by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Frequently referred to as the world's most deliberative body, the U.S. Senate is chock full of senators who can be deliberatively obstructive.
Senate leaders again failed to come to terms on a full package of amendments to debate on the farm bill on Wednesday despite using a procedural strategy to defeat amendments that would have eliminated the sugar program and would have turned a major food-aid program into a state block grant.
Senators sought to dispel at least two more amendments but adjourned without votes on either one.
Senators still debated the two amendments that were unlikely to pass because of broad support for conservation programs or an unwillingness to place mandatory programs in the hands of annual appropriations. Both are likely to face votes sometime Thursday, though it remains unclear whether senators will reach agreement on a more universal package of amendments.
Votes are expected on an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to eliminate the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program from the farm bill.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., also had offered an amendment to convert all mandatory spending programs in the farm bill to discretionary spending. That would have meant major commodity, conservation and nutrition programs always guaranteed to have funding would have faced possible appropriation spending cuts annually.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was one of the senators who spoke on the floor against the Coburn amendment. She said the bill protects clean air and water, as well as wildlife habitat.
"What we call the farm bill is actually the largest investment we as a country make in conservation of land, air and water on working lands -- lands that are owned by the private sector," Stabenow said.
Stabenow said EQIP "is the cornerstone to the country's voluntary conservation measures" with 38,000 contracts signed with landowners on 13 million acres last year.
On CSP, Stabenow noted the program pays farmers for achieving higher levels of conservation and is now the largest overall conservation program at USDA with 49 million acres enrolled.
With the need to produce more food in the coming decades, Stabenow said "no amount of technology can make up for degraded soil or polluted water."
More than 640 groups wrote senators last week championing the conservation measures in the farm bill.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., speaking against Coburn's amendment, said EQIP dollars have been used in his state by ranchers to protect sage grouse and help keep the bird off the endangered species list, "the listing of which would threaten ranchers all across the West," Bennet said.
On Thursday, Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., will hold a press conference with both conservative and liberal groups to back their amendment that would cap crop-insurance premium subsidies at $40,000 annually. No agreement has been announced to bring that amendment to the floor and it is opposed by not only the crop-insurance industry but also most major farm groups.
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