Senate Farm Bill Amendments

Heritage Action will be key voting the following amendments to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240), more commonly referred to as the farm bill:

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on the Rubio “RAISE Act” Amendment

The Senate is likely to vote on the Rubio Amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240).  The amendment, known as the RAISE Act, would allow employers to pay individual union workers more than the union contract specifies. Currently, collective bargaining agreements set both a floor and a ceiling on wages, meaning that while workers cannot be paid below a certain amount they also cannot be paid above a certain amount, thus eliminating true performance-based pay.

The legislation is necessary because unions have actually fought to prevent bonuses from being awarded to their own members. The National labor Relations Board (NLRB) has sided with the unions, and not the workers, in such cases, claiming the bonuses constituted an illegal “direct dealing” with the workers.  “Direct dealing” is forbidden under collective bargaining law. This means that if a union worker works hard, takes initiative and proves to be an indispensable asset to their actual employer, they can’t be rewarded unless the union approves.  This creates the false dynamic that the union, not the actual company, is the source of their income. Hard workers end up being held back while less productive workers are propped up. It creates a perverse incentive that runs contrary to the spirit and values that built America.

The RAISE Act would not eliminate the floor set by collective bargaining agreements, but would remove the pay ceiling, allowing exceptional employees to be compensated as such. It also does not allow employers to unfairly reward non-union workers with raises just to punish union workers. Simply put, it is not union busting, but a way of rewarding deserving employees.

Heritage Action supports the Rubio Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our scorecard.

Heritage Action key voted cosponsorship of the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act (S.2371) on May 21, 2012.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on the DeMint “Check-Off” Amendment

The Senate is likely to vote on the DeMint Amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240). The amendment would allow individual businesses and small farmers to refrain from joining any of the 19 “check-off” programs to which they are currently required to contribute.

Currently, the Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) collects a portion of revenue from these businesses and farmers to market advertisements such as “Got Milk?” and “Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner.” Many times, marketing campaigns derived from such “check-off” payments do not advocate for the positions and interests of those who are forced to contribute to them. However, if these businesses and farmers don’t contribute, the USDA can levy fines anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 per violation.

“Check-off” programs raise $905 million in taxes each year, and the Inspector General of the USDA revealed last March that the AMS is subject to virtually no oversight and there is widespread abuse. In one instance, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association used “check-off” dollars to fly spouses to New Zealand. In another instance, laws banning “check-off” money to be used for lobbying were violated. In another, a soybean association used “check-off” funds to violate salary and administrative caps, and to fire whistleblowers. They have also been used to subsidize the products of billion-dollar companies, such as McDonald’s, Domino’s, Wendy’s and Pizza Hut.

The industry claims that there is overwhelming demand for and approval of “check-off” programs; however, if this is the case, there is no reason such contributions should be compulsory. The DeMint amendment would make this program voluntary, allowing businesses and farmers to opt out of programs that may not line up with their interests. 

Heritage Action supports the DeMint Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our scorecard.

The following key votes were issued June 14, 2012.

Key Vote Alert: “Yes” on the McCain “Catfish” Amendment

The Senate is likely to vote on the McCain Amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240). The amendment would strike a duplicative food inspection program that serves as a trade barrier to imported catfish, thus tilting the scales in favor of domestic catfish farmers.

Proponents of the new catfish inspection program say it would improve food safety. However, under the Food and Drug Administration already has an inspection program, making this one duplicative. It would also create a trade barrier for catfish farmers, namely from Vietnam, which would lead to increased prices for American consumers.

Heritage Action supports the McCain Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our scorecard.  

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on the Vitter-Lee “ESA” Amendment

The Senate may vote on the Vitter-Lee Amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240). The amendment would protect farmers and their land by reforming the way the Interior Department designates critical habitat for endangered species. With this amendment, the Interior Department would be required to be more transparent and provide economic impact analyses.

Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in collusion with environmental organizations, review the endangered status of hundreds of species. Then, the Interior Department restricts access to resources on lands which may be owned by farmers, without giving them any pertinent information about why their land is being restricted. The farmers then have little recourse to reclaim their land.

In one instance, 1,500 acres in Louisiana were deemed critical habitat for the Mississippi Gopher Frog, which hasn’t even inhabited the area for at least 50 years. Without landowner’s consent, the Interior Department restricted the land, which could now have an economic impact of over $35 million.

With the Vitter-Lee Amendment, the Secretary of Interior would be required to consult with the Secretary of Agriculture to determine the economic impacts on farmland before designating it critical habitat, and provide that impact to the farmers.

Heritage Action supports the Vitter-Lee Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our scorecard. 

Key Vote: “YES” on the Paul-Inhofe “SNAP” Amendment

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moved to preempt debate on a Paul-Inhofe Amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S.3240). The amendment would have capped runaway spending within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program doubled between 2001 and 2006 and again from 2008 to 2012. This year, taxpayers spend roughly $80 billion on food stamps. The amendment would have returned funding to roughly pre-recession levels, saving the taxpayers $37 billion next year, and $280 billion over the next decade.

As with most Great Society-era programs, the food stamp program has created a culture of dependency. The number of Americans receiving benefits has soared to 46.3 million; that is 1 in 7 Americans, compared to just 1 in 50 Americans in the 1970s.  While the work provisions in the amendment do not address the issue of dependency, the amendment did establish much needed budgetary restraint, reining in the very rapid growth of the welfare state.

Heritage Action supported the Paul-Inhofe Amendment and included it as a key vote on our scorecard.

Note: This key vote was announced on June 21st, 2012.

Related Links:
Heritage Action’s Scorecard
The K Street Food Fight