Cochran-Roberts, named for its authors, Senators Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, was defeated in the Senate Agriculture Committee last November and again during the Senate’s attempt to pass a new farm bill before the holidays.
But the amendment, which features higher fixed payments for farmers and a new Farm Savings Account, has the support of the White House. And that could be crucial when Congress returns to Washington Wednesday from its month-long recess.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, also from Mississippi, has told farm organizations in his state that the farm bill will be the second piece of legislation — after campaign reform — that will be taken up after the Senate returns on Jan. 23. Lott has said he anticipates three to four days of debate and then, passage of the bill.
While Democrats control the Senate 50-49 with one independent, it became clear during the days leading up to the holiday recess that Democratic leaders could not override a veto when they could not muster the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the farm bill.
Thus, Cochran, Roberts and Lott may have a stronger hand when it comes to finding a compromise measure that will be acceptable to the Senate, can be conferenced with the House version of the farm bill and — most importantly — will be signed by the president.
For his part, Roberts sounded ready to deal when he spoke with a reporter for Reuters New Service by telephone.
“We’ll take a hard look at what provisions we can change that would attract votes,” he said. “But the Democrats have got their marching orders and I don’t know what it is that would change their view.”
Under Cochran-Roberts, farmers would receive fixed payments of 14 cents per pound on cotton acres, $3.29 per hundredweight on rice acres and 59 cents per bushel on soybeans over the next five years vs. the House bill’s 6.7 cents for cotton, $2.25 for rice and 42 cents for rice over the next 10 years.
The Senate Ag Committee or Daschle-Harkin bill features a sliding scale that would provide payments of 13, 13, 6.5, 6.5 and 3.25 cents per pound for cotton, $2.45, $2.45, $1.225, $1.225 and $.6125 per hundredweight for rice and 55, 55, 27, 27 and 13 cents for soybeans over five years.
Daschle-Harkin includes higher loan rates of 55 cents for cotton, $6.85 for rice and $5.20 for soybeans compared to 51.92 cents for cotton, $6.50 per hundredweight for rice and $4.92 for soybeans in both Cochran-Roberts and the House bill.
The House bill would establish a counter-cyclical target price of 73.6 cents per pound for cotton, for example, compared to a level of 68 cents per pound for Harkin-Daschle. Cochran-Roberts does not include a counter-cyclical payment.
Instead, it would provide Commodity Credit Corp. matching funds of up to $10,000 per farmer for a Farmer Savings Account that producers could draw on in times of low prices or adverse weather conditions.
Roberts said he believes it is time for the Senate to sit down and work out a compromise rather than continuing to offer a lengthy list of amendments.
“I think you’ve got to concentrate on five or six amendments that we think are important and move the bill,” he noted.