Senators kept at it Thursday, addressing four amendments to the 2013 Farm Bill.
The amendments dealt mostly with crop insurance provisions, though Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., began the day's votes with an amendment allowing states to label products containing or made with genetically modified organisms. The amendment failed 27-71.
An amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. to end crop insurance premiums for tobacco farmers was next in line. Feinstein argued that many vegetable and fruit producers in her home state do without federally subsidized crop insurance – and so can tobacco.
She noted that the tobacco buyouts, which were initiated in 2004, were meant to signal an end to federal supports.
The buyouts, which expire at end of 2014, promised nearly $10 billion over those 10 years to pay farmers for production quotas the owned up to two years prior. The program was farmer-funded, but Feinstein argued that those buyouts were meant to wean Americans from tobacco.
"We have to say no to tobacco in America. I think by eliminating this subsidy in crop insurance it can have a big impact," Feinstein noted.
However, opponents of the amendment including Sen. Richard Burr, N.C., said doing away with the federal crop insurance program for tobacco wouldn't change Americans' tobacco habits, it would simply fuel import markets.
"If we want to outlaw tobacco, let's have that vote. But don't think it will change the healthcare of the American people," he said.
The amendment, which was supported also by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and by human health interest groups, failed with a vote of 44-52.
Continuing on the crop insurance path, Senators entertained two more amendments: #1031 to strengthen crop insurance fraud protections and another, #953, to limit crop insurance premiums among farmers with an adjusted gross income higher than $750,000. Both amendments were agreed to, though not without discussion.
Amendment #953, offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senators said, would reduce the premium subsidy level by 15% "for the nation's wealthiest farmers."
A major hang-up with the amendment was a concern among some legislators and Sen. Stabenow that the bill would cause top-tier farmers to leave the federal crop insurance program and therefore jeopardize the bill's conservation compliance provision.
Stabenow noted that large tracts of land owned by top-tier farmers account for not only a significant portion of land enrolled in conservation programs, but also and sizeable payments into the crop insurance program, thereby affecting smaller farmers, too.
Coburn, however, said the more than $1 billion the amendment saves would result in limited changes, and large farmers would likely remain in the crop insurance program despite a dock in premium subsidies.
So far, amendment 953 makes 12 amendments the Senate has already considered. Though Sen. Debbie Stabenow previously estimated that discussion could wrap up as early as Friday, she said Thursday that no more votes would be taken on the bill until Senators return from Memorial Day recess on June 3.
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