FarmPolicy

November 17, 2019

Senator Lincoln; and Climate Change- Sen Ag Committee Hearing

Categories: Climate Change

Senator Lincoln

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Des Moines Register Online that, “Sen. Tom Harkin gave up his chairmanship of the Senate agriculture committee today to take over the committee responsible for health care, food safety regulation, labor law and federal education programs.

“The chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee came open with the death last month of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Sen. Christopher Dodd, who ran the panel this year during Kennedy’s battle with cancer, had first dibs on the chairmanship but passed it up to stay on the Senate banking committee, freeing the spot for Harkin.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “As chairman of the agriculture committee, Harkin oversaw development of two farm bills, in 2002 and again last year. However, Harkin often found himself frustrated in getting some of his ideas on conservation and farm policy through the committee because of opposition from agribusiness interests and southern farmers. Harkin’s departure gave the agriculture committee’s chairmanship to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

Lincoln has been a vocal advocate for the interests of Southern growers and for meat processors. Her state is home to the nation’s largest meatpacker, Tyson Foods.”

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “At a dramatic news conference held at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Harkin, D-Iowa, will leave the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee to take over as head of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., will assume the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee.

The news is good for the cotton and rice industries, but probably not as good for advocates of climate change legislation that could pay farmers to sequester carbon but could also lead to higher input costs.”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Lincoln defended the cotton and rice industries, which are important to Arkansas, in the 2008 farm bill debate. But at a news conference on Sept. 9, she was critical of the House-passed climate-change bill, saying it picked winners and losers. Cotton and rice are two of the agriculture sectors that are the least likely to benefit from a climate change bill.

“Lincoln also said she believes that market access for U.S. agricultural products is the No. 1 issue in trade negotiations, and she is expected to defend U.S. agricultural interests in the Doha round of world trade talks and at other negotiations.”

In a statement released yesterday, Senator Lincoln noted that, “As a seventh-generation Arkansan and farmer’s daughter, I know my father is smiling down on me today. I am fortunate to have served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry since I was first elected to the Senate in 1998. It has been a committee of significant importance to my constituents and our state’s economy. The Committee’s responsibilities encompass a number of issues that are critical to Americans, particularly those living in rural areas. With such priorities as child nutrition reauthorization, farm bill implementation, and regulation of commodities, the Committee has a full plate. I thank Senator Harkin for his tremendous leadership. As Chairman, I will work with my colleagues to build upon the Committee’s strong record and devote my full energy to producing forward-looking, balanced priorities on behalf of all families and communities. I will continue to fight for the hardworking farm families and rural communities who provide the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber in the world.”

Jonathan Allen pointed out yesterday at CQPolitics.com that, “Democrat Blanche L. Lincoln’s elevation to chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee makes her the first woman — and the first Arkansan — to head the committee with jurisdiction over farm policy.”

Rachel Kapochunas, also writing yesterday at CQPolitics.com, reported that, “When Senate Democrats put Blanche Lincoln in charge of the committee that handles farm legislation, they did more than just pass the gavel to the next senator in the seniority line.

They also provided a well-timed boost for her 2010 re-election race.”

The CQ item stated that, “Arkansas is the nation’s No. 1 producer of rice and also is home to a strong catfish industry and other farming-related businesses likely to feel the impact of bills that move through the committee Lincoln now heads.

“‘It certainly gives me the opportunity to show Arkansans that I’m working hard,’ Lincoln said on a conference call with reporters. ‘I’ve worked hard to get to those places. … And I feel good about being able to say to the people of Arkansas that I’m up here fighting hard for them.’

“‘It’s something that will certainly help her re-election bid,’ said political scientist Art English of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Republicans have made Lincoln a major target for 2010. Poll numbers show her approval ratings back home have declined, which English said may be related to the national political climate.”

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “Lincoln, whose state has the biggest rice crop and the third-largest cotton harvest after Texas and Georgia, may help create a better legislative climate for large agribusinesses including Cargill Inc. and Archer Daniels Midland Co., said Gary Blumenthal, the president of World Perspectives Inc.

