WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday started plowing through a long list of amendments to the pending farm bill, although high-profile proposals to strip popcorn subsidies and raise federal grazing fees failed to reach even a vote.
Further debate on the amendments deemed worthy of consideration is expected this week on a bill projected to cost $969 billion over 10 years.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to boost rural development funding and change dairy reporting requirements as it moved through dozens of the amendments.
Lawmakers approved Sen. Chuck Grassley's proposal to place a $75,000 cap on the total amount of loan deficiency payments and marketing loans one person can receive in a year. There is no cap in current law. The vote was 75 in favor and 24 opposed, with all Nebraska and Iowa senators supporting the amendment.
“The reform will help to bring about more defensibility for the farm program,” said Grassley, R-Iowa.
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., offered an amendment to better target bonus payments to states for how they administer nutrition assistance, the program known to most as food stamps. That amendment was approved on a voice vote. A Republican proposal to eliminate the bonus payments was defeated, with 41 voting in favor and 58 opposed.
Midlands senators split along party lines with Nelson and Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin opposing the amendment and Grassley joining Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns in support.
The Senate was expected to vote this week on an amendment by Johanns that would prohibit aerial surveillance by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency calls those flyovers an effective and efficient way to help enforce the Clean Water Act and root out offenders dumping livestock waste into waterways.
But Johanns and the rest of Nebraska's congressional delegation say farmers and ranchers are concerned about their privacy and have raised questions about the EPA's authority to conduct the flyovers. Johanns also has strongly criticized the agency's explanations of the program as inadequate.
Nelson has expressed similar criticisms of the EPA and said Tuesday that he supports Johanns' amendment.
Harkin, however, questioned Tuesday why the flyovers were such a big deal.
“You can go to Google Earth and get anything you want right now anyway, so what's the difference?” Harkin said.
He said the State Patrol uses planes to catch speeders and he questioned why the EPA shouldn't have the same capability.
“People ought to be warned that if they're going to pollute and stuff like that they're going to get caught,” Harkin said.
Among the amendments that did not make the cut for consideration was Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's proposal to strip out language benefiting popcorn growers.
Also left out was a proposal by Nelson to bring federal grazing fees more in line with the private market. Nelson could introduce his proposal as stand-alone legislation later.
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