Speaking yesterday morning on the Senate floor, Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) explained the importance of today’s Senate vote regarding cloture and the 2007 Farm Bill.
To listen to Chairman Harkin’s explanation, just click here (MP3- about four minutes).
Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom provided a background outline of events (link requires subscription) leading up to today’s cloture vote in an article from yesterday morning.
In part, Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Saying he was frustrated by Republican unwillingness to agree to an amendment package on the farm bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., late Wednesday filed a cloture motion an aide said would require a full Senate vote Friday morning on whether to proceed on the bill.
“If a cloture motion passes, the Senate is limited to 30 hours of debate on the bill followed by a vote. Democrats do not expect the cloture motion to pass, but believe if Republicans don’t vote for it, their constituents will ask them during the two-week congressional break for Thanksgiving why they have not moved on the farm bill.
“‘We need to get this bill done,’ Reid said on the Senate floor. ‘We could still complete the bill before we leave here. If we couldn’t complete the bill before we leave for Thanksgiving, we could get it teed up so we can finish it in a day or two when we come back.’”
The DTN article also stated that, “A Reid spokesman said Reid had been particularly motivated to file for cloture because [Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia)] had objected to Senate Agriculture Chairman Harkin’s requests Wednesday morning to proceed on some amendments until a ‘global agreement’ had been reached on all amendments. Reid hopes the cloture vote ‘will put us on a path to complete this bill,’ the spokesman said.”
Later yesterday morning, Dow Jones News writer Bill Tomson reported that, “Democratic and Republican senators remain at a ‘stalemate’ over debate on the 2007 farm bill and a forced vote Friday will decide whether or not Congress can approve the $286-billion, five-year agriculture and nutrition bill this year, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Thursday.”
The Dow Jones article noted that, “The Friday ‘cloture’ vote is a procedural measure instigated by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that would cap debate on the farm bill to 30 hours and then force a vote regardless of whether or not a deal has been reached on amendments. That second vote, though, would not take place until Congress returns on Dec. 3 after its two-week Thanksgiving break, Harkin said.
“If cloture is approved Friday, he said, the Senate will have time to approve its version of the farm bill and then work together with the U.S. House of Representatives to form a unified piece of legislation before the end of the year.
“Sixty votes are needed to approve the cloture motion, so the Democratic majority will need Republican support to succeed. If cloture fails, Harkin said, Congress will need to continue to extend the current farm bill into next year and maybe beyond.”
Congressional Quarterly writer Catharine Richert reported yesterday that, “The 2007 farm bill faces a do-or-die moment in the Senate on Friday morning.
“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled a vote to limit debate on the measure. If supporters fall short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, the farm bill looks doomed for the rest of the year — and possibly next year as well, members say.
“‘A vote against cloture will be a vote to kill the farm bill,’ Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said on the Senate floor. ‘I hope everyone understands the stakes here.’
“The timing, just before the two-week Thanksgiving Day recess, also puts senators in a delicate political position. If the vote fails, they will have to return to their states and explain to rural constituents why they couldn’t pass a farm bill.
“‘I hope all my Republican colleagues understand that people at home will be watching how we handle this,’ Reid said.”
However, Ms. Richert noted that, “Senators could try again to invoke cloture when they return from recess, Reid and Harkin said. And Republicans and Democrats may agree after the recess on what amendments will be debated, clearing the way for the bill to advance before the end of the year.”
The CQ article stated that, “Lawmakers in both parties have been stepping up their rhetoric in recent days, as they try to assign blame for the stalled legislation. Democrats contend that Republicans are putting other ideological aims ahead of farmers; Republicans argue that Democrats are trying to block an open debate.
“The stakes are potentially high, as many of the Midwestern states where the farm bill is especially popular are likely to be up for grabs in the 2008 elections.”
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Sensing an unbreakable Senate impasse, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee said Thursday that he would support extending the [farm] bill until Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year.
“‘The consequences of the Senate’s inaction are already impacting the planning decisions of our farmers and ranchers,’ said GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
“Goodlatte supported the farm bill passed by his committee but voted against the bill in the full House after Democrats added a tax on some foreign companies to pay for it. He was joined by more than 20 other farm state Republicans in calling for the extension Thursday.
“The Republicans said they would rather pass a new bill but Goodlatte said the situation has become ‘most urgent’ for farmers as weeks pass by.
“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said talk of an extension is premature.
“‘The budget situation isn’t getting any better, and a year from now, we may have less money available to write the farm bill,’ he said.”
