Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to speak with Dan Morgan about Senate progress on the 2007 Farm Bill. At the time of our conversation, Dan was monitoring Farm Bill activity from the Senate press gallery.
Dan is a special correspondent of The Washington Post and a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
To listen to Dan’s observations, just click here (MP3- about seven minutes).
Brownfield’s Peter Shinn reported yesterday that, “Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was ready to hug Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after it appeared a deal on farm bill amendments was imminent [related FarmPolicy.com audio available here]. But Wednesday morning, it appeared no agreement had been reached on which of the roughly 240 amendments to the farm bill would actually be considered.
“Mary Kay Thatcher is Director of Public Policy and the leading lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. She told Brownfield one key sticking point is an amendment raising the renewable fuels standard.
“‘The Republicans would very much like to put it on the farm bill because they’re afraid the energy bill won’t move,’ Thatcher explained. ‘The Democrats would like to keep it off, because they fear if you put a renewable fuels standard on the farm bill, that that’s one more chance that the energy bill won’t move.’”
Mr. Shinn added that, “‘Now, we all know – I’m sure anyone that’s followed the Senate at all knows – we’re going to pass a farm bill,’ McConnell asserted. ‘No question about that – the farm bill’s not going to be killed.’
“But Reid said, at worst, McConnell was flat wrong. And at best, Reid intimated the dispute over farm bill amendments could push consideration of the measure back by months.
“‘If people think that a farm bill is going to be just passed because the distinguished Republican leader said one’s going to pass, they’re mistaken,’ Reid responded tartly.
“Thatcher said she believes McConnell’s prediction will ultimately prove to be right and that the Senate will pass a farm bill. But she also said it’s still too soon to tell exactly when. And according to Thatcher, Senate passage of the farm bill could be pushed as far back as next February.”
Steve Miller reported yesterday at the Rapid City Journal (South Dakota) Online that, “The Senate farm bill, which contains several provisions important to South Dakota, is stalled in a procedural dispute between Republicans and Democrats over amendments.
“Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said it’s now possible Congress will simply extend the current farm bill for another year or two, which would delay several programs crucial to South Dakota farmers and ranchers.
“Thune blames Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for the stalemate, saying Reid is blocking consideration of all but one Republican amendment.
“Reid, however, blamed Republicans for attempting to add unrelated items to the farm bill.”
Dow Jones writer Bill Tomson reported yesterday that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in floor debate the situation was so dire that ‘it appears quite likely there will be no farm bill’ and suggested that Republicans would suffer in the next November elections if they blocked passage of the farm bill.
“Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called that a ‘bluff,’ though.
“‘We’ll continue to talk,’ McConnell said. ‘We all know that there will be a farm bill and the only issue is when and how and that is something we’ll have to negotiate here in the Senate as we always do.’”
A Congressional Quarterly update from yesterday afternoon indicated that, “Despite days of negotiations, Senate leaders remain at odds over which amendments to the 2007 farm bill should be considered.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he may file a motion later Wednesday to limit debate on the bill and a pending major amendment. If 60 senators vote for cloture on Friday, when the motion would be subject to a roll call, that would also bar non-germane amendments.
“Aides said Reid was threatening a cloture vote in an attempt to jump-start stalled negotiations on what types of amendments to the farm bill will be considered.
“Late Tuesday, top Senate Agriculture Committee Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said an agreement was nearly at hand on amendments [related FarmPolicy.com audio available here]. But the chamber remained in a holding pattern Wednesday, with Democrats arguing that most of what Reid said are 290 proposed amendments have nothing to do with farm policy.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Senators are using the farm bill to make political points on immigration, taxes and other nonagricultural issues, potentially stalling the $286 billion legislation.
“Both sides are blaming one another in a procedural dispute that has lasted more than a week and left the Senate at a standstill. Many senators see the bill, which would extend agriculture and nutrition programs, as a last chance to push their priorities before lawmakers go home at the end of the year.
“‘I’m very disappointed that it appears quite likely there will be no farm bill,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday. He blamed Republicans for attempting to add unrelated items to the bill.”
Dan Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “‘I’m extremely frustrated here,’ said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. His committee worked hard and voted out a bill with ‘not one dissenting vote in committee,’ he said. ‘It’s a good bill.’
“‘I just want to make it clear. We on this side are ready to do business. We have been for a week,” Harkin said.
“He said that when he last farm bill was passed, there were 53 amendments. In 1996, there were 24.
“But when Harkin tried to start debate on the bill by giving Republican members of his committee a change to offer amendments, the ranking Republican member of his committee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, objected.
