Ag Policy Blog

Contentious Ag Issues Remain in Senate Funding Bill

By Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor

The U.S. Senate adjourned for the weekend Thursday night without taking votes on the Continuing Resolution for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said ideally negotiators on the bill will come to terms on a final list of amendments to debate for the bill.

On the floor Thursday, senators began debating an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to take $60 million away from the military's biofuels program and turn that money over to the military's operations and maintenance fund. This is a specific effort to challenge sequester cuts that would affect civilian Department of Defense employees in Pennsylvania. Toomey argues the biofuels program requires the military to "grossly overpay" for fuel. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., rose to oppose Toomey's amendment but no vote was taken.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., touted a provision in the spending bill when speaking Wednesday to members of the Missouri Farm Bureau. Blunt described the provision that would ensure if a farmer plants a biotech crop the farmer would be allowed to harvest and sell it, rather than be blocked by a possible federal court ruling. This stems from the biotech cases involving Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugarbeets.

Language comparable to this was in the House Agriculture Committee farm bill last year. This remains a highly controversial issue within agriculture. A lobbyist with clients on both sides of that issue recently told me it is one of the most divisive issues he faces. The provision actually requires USDA to issue a temporary permit to growers to harvest the crop even if the court requires more environmental studies on the crop. Farmers and biotech companies support this measure, but several key agricultural groups also oppose it, fearing possible complications selling grains or disrupting trade. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has slammed the provision and has an amendment to strip it out of the final bill.

(DTN's Washington Insider also touches on this biotech issue in Friday's column.)

Meatpacking issues also remain up in the air. Blunt and other Republicans want to give USDA authority to declare meat inspectors as essential workers who could not be furloughed. This provision affects more than just meat inspectors and would give federal agencies more flexibility on furloughs. It's unclear as well whether this amendment will get a vote.

Several groups also are opposed to language in the Senate bill that would effectively peel back some of the few remaining protections left over from the controversial livestock marketing rule, or GIPSA rule. The specific provisions gave more protections to contract poultry growers. This is another provision that Tester criticized and has introduced an amendment to block.

Groups such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have started letter-writing and call-in campaigns to get rid of both the biotech and GIPSA provisions.

Still, it will come down to talks over the weekend over whether either of Tester's amendments or the Blunt amendment will get floor debates and votes next week.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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Bonnie Dukowitz 3/15/2013 | 7:07 AM CDT
The only thing not debatable with this quagmire is under Senator Reids lack of leadership, the Senate has not passed a budget in 4 years. In our business, we do first things first. When we treat our grandchildren with dining out, we govern ourselves with a budget.