to issuing a rule the potential impacts of raising the minimum financial responsibility above $750,000 on the motor carrier industry, safety, etc.
-- Port performance freight statistics program.
-- Hours-of-Service rule for livestock and poultry. Permanently removes the 30-minute break after eight hours of service requirement, which will avoid unnecessary discomfort for livestock and poultry during transport."
The United Fresh Produce Association also urged passage.
"Getting fresh produce to consumers quickly is critical to our members' success," said Robert Guenther, United Fresh's senior vice president for public policy. "And given that many fruit and vegetable commodities are shipped domestically almost exclusively by truck, having modernized, updated roads and bridges is a top priority for our industry."
"After more than 10 years since the last long-term reauthorization and 36 simple extensions of current policy, a full reauthorization is long overdue," Guenther said.
"The crop insurance provision," he added, "will stabilize the federal crop insurance program and help ensure the availability of an important risk management tool for fruit and vegetable producers across the country."
The Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, American Association of Crop Insurers and the National Crop Insurance Service urged Congress "to uphold its promise to rural America in the 2014 farm bill and to make crop insurance whole again through quick passage of the highway bill."
"We join with stakeholders across America in thanking Congress for its recognition of crop insurance's role as the centerpiece of farm risk management," the insurance groups said. "We appreciate all who stand up for the public-private partnership that ensures timely service for farmers after times of disaster."
EWG on Thursday released a new study that says the proposed budget cut, which would reduce the crop insurance company rate of return, could be accomplished without any harm to farmers because it could lead to a cut in commissions paid to crop insurance agents.
The industry has already noted, however, that its income goes down when commodity prices go down and the amounts at which farmers insure their crops goes down. Crop insurance agent commissions are paid on premiums.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., this week praised conferees for including the crop insurance provision.
"This is an important provision for our farmers and ranchers in North Dakota and across the country," Hoeven said.
"We worked very hard to get a long-term farm bill that provides our producers with good options for managing risk with strengthened crop insurance. At the same time, we saved $23 billion dollars to help reduce the deficit. Farmers and ranchers need the certainty of knowing there is a safety net in place when they make the large investments necessary to continue producing quality, affordable food for the nation and the world."
"Crop insurance is a cornerstone of farmers' and our country's agricultural success," Heitkamp said, "which is why I've fought hard to maintain the integrity of this program both in the 2014 farm bill, which many of us spent more than a year negotiating, and again now."
"When the recent budget deal threatened crop insurance, I made clear that I would do everything in my power and work with leaders on the Senate Committee on Agriculture to find a path forward to prevent those devastating cuts, provide certainty for farmers, and maintain this critical safety net," Heitkamp said.
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