“Harkin’s disappointment was repeated by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip.
“‘You don’t need to be a C-SPAN addict to figure out what is going on here,’ Durbin said. ‘The Republicans don’t want us to finish a farm bill.’”
Mr. Looker also reported that, “In a telephone press conference. Senator John Thune (R-SD) blamed the delays on the Democrats’ unwillingness to consider a large number of amendments. ‘This is what I think Harry Reid is doing,’ he said, referring to the Democratic Majority Leader.
“Thune has offered an amendment to the farm bill that would increase the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which was originally part of a stalled Energy Bill. He argues that it should be considered a germane amendment that would strengthen the farm bill’s own energy title.
“When asked if the Bush administration, which has raised objections to portions of the bill, is encouraging a delay of the farm bill, Thune said, ‘we’ve not heard that from them.’ If anything, he said, adding a RFS to the bill would strengthen its appeal to the White House, he said.”
Later yesterday afternoon, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that if the Republicans do not agree to a plan on farm bill amendments today, he will file cloture petitions later this afternoon on the payment limitations amendment offered by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and on the underlying bill.
“Reid wants to limit amendments to those relevant to the farm bill while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants a process under which nonrelevant amendments can be offered.
“The cloture petitions would ripen Friday and require votes that day, a Senate Democratic aide said. If Republicans do not reach agreement or vote for cloture, they will face questions from farmers and others over the Thanksgiving recess, the aide said.”
(Dan Morgan noted some similar themes in his audio summary from yesterday).
With respect to specific amendments that Senators would like to have considered in the Farm Bill debate, Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., wants to offer 12 amendments on subjects ranging from the agriculture disaster fund and sugar to drivers’ licenses and ‘proper budgetary accounting.’ Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, listed an amendment on Exxon Valdez litigation. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, want to offer an amendment on crop insurance while Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., both want to offer amendments to move food border inspectors from the Homeland Security Department back to USDA. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., plans to offer amendment on H2B visas and labeling of cloned foods.”
Yesterday evening, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported that, “After a 10-day deadlock, Senate leaders agreed on Wednesday to debate farm bill amendments that could range from subsidy caps and Canadian cattle to immigration and tax law reform.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped only a ‘finite number’ of amendments would be offered and said Democrats could limit themselves to five. Reid also filed a motion, due for a vote on Friday, to limit the bill to 30 hours of debate.”
Mr. Abbott stated that, “It was unclear which amendment, if any, would be debated on Thursday, said an aide to Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat. The Senate began debate on the bill on November 5 and has deadlocked over which amendments to consider.
“Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to limit the Senate to the 264 amendments on file as of Tuesday evening. They did not agree immediately over which would be allowed but McConnell said, ‘This is a little, small step forward.’
“Already pending for debate was a proposal for a ‘hard’ cap on crop subsidies of $250,000 a year per farm. Among the amendments on file was a proposal to void an Agriculture Department rule to allow imports of older Canadian cattle and beef from them. The rule is scheduled to take effect November 19.”
A statement on this development yesterday from Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) indicated that, “Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today issued the following statement after Senate Majority Leader Reid filed cloture on the Senate farm bill.
“It is frustrating and perplexing that we cannot move such a strong, bipartisan measure that came out of Committee without a dissenting vote. We cannot give up on this bill. Rural America, farming families and the nation are waiting. The Senate’s Republican leadership cannot be allowed to throw up obstacles to delay this measure.”
“With the farm bill in week two of consideration by the full Senate and still no action, we are seeing a pattern in the Republican leadership: while the Administration threatens a veto, Congressional leadership stalls. The Majority Leader has filed cloture to place a limit on the delaying tactics, and I fully support this action as a necessary effort to enact a new farm bill.”
Also yesterday, Ag Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) indicated that, “Today the Majority Leader again rejected our proposal for a reasonable compromise to move forward with amendments, thus ushering us into another day of lost opportunity. For two weeks we have repeatedly requested that all senators, Republican and Democrat, simply be afforded the opportunity to offer amendments in regular order and to have a debate on those amendments. The farmers and ranchers we represent are depending on us as policy makers to get our work done. It is my sincere hope that both sides can come together to move this farm bill forward in the Senate.”
House Agriculture Committee member Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) also issued a statement yesterday on the progress of the 2007 Farm Bill.
“Citing his concern the reauthorization of the 2007 Farm Bill could be delayed until next year, Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today called on the Senate to pass its version of the Farm Bill.
“‘The Administration delivered its Farm Bill proposal in January. The House completed its work on the Farm Bill in July. Now is not the time to delay action on this very important issue.’
