By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama issued a written statement following his vote on Monday against the final passage of the Senate version of the Farm Bill.
Sen. Sessions said, “I greatly appreciate the hard work that Senators Cochran and Stabenow put into the Senate farm bill. Through Sen. Cochran’s leadership, this year’s bill is better for many farmers in Alabama than last year’s bill, especially considering improvements to programs used by peanut and cotton farmers. In addition, unlike last year’s bill, this year’s Senate bill retains the USDA inspection program for catfish, which is a major priority for Alabama’s catfish industry. However, I find it deeply concerning that the Senate farm bill lacks reforms to the food stamp program—food stamps now make up 80 percent of the spending in the farm bill—while instead making substantial cuts to the provisions for our farmers, which make up less than 20 percent of the bill.”
Sen. Sessions continued, “Many of us in the Senate wanted to find ways to improve the bill. Yet, once again, Majority Leader Reid preempted real legislative debate by filing cloture after just 10 roll call votes on amendments. More than 200 amendments were left unheard. This is not acceptable in the Senate—the world’s greatest deliberative body. Important bills like this simply must be subject to the traditional amendment process.”
Sen. Sessions concluded, “While I was pleased that one of my amendments was accepted by the Senate—Amendment No. 945, which will help Alabama farmers access federal irrigation programs—several others I filed or supported, including amendments to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the food stamp program and to prevent regulatory overreach, were denied a vote. I am hopeful that, as a result of a conference with the House of Representatives, the final farm bill will be something I can eventually support. But much work remains left to do.”
The bill would reauthorize the farm programs for another ten years and would cost an estimated $955 billion over the next decade. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that would save $17.9 billion (1.8%) over continuing the programs at their current rate. The costliest part of the Farm Bill is the Food stamp programs which are 80% of that spending under the Senate version of the farm bill.
According to Sessions’s office programs important to Alabama farmers are cut significantly under the Senate bill, but the food stamp program receives only a cut of ~.5%. The House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill would cut four times as much from the costly food stamp program.
The Senate did approve Senator Sessions Amendment No. 945, which states that “prior irrigation history” cannot be used as a criteria for limiting eligibility for providing irrigation assistance under the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Sen. Sessions’ other amendments including: Sessions Amendment No. 946, which would have ended a USDA program that partners with Mexican consulates to encourage foreign nationals, migrant workers, and other immigrants to enroll in food stamps and 14 other USDA-administered welfare programs; Sessions Amendment No. 947, which would have require that states take mandatory steps to verify the immigration status of applicants for food stamps; and Sessions Amendment No. 1051, which changed language in the bill to modify a study regarding the cost for small farmers to comply with federal regulations.
The Senate farm bill does eliminate direct and counter-cyclical payments for farmers and replaces them with additional crop insurance support programs.
Sen. Jeff Sessions is the Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Budget Committee.