“‘She’ll be more favorable to traditional aggies,’ said Blumenthal, an agricultural consultant in Washington. ‘Harkin is a populist. She’ll be more responsive to the groups around town’ that represent agribusinesses and big growers, he said.”

And the AP reported yesterday that, “Harkin’s departure from the agriculture committee hands that chairmanship to Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, a more moderate Democrat but staunch supporter of government farm subsidies.

“The new post will likely be a boon for Lincoln, who faces a potentially tough re-election fight next year and could use the committee perch to aid Arkansas farmers.”

In a statement released yesterday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) noted that, “Senator Lincoln’s passion and support for American agriculture make her an excellent choice to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee. She grew up on a farm and knows first-hand how much hard work and dedication it requires. I look forward to working with her on the issues that matter to agriculture and rural America. I also want to commend Senator Harkin for his leadership and wish him well as he takes over the Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.”

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman indicated yesterday that, “Sen. Lincoln has been a long-time friend of Farm Bureau. She received the Golden Plow Award in 2008, the highest honor the American Farm Bureau Federation presents to members of Congress, for her steadfast support of America’s farmers and ranchers. We look forward to continue to work with Sen. Lincoln as chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, and we know she will continue to champion the interests of Farm Bureau families in her new assignment.

“Sen. Lincoln has represented the interests of agriculture and rural America since her election to the House of Representatives as a moderate Democrat in 1992 and her election to the Senate in 1998. She has deep ties to farming and hails from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family. We know she will continue to be a strong voice for our industry and will continue as a consistent leader on key Farm Bureau issues such as those that relate to farm policy, the environment and estate tax reform.”

Charles F. Conner, the President of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the previous administration, stated yesterday that, “Senator Lincoln has a strong track record of supporting America’s farmers and ranchers, and she has been a stalwart supporter of America’s farmer-owned cooperatives, serving as one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus. The Senator’s chairmanship means that the agricultural community will continue to have a true friend and ally running this important committee.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson stated yesterday that, “I congratulate and welcome Senator Lincoln to her new role as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Senator Lincoln has been a steadfast advocate for America’s family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. While we face many challenges, I am confident she will continue her efforts to preserve and protect the interests of rural America. I look forward to working with Senator Lincoln to advance NFU’s priorities.”

National Pork Producers Council President Don Butler noted yesterday that, “Senator Lincoln played key role in the 2008 Farm Bill debate, ensuring a strong safety net for America’s farm families. The U.S. pork industry welcomes and congratulates her as the new chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee. Senator Lincoln knows and understands the livestock and poultry industries, and we look forward to continuing our work with her to advance issues important to U.S. pork producers and all of agriculture.”

National Corn Growers President Bob Dickey stated yesterday that, “Senator Lincoln has continued to be an advocate for the ag industry and we congratulate her on the newly appointed position as chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee. We’re grateful for the senator’s previous work for corn farmers and we look forward to working with her in the future on issues important to our members.”

A National Cotton Council press release from yesterday stated that, “‘No Senator has worked harder or cares more about production agriculture, nutrition and conservation than Senator Lincoln,’ [former NCC Chairman Larry McClendon, an Arkansas cotton producer and ginner] said. ‘She will be an outstanding leader of U.S. agriculture as she demonstrated working in a bipartisan manner with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) on the 2008 Farm Bill.’”

However, the move by Senator Lincoln to lead the Ag Committee was viewed negatively in some quarters.

Tom Philpott indicated yesterday at Grist.org that, “Late yesterday afternoon marked a dark moment for sustainable-ag advocates,” and added that, “For people hoping for progressive change in U.S. ag policy, this is dismal news.”

Mr. Philpott added that, “Weirdly, the sustainable-ag movement finds itself in the position of hoping that Arkansas’ birthers, tea baggers, and Glenn Beck acolytes manage to take out a Democratic Senator. Such are these surreal political times.”

