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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 06/20/2012

What’s in the farm bill? Some issues unrelated to farms.


(Sean Stipp - AP)
The U.S. Senate is scheduled Wednesday to continue voting on 73 amendments to the farm bill, a five-year, bipartisan measure expected to pass later this week.

Aides said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) whittled down a list of 300 proposed amendments to the 73 slated for votes in hopes of keeping senators of both parties — and from rural farm states — happy. Most of the amendments are expected to be approved by unanimous consent.

That’s because a majority of the amendments are “germane” — or directly related to farming, food and agricultural policy — and call for federal studies on poultry feed, dairy prices and crop insurance fraud, or caps on crop insurance, or changes in federal policy on childhood nutrition, rural housing and rural development.

But at least eight amendments are “non-germane,” or unrelated to the bill — and Senate aides expect contentious debate and close votes on those proposals. Here’s a brief review of the non-germane amendments:

Changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act — Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.):

The amendment would change annual reporting for community water systems by essentially curtailing paperwork requirements.

Genetically modified food notice — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):

Sanders wants to require that any food, beverage or other edible product include a label indicating whether it contains any genetically modified ingredients. His amendment would make clear that states have the authority to require such food labeling and would require the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department to conduct a two-year study on the percentage of food and beverages sold in the United States with genetically engineered ingredients.

Cutting federal funding to Democratic and Republican political conventions — Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.):

This proposal bars the use of money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to be spent on the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions to be held after this year. The parties would be asked to return any money already distributed to the U.S. Treasury to be spent on deficit reduction. Coburn previously introduced this proposal as a stand-alone bill.

Permitting EPA to conduct aerial inspections — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.):

The Environmental Protection Agency uses a variety of methods to identify pollution, including reviewing state records and flying over farms to detect for water runoff and other signs of pollution. Boxer’s proposal would permit the agency to use aerial overflights instead of in-person inspections if aerial inspections are deemed more cost-effective.

Prohibiting EPA from conducting aerial inspections — Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.):

This would do the reverse of Boxer’s proposal, and ban the EPA from conducting aerial inspections. Recent concerns with EPA’s aerial inspections — which have been conducted for more than a decade — appear to stem from a series of unsubstantiated rumors repeated by television news reports, blogs and at least four lawmakers that the EPA was using unmanned drone aircraft to “spy” on midwestern farmers. But — as The Post’s David Fahrenthold detailed in a story on Sunday — those rumors are untrue.

Study the Sequestration’s Effect on Non-Defense Spending — Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash):

Murray wants the Office of Management and Budget to study the effects of mandatory non-defense spending cuts for fiscal year 2013 agreed to as part of last year’s debt-ceiling negotiations. Murray introduced her amendment in response to Sen. John McCain’s amendment (see below).

Study the Sequestration’s Effect on Defense Department — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):

The Arizona senator wants OMB to study the effects of mandatory cuts to the Defense Department budget set to begin next year. McCain and other Republican lawmakers oppose the cuts and want to use the report to prove that slashing defense spending could jeopardize national security.

The RAISE Act — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):

The Florida senator wants to permit employers to give merit-based pay raises to workers without seeking permission from union leaders. The bill has strong support from Republicans, but Democrats consider the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act as an attempt to break labor unions that also could lead to cuts in worker insurance and pension contributions.

This story has been updated.

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