This vote was on an amendment aimed at preserving higher federal subsidies for crop insurance for all farmers, including those with incomes over $750,000.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Thune’s amendment was similar to a competing amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) that reduced taxpayer assistance for farmers with an adjusted gross income – the amount earned before taxes but after some tax deductions – of more than $750,000. Farmers in this income category would receive a smaller subsidy when purchasing crop insurance under both amendments. However, under Sen. Thune’s amendment, the subsidy limit would not go into effect unless the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determined that it would not result in increased administrative costs.
Sen. Durbin noted that to implement the subsidy limit, the USDA would have to determine which farmers have incomes above the limit. This would unavoidably cost at least a little money – although much less than the limits would save in federal spending, he said. Therefore, Sen. Thune’s amendment would kill off the attempted subsidy limits, he said.
“Sixty-two percent, the [Government Accountability Office] tells us, of crop insurance premiums are paid for by taxpayers, which means those who are using crop insurance are relying on the Treasury,” Sen. Durbin said. “The Thune amendment says … we cannot reduce this subsidy – in his language – if it adds any administrative expense. So if it costs $1 to even figure out who the 15,000 (wealthy) farmers are, no way we are going to save $1 billion.”
Sen. Thune argued that the growth of crop insurance has reduced the need for Congress to pass special disaster assistance bills whenever a flood or drought hits. The Coburn-Durbin amendment would weaken crop insurance and backtrack on the progress that has been made, he said.
“The crop insurance program is the centerpiece of this farm policy. That is what this entire farm bill is built around. That is what farmers and producers in this country said they wanted,” Sen. Thune said. “We need a good, strong crop insurance program for the farmers in this country. That is what this farm bill is built upon. We should not take any chances with it.”
Sen. Thune’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 44-55. Voting “yea” were 27 Republicans and 17 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 36 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 19 Republicans.
The Senate then approved the competing Coburn-Durbin amendment, which would limit crop insurance subsidies for wealthy farmers, by a vote of 66-33. This vote was Senate Roll Call 157. Voting “yea” were 42 Democrats and 24 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats. As a result, the Senate moved forward with legislation that would reduce federal subsidies to help wealthy farmers buy crop insurance.