Jared Allen and Walter Alarkon, writing yesterday at The Hill Online, reported that, “President Obama made a strong sales pitch to House Democrats on Monday night to quickly and forcefully pass a budget, saying doing so would pave the way for major healthcare and energy reforms planned for later this year.
“‘I need your help in getting the budget done,’ Obama told Democrats, according to a person in the room. ‘It will give us momentum to get healthcare and energy done this year.’
“The House is planning on leaving intact reconciliation instructions to the Senate, which, if included in the final budget conference report, will allow the Senate to avoid needing 60 votes to pass controversial legislation. Reconciliation has drawn criticism from conservative House Democrats, centrist Senate Democrats, and just about every Republican in both chambers.”
“‘Let’s see where things end up,’ Vilsack said during an interview with Reuters. He said deficit hawks in Congress would press for cuts and there are many ways to reach the goal of focusing farm subsidies on family farmers.
“‘I think there will be discussions about crop insurance. There will be discussions about a wide range of things within the ag budget. The process is just starting.’”
Sue Kirchhoff reported recently at USA Today Online that, “Dairy operations across the country are taking an enormous hit as prices plummet. The number of dairy cows being sent to slaughter has risen by about 20% from last year, as desperate farmers cull their herds and sell at fire-sale prices. Adding to the problem, banks are less willing or able to extend farmers’ loan payments amid the financial turmoil.
“The U.S. Agriculture Department has begun providing emergency aid, though the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) in a recent letter to President Obama warned that thousands of farms and tens of thousands of jobs could be lost this year without more aggressive federal efforts.”
Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “President Obama went to Capitol Hill yesterday to rally support among skeptical Senate Democrats for his $3.6 trillion spending plan, focusing attention on the core initiatives that unite the party while downplaying the issues that divide it.
“Centrist Democrats who have complained that Obama’s spending plan would drive the annual budget deficit to unacceptable levels held their tongues during the 45-minute lunchtime meeting. They asked no questions about deficits or about the administration’s controversial push to force its signature investments in health care and education through the Senate without Republican votes.”
Alexander Bolton reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The Senate Budget Committee chairman has slashed President Obama’s proposed spending increase in half in a budget resolution that is expected to fracture the Democratic Conference.
“Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who is emerging as a power for the new administration to reckon with, presented a plan to colleagues Tuesday that jettisons several of Obama’s key proposals.”
Kevin Bogardus reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “As President Barack Obama’s budget enters its first make-or-break week, his plan for the federal government is having the most trouble with perhaps its most needed constituency: Washington lawmakers.”
“Obama’s budget will also be picked apart on Capitol Hill. The House and Senate Budget committees are expected to draft a budget resolution this week based on Obama’s plan,” the article said.
Recall that Jonathan Roeder reported recently at The Christian Science Monitor Online that, “Cross-border commerce hit another red light late Tuesday when the Senate eliminated a pilot program that allowed some Mexican companies to ship goods deep into the United States.
“The $410 billion spending bill approved by senators Tuesday and scheduled to be signed by President Obama Wednesday [March 11] eliminated funding for the controversial program and could reinforce concerns that the US is turning to protectionism as it fights its deepest recession in decades.”
Peanut Farmers Call on President Obama to Help Clear Misperceptions about Peanut Butter
A news release issued yesterday by the Western Peanut Growers Association stated that, “With the difficult economy and the recent salmonella crisis causing fear and confusion among consumers – and a heavy blow to peanut farmers across the country — members of the United Peanut Alliance sent a letter to President Obama this week asking for a meeting and help in clearing up misperceptions about peanut butter on store shelves. In the letter, the growers also articulate their support for legislation designed to shore up the food safety program.
“‘The recent salmonella crisis and recall was caused by the reprehensible actions of one manufacturer. Peanut growers continue to be appalled and outraged by the facts that appear to demonstrate the manufacturer’s complete disregard for food safety and public safety. We applaud and encourage the efforts being made to improve the safety of all foods that has been precipitated by this latest crisis,’ said Jimbo Grissom, Chairman of the Western Peanut Growers Association, which is a member of the United Peanut Alliance representing peanut farmers from New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
“In the letter, the growers go on to say that it is important for consumers to understand that the peanut butter they purchase at the grocery store to make sandwiches for their children was not affected by this crisis, citing the Food and Drug Administration.
“Grissom emphasizes that the recall did not include retail peanut butter, which has been and continues to be a safe, affordable and nutritious choice.”