A press release issued yesterdays from the House Agriculture Committee Republicans stated that, “Today, Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced a bill to extend current farm policy for one year to ensure stability for America’s farmers and ranchers as they begin planting their 2008 crops [HR 4193]. While the 2007 Farm Bill reauthorization remains stymied in the Senate, farmers and ranchers throughout the nation are already feeling the negative effects of the bill’s expiration and more severe consequences will soon be realized. Without reauthorization, farm policy will revert to permanent statues established in 1938 and 1949 laws which are drastically different from current programs. The permanent statues exclude many commodities, such as rice, soybeans and peanuts; set support prices much higher than current levels; and prevent new enrollment in various conservation programs. Currently, 22 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of this much needed legislation.”
Trish Choate reported yesterday at The Times Record News (Texas) Online that, “Wichita Falls’ U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry and neighboring congressman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer fear the proposal for a new Farm Bill has stalled indefinitely in the Senate, leaving producers unsure of how to plan for the next planting season.
“‘The key is, how does this affect folks trying to earn a living off the land rather than those folks who are engaged in Washington games,’ Thornberry, R-Clarendon, said.”
The article stated that, “‘So the question is, how far do you get into the new crop year before you let farmers know what the rules of the game are?’ Thornberry said.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom indicated yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and a group of House Republicans separately suggested Thursday that the Senate stalemate on the new farm bill might make it necessary to extend the 2002 farm bill for a year or two.
“But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., both warned the maneuver could backfire because the projected money available could be less when the Congressional Budget Office issues its cost projections in March.”
With respect to today’s cloture vote, Mr. Hagstrom stated that, “Still, Harkin said he still hopes the Senate will move the bill in December, adding, ‘The fight is far from over.’ Harkin said he believes all Senate Democrats will vote for cloture Friday, meaning full debate on the farm bill would be capped at 30 hours before senators would have to vote on it. The question, he said, is how many Republicans who voted for the bill in committee will vote for cloture?
“If the Friday cloture vote fails, another may be held immediately upon the Senate’s return the first week in December, Harkin said. Democrats are banking on the theory that farmers, anti-hunger advocates and conservation groups will put pressure on the Republicans over the Thanksgiving break to move the bill. ‘If we get cloture, we can finish the bill the second day when we come back after Thanksgiving,’ he said.”
As with some Members of the House of Representatives, slow progress in the Senate also prompted the executive branch to add its voice to the unfolding Farm Bill events yesterday.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner issued a statement yesterday, noting that, “”I believe Congress has a responsibility to deliver a new farm bill. The Administration unveiled our comprehensive farm bill proposal nearly 11 months ago for the very purpose of delivering a new farm bill before farmers faced difficult decisions due to uncertainty about future farm policy.”
Sec. Conner added that, “There is still time for Congress to pass a new farm bill. The Senate must act quickly to engage in a full and open debate and to deliver a farm bill that contains honest bookkeeping without raising taxes…I urge Congress to demonstrate its commitment to farmers and other farm bill stakeholders by delivering a new farm bill that serves farmers and America well.”
Dan Looker, writing yesterday at Agriculture Online that, also reported on the Senate cloture vote ramifications: “If that cloture vote fails, Harkin said there would probably be another cloture vote when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving break.
“Harkin said he still believes the bill could be finished by the end of this year if the Senate cuts off debate tomorrow. Even if cloture is approved, Senate rules allow 30 more hours of debate and Harkin said 20 to 25 amendments could be offered. The bill could be finished on the second day after returning from Thanksgiving and go to a conference committee with the House within a week, he said.
“‘I’m assuming if we don’t get cloture, we’ll just extend the present farm bill,’ Harkin said.
“When asked how long that extension would be, one year or two, he said, ‘If we can’t get a farm bill through the Senate that came out of the committee without a dissenting vote, what’s the point of doing it next year with the same Senate?’
“When asked to respond to speculation by Congressional staffers that the White House has pressured the Republican leadership to kill the farm bill in the Senate, Harkin said he had heard those rumors, too. President Bush’s threatened veto of the farm bill is considered politically disastrous for farm state Republicans, Harkin said, so the strategy is to kill it in the Senate before it could be vetoed.
“‘I’ve heard it from enough sources to say that there’s probably some wind behind it,’ Harkin said.”
Whether a new Farm Bill ultimately prevails, or the current law is extended for one or two years, Amanda Paulson noted in today’s Christian Science Monitor that a significant restructuring of U.S. farm policy would likely have to wait for another time in the future.
