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Senate Passes Budget In Vote-A-Thon

DC Dialogue

How agriculture fared in the recent budget blueprint approved in the Senate.

Published on: March 29, 2013

For the first time in four years the full Senate passed its budget, voting on 101 of the over 500 amendments filed. The Democrat's version stands sharply in contrast to the House's previously approved version, setting up for continued debate over how to handle the nation's financial issues.

The Democratic-drafted budget calls for almost $1 trillion in new taxes over the next decade to help reduce the deficit while keeping safety-net programs in place. The House budget on the other hand plans to balance the budget in 10 years by not increasing taxes and instead reducing domestic programs.

The vote of 50-49 in favor of the Democrat's budget blueprint showed that conservative Democrats were unable to support the bill, and also highlights the ideological divide on how to handle the nation's financial situation.

Over 500 amendments were filed as part of the budget bill, but only a fraction of those were considered. Several of importance to your farm and agriculture found its way into the final Senate budget bill.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, co-sponsored an amendment with Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would implement a deficit-neutral reserve fund that encourages swift movement on renewing Trade Promotion Authority. Portman, a former United States Trade Representative in the Bush Administration, said he supports the export agreements the current administration is considering, but that trade negotiations "must have TPA to ensure we get the best possible deal for American workers."

The Senate also approved an amendment introduced by Sen. Kay Hagen, D-N.C., to strengthen enforcement of provisions of free trade agreements that relate to textile and apparel articles.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., offered an amendment to permanently abolish the federal death tax, which didn't pass with a vote of 46-53. Interestingly it was less than a decade ago that the Senate looked to have the 60 votes needed to end the estate tax.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., submitted an amendment which ensures that the Bureau of Land Management collaborates with western states to prevent the listing of the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  This amendment was agreed to Saturday.

However, an amendment proposed by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from engaging in closed-door settlement agreements that ignore impacted States and counties was proposed, but not brought to the floor for a full vote.

A measure requiring labeling of genetically engineered salmon introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, passed.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., worked together to amend the budget resolution with bipartisan language that enables Congress to increase funding to the Inland Waterways system with offsetting reductions of spending on lower priority programs elsewhere in the government. This amendment compliments Senator Casey’s RIVER Act, which makes cost-share reforms and provides more money for operations and maintenance for locks and dams on our nation’s rivers.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was approved by unanimous consent to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to support rural schools and districts.

Never voted on

The list of amendments filed, but never agreed upon for a full Senate vote was long including those that impact your farm and agriculture.

Sen. Mike Johanns', R-Neb., amendment to restrict EPA from conducting aerial surveillance to inspect or to record images of agricultural operations did not come up for a vote. Johanns' filed a similar amendment during year’s farm bill debate which drew the support of 56 Senators, including 10 Democrats. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced the “Bloomberg Big Gulp Amendment” to prevent food and beverage size and quantity regulations.

In line with legislation introduced earlier this year, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., introduced several amendments to save money while closing loopholes and making improvements to the food stamp – or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Roberts’ bill the Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act saves $36 billion over 10 years.   

An amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to prohibit the use of SNAP benefits to purchase junk food also did not receive a vote.

Baucus also introduced an amendment that was not voted on to include livestock and specialty crop disaster programs in a deficit-neutral reserve fund for a farm bill.