“‘Producers in Nebraska and throughout our nation need the certainty the Farm Bill provides. FSA office closures, renewable fuels, drought – these are matters needing to be addressed – not next year, but now. I hope my colleagues in the Senate recognize this situation and can pass a Farm Bill in the best interests of our farmers and ranchers before they recess,’ Smith said.”
And with respect to funding provisions in the House and Senate versions of the 2007 Farm Bill, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report recently (“Farm Legislation and Taxes in 2007” (Nov. 9)), which stated that, “On July 27, 2007, the House passed its version of the omnibus 2007 farm bill (H.R. 2419). The bill’s spending provisions are estimated to increase federal spending on agriculture policy above the baseline level allowed by the FY2008 budget resolution. In order to comply with House pay-as-you-go budget rules, the bill included several revenue-raising provisions, the bulk of which would be produced by a proposal to restrict the use of tax-treaty benefits by foreign firms not actually resident in a treaty country. In October, the Senate Finance Committee approved S. 2242, a bill containing a number of agriculture-related tax provisions, but also containing energy and conservation measures along with a revenue-raising proposal designed to curtail tax shelters (codification of the ‘economic substance’ doctrine). The Senate Finance Committee bill is estimated to be approximately ‘revenue neutral,’ gaining as much new tax revenue as it loses. However, it also contains an optional new tax credit that is estimated to have the effect of reducing outlays under an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture program by $3.0 billion over five years, thus providing room for new spending in the Senate version of the farm bill without violating Senate budget rules. This report will be updated as legislative developments occur.”
In news regarding the administration’s perspective on Farm Bill progress, DTN writer Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “While the U.S. Senate appears stuck in neutral, the Bush administration is continuing to spread its message with heavy-handed criticisms of the farm bill being debated on the Senate floor.
“Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner didn’t back off any of the White House complaints of the $286 billion farm bill Wednesday when speaking at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention.
“‘Strictly speaking, it’s the wrong direction for a farm bill, and it makes the farm bill extremely difficult to justify out there in farm country,’ Conner said. ‘It makes it difficult to justify anywhere out there in the country, and that’s not where we want to be.’”
Mr. Clayton added that, “The administration continues to maintain the Senate farm bill overspends by $37 billion above the budget baseline set by the Congressional Budget Office. Still, Conner acknowledged the bill does meet the pay-as-you-go rules set up by Congress. The bill includes $22 billion of what Conner characterized as ‘some of the most egregious budget gimmicks I have ever seen in this process.’
“Conner also complained that the Senate bill has as much as $15 billion in new taxes. If passed, it would be the first tax increase in the farm bill since 1933. A $7.5 billion tax measure in the House farm bill was the impetus for the White House to issue a veto threat against the House bill last summer as well. The tax measures, Conner said, should indicate the administration is serious about a possible veto.
“‘If you don’t believe anything else, surely you should believe this president is not about raising taxes,’ Conner said.”
The DTN article also stated that, “Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who wants to reform farm payments, still said Tuesday he believed the Senate would have enough votes to override a veto. The question would be whether the House Republicans would be willing to support the Senate’s tax changes. Grassley also dismissed Bush’s continued vetoes and threats to veto other legislation such as the farm bill.”
(To listen to Sen. Grassley’s complete press conference on agricultural issues from Tuesday, just click here (MP3)).
Doha / Trade
The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “China, India and other developing nations will urge rich countries to make greater efforts to reach a new global trade deal, according to a draft statement underscoring how little progress has been made in recent negotiations.
“The United States, Europe and others need to clarify what concessions they are willing to make in World Trade Organization talks so that poorer economies ‘can do their part, in proportion to their capabilities,’ said a draft statement by over 70 nations, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
“The statement precedes a meeting Thursday of developing countries at the WTO’s Geneva headquarters, which comes amid a frustrating series of negotiating sessions that have produced little to no progress on a deal that would slash farm subsidies and tariffs in the rich world, while opening up markets in developing countries for manufacturers.”
Also yesterday, the Associated Press reported that, “The U.S. deputy secretary of state defended his government’s decision to continue to subsidize U.S. cotton farmers despite protests that the payouts hurt poor African farmers.
“The U.S. has said that other countries would have to lift agricultural subsidies in order for the U.S. to take the same step.
“‘In the context of other countries also reducing their subsidies — mainly the European Union … we are prepared to consider reduction of our subsidies,’ John Negroponte said Wednesday at the end of a two-day visit to Burkina Faso.”