Specifically, Ms. Paulson reported that, “They rallied around a single ideal, looking for ways to grow America’s food in a cheaper, more sustainable, more equitable way.
“Conservatives, liberals, budget hawks, environmentalists, two senior senators, and the Bush administration all pushed to restructure federal agriculture policy. But despite unprecedented calls for reform, the farm bill now before the Senate looks likely to be virtually an extension of the current law.
“The $286 billion bill may not even pass this year, because of a standoff between Democrats and Republicans over how many amendments to allow. But when it does pass, the 2007 farm bill will be a triumph of farm lobbies and entrenched politics on Capitol Hill.
“‘This is special-interest politics at its finest,’ says Sara Hopper, an attorney with Environmental Defense, one of a number of groups who have been pushing reform to the current subsidy system. ‘We have defenders of the status quo who are very good at defending the status quo.’”
The article stated that, “But after months of talk about the need for real change in the way the subsidy system works, the traditional payment structures are still in place. The few reform amendments with good prospects include one that would cap farmers’ total subsidy payments at $250,000 and require that they be ‘actively engaged’ in farming. Another amendment would reform crop insurance and lower its cost to taxpayers.
“Ultimately, the massive structure is incredibly difficult to change, analysts say, due to the power of the lobbies and the lawmakers on the agriculture committees, who tend to come from the states getting the subsidies.”
Nonetheless, impetus for changing U.S. farm policy could potentially come from additional sources, such as WTO rulings on subsidy related litigation, or from U.S. negotiated agreements in the Doha round of WTO trade talks.
Bruce Stokes, writing recently in the National Journal, reported that, “After six years of frustrating stasis there is a sense that national political leaders—especially President Bush—want closure. Negotiators are dealing with each other more openly and creatively. And, observed the WTO ambassador from one agricultural-exporting nation, ‘people take seriously that we are finally running out of time. They are playing the game as if this is going to happen.’
“Whether the endgame is at hand will be clearer once new agricultural and manufacturing negotiating texts are released, possibly by the end of November. The hope is that these will have enough detail and consensus that, combined with anticipated progress in the services talks, a high-level bargaining process led by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy can begin. At the same time, however, negotiators will finally have to tackle anti-dumping rules and similar contentious issues that could pose major stumbling blocks.
“Geneva observers believe that a reasonable target date for a deal is March 2008. It would then take six to nine months to iron out details and ensure that the document is legally sound. The U.S. Congress would have as many as 90 legislative days to vote on any Doha agreement once it’s complete, and lawmakers could theoretically act in a lame-duck session after the 2008 U.S. election—a possibility that some negotiators here suggest. But that is almost certainly wishful thinking. A more likely scenario would be congressional consideration in 2009.”
Mr. Stokes noted that, “Washington draws high praise for its three-pronged offensive: Bush is publicly and privately cajoling other world leaders; Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., playing the good cop, is making the strategic case that a fragile global economy needs further trade liberalization; and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, often the bad cop, is tactically driving the negotiations.”
The National Journal article also stated that, “‘The engine that pulls this train is agriculture,’ said the industrial country’s WTO ambassador. Slow progress in cutting U.S. farm subsidies and opening up European and developing countries’ agricultural markets has held back the Doha Round since the beginning.
“Washington has now implicitly agreed to cap annual U.S. farm subsidies somewhere between $13 billion and $16.5 billion a year. This limit would cause American farmers no immediate pain because U.S. farm payments are likely to be only $11 billion this year, thanks to higher commodity prices. Whether Congress would ever support such a cap worries people here.
“Negotiators also say that agreement on agricultural tariff cuts is close. Although American farmers won’t gain the substantial new market access they have sought in India and elsewhere, exports would grow for U.S. pork and other livestock, and for processed food.”
Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “Officials from the United States, the European Union, Brazil and Australia agreed on Thursday that a deal was within reach, even though difficult issues remain in the three core areas of the talks — agriculture, industrial goods and services.
“‘The terms of a deal stand out rather clearly,’ Elizabeth Ward, minister-counselor for trade at Australia’s Embassy in Washington, said during a panel discussion on the Doha round.
“That probably requires the United States to accept an annual cap of around $13 billion on trade-distorting farm subsidies, which is at the low end of a proposed range of cuts now under discussion in Geneva, Ward said.
“Advanced developing countries also ‘must come to the party’ by offering meaningful new market access in both agriculture and industrial goods, she said.
“With luck, there could be a deal on agriculture and industrial goods by March or April, Ward said.”