The Senate has had under consideration a mini-omnibus (“minibus”) appropriations measure that includes the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations measure. The package was subject to numerous amendments but was moving ahead until the Senate recessed without completing work on the bill.
The Senate has agreed to take up a limited number of amendments when they return on Nov. 1 from a week-long work period. The minibus contains the annual spending bills for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, said the decision to combine the bills into a minibus was made with the support of Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader. However, he also said that Ohio Rep. John Boehner, House Speaker, encouraged the strategy to jump-start the appropriations process. The federal government continues to operate under a Continuing Resolution, which expires on Nov. 18.
Senate leaders agreed to allow numerous amendments from members of both parties as long as the proposals were generally germane to the appropriations measures. An amendment by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, which prohibits direct payments to growers who have adjusted gross incomes of more than $1 million, passed 85 to 14.
Under the agreement reached, on Nov. 1 the Senate will resume consideration of HR 2112 and will conduct roll call votes on seven amendments -- none of which would affect farm programs. Once all amendments are disposed of, the Senate will proceed to a roll call vote on passage of HR 2112, as amended.
The NCC joined with agriculture groups in a letter (see here) urging the Senate to reject amendments to the FY12 agriculture appropriations bill under consideration as part of the minibus. The groups were alarmed by the number of amendments that, if enacted, would make significant changes to current farm law. The amendments included new adjusted gross income (AGI) tests, new enforcement measures for existing AGI tests, elimination of DPs and others.
The groups pointed out that the respective agriculture committees, which have jurisdiction over farm programs, recently communicated a commitment to contribute $23 billion to deficit reduction and will now develop legislation to achieve those savings. The agriculture appropriations bill includes funding for discretionary programs and was written by the appropriations committee to comply with spending limits adopted by Congress. The letter urges senators to recognize that the legislation under consideration is not the appropriate vehicle to make major changes in farm policy particularly in the last year of current farm law and before the committees can develop proposals to reform and reduce outlays as part of the deficit reduction process.
Separately, the NCC also expressed concern that an amendment filed by Arizona Sen. John McCain would, if enacted, result in the United States violating terms of the U.S.-Brazil Framework Agreement and trigger retaliation against U.S. exports (see letter to McCain here). As of late Oct. 20, Sen. McCain had not offered his amendment for a vote.