The AP article explained that, “The guide was organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency of the climate center, along with the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, State, Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Agency for International Development and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”
Greg Hitt, Christopher Conkey and Jose de Cordoba reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “The Mexican government said Monday it would slap tariffs on 90 U.S. industrial and agricultural products, in a trade dispute that underscored the difficulties facing President Barack Obama as he tries to assure business and global allies that he favors free trade.
“Mexico said the tariffs were in retaliation for the cancellation of a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to transport cargo throughout the U.S.
“Unions have for years fought to keep Mexican trucks off U.S. highways, despite longstanding agreements by the two countries to eventually allow their passage. Legislation killing the pilot program was included in a $410 billion spending bill Mr. Obama signed last week.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “National Farmers Union leaderstold Obama administration officials at a White House meeting last week that the group opposes any plans to cut farm program spending in the presidential and congressional budgets, incoming Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said Monday in an interview.
“‘We delivered a clear message that the farm bill was a long process, that at the end of the day [the farm bill] was bipartisan and supported overwhelmingly, that it was passed over two vetoes and that having to reopen the farm bill is a nonstarter in the ag community,’ Johnson said.
“He added that the group also urged the White House to support raising the percentage of ethanol allowed in the nation’s gasoline from 10 to 15 or 20 percent. The meeting, Johnson said, ‘was about money and the environment and agriculture and the intermix of the three of them.’”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack penned an opinion item that was published in Friday’s Des Moines Register (“Budget makes hard choices but maintains farm safety net”) where he noted that, “These are extraordinary economic times. President Barack Obama told the American people openly and candidly that we face a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession. Now we must be equally honest with ourselves about how we are prioritizing spending of our precious tax dollars.”
David Stout reported in last week’s New York Times that, “Ron Kirk was endorsed by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday to be United States trade representative, putting to rest a minor embarrassment over back taxes and virtually assuring his confirmation by the full Senate.”
Ag Budget Debate: Views From the House and Senate Ag Committees
A news release issued yesterday by the House Agriculture Committee stated that, “Today, the House Committee on Agriculture adopted the budget views and estimates letterwhich outlines the Committee’s budget recommendations for the federal agencies and programs under its jurisdiction for fiscal year 2010. The letter will be submitted to House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, as required by section 301(d) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, as well as clause 4(f) of House Rule X.
“‘Our proposed views and estimates letter outlines the Committee’s legislative agenda and budget considerations for the coming fiscal year. The restructuring of farm and nutrition policies in of the 2008 Farm Bill was done in a fiscally responsible manner. Efficient implementation requires a period of stability,’ said Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. ‘The current economic crisis is having broad impact on our nation and the benefits provided by that broadly supported legislation are essential to the well-being of millions of Americans. We urge the Budget Committee to take these points into consideration while crafting a responsible budget resolution for the coming fiscal year.’
“‘I encourage the Budget Committee to honor the commitments made to our producers in the 2008 Farm Bill,’ said Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. ‘At a time when our country is facing an economic crisis and commodity prices are plunging, it is important that we do the best we can to provide our farmers and ranchers with the safety net they need to continue to produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.’”
In part, the report stated that, “U.S. corn ending stocks for 2008/09 are projected 50 million bushels lower this month as higher ethanol use more than offsets a reduction in exports. Corn use for ethanol is projected 100 million bushels higher on indications of improving blender incentives and higher ethanol use. Blender margins have become increasingly favorable since late February as gasoline prices have risen relative to those for ethanol. A continuing recovery in weekly production of gasoline blends with ethanol is also supportive of ethanol demand as are the latest data on ethanol production, imports, and stocks which indicate record use in December. Corn exports are projected 50 million bushels lower on sales and shipments to date, and pressure from increased foreign supplies of corn and wheat.”
“The 2008/09 season-average farm price for corn is projected at $3.90 to $4.30 per bushel compared with $3.65 to $4.15 last month.”
Click here for a complete breakdown of U.S. corn related projections from the WASDE report.
Executive Branch Agricultural Priorities: Influences and Debate- Background
In an opinion item published in Sunday’s Washington Post, conservative columnist George F. Will stated that, “Tom Vilsack, Iowa’s former governor, calls his ‘the most important department in government,’ noting that the Agriculture Department serves education through school nutrition programs and serves diplomacy by trying to wean Afghanistan from a poppy-based (meaning heroin-based) economy. But Vilsack’s department matters most because of the health costs of the American diet. If Michael Pollan is right, the problem is rooted in politics and, in a sense, Iowa.”