And Tom Laskawy noted yesterday at The Vine Blog (The New Republic) that, “Let’s spell out what that could mean. More leniency on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). No bans on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. No cleanups for manure lagoons. More rice and cotton subsidies. And, by the way, Lincoln thinks limiting payments to even the largest farms is a rotten idea.”

Mr. Laskawy indicated that, “At this point, about the only upside for farm policy is that Lincoln may not last past 2010 (many observers expect her to lose her race this year), and given that the farm bill’s not up for renewal until 2012, she may not be able to do any damage there.”

The negative perspectives regarding Sen. Lincoln appear to be similar in tone to the general criticisms of modern production agriculture that have been articulated by Michael Pollan.

For example, in an opinion item published in today’s New York Times, Mr. Pollan stated that, “That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.”

Climate Change- Sen Ag Committee Hearing

Lisa Lerer reported yesterday at Politico.com that, “Just minutes after taking the gavel of the influential Senate Agriculture Committee, new chairwoman Blanche Lincoln cast even more doubt about the future of climate legislation in the Senate.

“‘I think it’s a heavy lift for the Senate,’ said Lincoln. ‘We have a tremendous amount of work to do, having been in the hearings today.’”

The article stated that, “Lincoln’s opposition to passing a climate bill this year could have a significant impact on the legislation’s future in the Senate. Agriculture is one of several committees with jurisdiction over the complex bill.”

Nonetheless, yesterday’s Politico article added that, “Despite environmentalists’ concerns, Environment and Public Works chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer, who’s currently drafting a significant portion of the climate bill, said she looks forward to working with Lincoln.

“‘It’s very good news because she’s such an expert on agriculture,’ she said.”

More specifically with respect to climate legislation and agriculture, the Senate Ag Committee held a hearing yesterday entitled, “Global Warming Legislation: Carbon Markets and Producer Groups.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., tried to make sure Wednesday that everyone understood prices would go up for farmers under a cap-and-trade climate bill, and that some farmers would likely go out of business while other farmers just wouldn’t benefit from the concept.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: Audio excerpts featuring comments made yesterday by Sen. Johanns at the Senate Ag Committee hearing can be heard here (MP3-5:40), and here (MP3-6:42)).

Mr. Clayton added in his DTN article from yesterday that, “‘In response to some questions, you have acknowledged there are going to be higher input costs?’ Johanns asked a professor testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee. ‘Virtually every study shows that. Is that something we agree upon? Input costs will go up?’”

The DTN article also quoted Sen. Johanns as saying, “”If you are in the dairy industry, which is absolutely going broke at the moment, if you’re in the pork industry — and one pork producer recently said to me, he said ‘I’m 30 days from being bankrupt’ — if you’re in the cattle industry that hasn’t made money for two years, this is pretty much a disaster for them, isn’t it?

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “At a hearing Wednesday, Johanns and Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., argued that climate legislation would benefit only a small number of farmers while producers of some major agricultural commodities have no chance of getting carbon credits, and thus would have little chance of benefiting from climate legislation.

“‘How can we as members of the Agriculture Committee endorse a policy that disproportionately favors certain commodities or only one part of the country at the expense of all the others?’ Chambliss said.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: An audio excerpt featuring some of the comments made yesterday by Sen. Chambliss can be heard here (MP3-3:06)).

Ian Talley reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. commodities regulator Wednesday made a strong pitch to Congress for his agency to control the nascent greenhouse gas credits markets.

“It’s the latest and boldest move in the jurisdictional battle for oversight of what many experts say could be worth several trillion dollars. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is seeking to control both the futures and spot, or cash, markets, an area traditionally overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Fearing excessive speculation, market manipulation and the impact of Wall Street financial trading on greenhouse gas credits, lawmakers are cautiously drafting legislation that will determine how greenhouse gas emissions will be regulated under a landmark bill that would cap emissions and create a trading market. After the recent collapse of the financial system and historic volatility in the energy markets, Congress is particularly wary of oversight of a commodity expected to affect nearly every sector of the economy.”

Keith Good

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