This vote was on an amendment that would require farmers to meet standards for conserving water and soil in exchange for federally subsidized crop insurance.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. Under the terms of Sen. Chambliss’ amendment, farmers who receive taxpayer support for their crop insurance would be required to take steps to prevent degradation of soil and wetlands on their property. The conservation practices were already required of farmers who receive taxpayer support through other federal farm programs.
Sen. Chambliss argued that his amendment was critical to the effort to provide habitat for fish and wildlife. As crop insurance becomes more popular and more heavily subsidized, Congress should make sure the program’s beneficiaries are following conservation-friendly land management practices, he said.
“Conservation compliance was enacted as part of the 1985 farm bill and has contributed almost singlehandedly to almost three decades of progress in limiting erosion, cleaning up waterways, and protecting wetlands. For those of us who love to fish and hunt, that has been of critical importance,” Sen. Chambliss said. “If crop insurance is going to be the preferred safety net for farmers, then we also need to make sure the program does not incentivize farmers to eliminate the gains we have made in the last 25 years.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who opposed the amendment, argued that it would thrust more paperwork onto the shoulders of American farmers. Farmers who participate in other federal programs already follow conservation practices, he said, so the requirement would probably be unnecessary.
“To duplicate the same (conservation) requirements in crop insurance is wasteful of government resources, taxpayer dollars, and will cause a lot more paperwork,” Sen. Roberts said. “When your farmers find out you are wasting taxpayer dollars and are in charge of a duplicative effort and making them fill out more paperwork, you will have to hide in your office for 4 weeks. Do not hide in your office for 4 weeks. Vote no.”
The Senate approved Sen. Chambliss’ amendment by a vote of 52-47. Voting “yea” were 40 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 12 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 34 Republicans and 13 Democrats. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation that would require farmers to meet standards for conserving water and soil in exchange for federally subsidized crop insurance.