Lugar-Lautenberg Loses Steam

December 12, 2007

WASHINGTON (Dec. 12, 2007)—Farmers and ranchers applauded as the Senate soundly defeated a farm bill amendment by Senators Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to gut the farm safety net.

The amendment, which fell on a 58 to 37 vote, was almost identical to a similar amendment offered by Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) when the farm bill was before the House of Representatives in July. The Kind-Flake amendment fizzled on a 309 to 117 vote.

“The Lugar-Lautenberg amendment was nothing more than repeal dressed up as reform,” said Paul T. Combs, a Missouri rice producer and chairman of the USA Rice Producers Group. “It would have repealed the non-recourse loan and phased both direct and countercyclical payments down and out. That’s 100 percent of the safety net eliminated.”

The amendment would have also eviscerated the federal crop insurance program, imposing an unsustainable 30 percent tax on providers while reducing delivery funding by nearly 40 percent.

Crop insurance industry officials contend that this amendment would have resulted in a mass exodus from their industry, leaving farmers uninsured and costing the government billions in unbudgeted ad hoc disaster assistance.

The lopsided Kind-Flake and Lugar-Lautenberg votes were big disappointments for activist groups such as Oxfam and Environmental Defense that blanketed Capitol Hill and a handful of states with expensive ads in support of safety net repeal.

Farmers and ranchers now turn their attention to defeating other harmful amendments that are unpopular in rural America. Amendments to cripple crop insurance and slash federal farm benefits by drastically limiting farm payments are of particular concern.

Farmers and ranchers are urging Senators to defeat these harmful and dilatory amendments and to put the farm bill—which was unanimously passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee—on a fast track for immediate approval.

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest spoke of the process in a speech yesterday at the Farm Journal Forum.