FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

Climate Issues; Financial Regulation; Farm Bill; Ag Econ Issues; and Chairman Lincoln

Climate Issues

Juliet Eilperin reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “The effort to enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation this year suffered a critical blow Saturday when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), the key Republican proponent of the bill, withdrew his support because of what he said was a ‘cynical political’ decision by Democrats to advance immigration legislation first.

“The move forced the other two authors of the climate and energy bill, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), to cancel a much-anticipated news conference planned for Monday at which they were to unveil the plan they negotiated with Graham.

“Graham, who spent weeks working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on an immigration measure that will appeal to both parties, wrote in an open letter Saturday to leaders of the climate effort, ‘Moving forward on immigration — in this hurried, panicked manner — is nothing more than a cynical political ploy.’

The Post article explained that, “Late last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) raised the idea of bringing up immigration legislation before an energy bill, and President Obama on Friday criticized Arizona’s tough new immigration law and said Congress must act on immigration or risk leaving the door open to ‘irresponsibility by others.’

“In an interview, Graham said he has become convinced that Democrats have decided to push for an immigration overhaul in an effort to mobilize Hispanic voters, a key political bloc, and that only a focused effort on a climate and energy bill could ensure its passage.

“Democrats denied that election-related considerations were driving the focus on immigration, and the White House, Reid, and Kerry and Lieberman said they would continue to press ahead with the climate and energy effort.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Graham said he did not see how the Senate could pass any climate and energy bill this year if Senate Democratic leaders and President Obama pushed for immigration reform, as they suggested they would last week.

“‘The political environment that we needed to have a chance [to pass the bill] has been completely destroyed’ by the push for immigration reform, Graham said. ‘What was hard has become impossible. I don’t mind doing hard things. I just don’t want to do impossible and stupid things.’”

Reuters writers Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro reported yesterday that, “Without Graham on board, efforts to pass climate control legislation could be doomed, as he was expected to work to win more Republican support for the bill.

Kerry later announced that ‘regrettably, external issues have arisen that force us to postpone’ advancing the climate control bill, which also would have expanded U.S. nuclear power generation and offshore oil drilling.

The Massachusetts Democrat indicated the three senators had agreed on the details of a bill before Graham sent his letter.”

Bloomberg writer Kim Chipman reported yesterday that, “The Senate shouldn’t consider either climate change or immigration legislation next, Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said today on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program.

“‘I’m not sure how we can justify bringing either one of them up right now,’ he said, saying the chamber should focus instead on spending bills. ‘I’m not sure where you find the time to deal with these other major issues.’”

Wall Street Journal writer Stephen Power reported last night that, “In an interview Sunday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn) said he was hopeful that the rift on climate legislation could be mended after talks with both Messrs. Reid and Graham. But Mr. Lieberman said he didn’t know how soon he and Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass) would introduce climate and energy legislation that they have been working on for months with Mr. Graham.”

Juliet Eilperin, writing in today’s Washington Post, reported that, “By Sunday morning, Kerry and Lieberman — who does not work on the Jewish Sabbath and therefore was not making calls until Saturday night — were working on a rapprochement between Reid and Graham on energy legislation, called the American Power Act. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called Graham over the weekend, while energy czar Carol Browner called Kerry and Lieberman, according to an administration official.

“‘He’s assured me he’ll do it before immigration reform, if it’s ready,’ Lieberman said of Reid. ‘This certainly is not over, and to me, we’ve got a good bill.’

In some ways, the problem that proponents of climate legislation face is that they’re pursuing a policy goal that is not much of a hot-button political issue. Environmental activists had a well-attended event Sunday on the Mall, with musical stars Sting and John Legend, but immigration reform advocates are likely to dwarf that turnout with dozens of rallies across the country Saturday.”

Jim Tankersley and Ken Dilanian reported today at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “After talking with Graham on Sunday morning, Kerry and Lieberman prepared to move ahead without him if necessary. But a Senate aide said they were increasingly optimistic that Graham would return. His presence adds the crucial imprimatur of bipartisanship to the bill, which is likely to stall without it.”

Today’s LA Times article added that, “The White House message was that Obama remained upbeat about the climate bill’s chances and was committed to bringing Graham back to the process, sources said.

“Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said in an interview that Reid had promised to bring the climate bill to a vote this year. He also said it was clear that ‘climate negotiations are much farther along than the immigration bill,’ meaning that climate ‘could be the first to come to the floor.’”

Glenn Thrush and Marin Cogan reported last night at Politico that, “But as tempers cooled Sunday, the White House and Senate Democrats who back the effort worked behind the scenes to defuse tensions between the South Carolina Republican and Reid (D-Nev.) over the bill’s timing, according to people close to the talks.

“‘Reports of the demise of climate change legislation have been greatly exaggerated,’ said a senior Democratic aide involved in the talks on condition of anonymity.”

And the AP reported yesterday evening that, “Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was encouraged after talking to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who were at odds over Reid’s suggestion that an immigration overhaul might be considered ahead of the energy bill.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg writer Simon Lomax reported on Friday that, “Legislation approved by a U.S. Senate panel to regulate the $605 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market calls for an examination of current and proposed carbon markets.

“The legislation, which passed the Senate Agriculture Committee April 21 and may be combined with a broader measure that overhauls financial industry regulations, would establish a ‘working group’ of U.S. agencies to study ‘the oversight of existing and prospective carbon markets.’

“The group would be made up of eight agencies, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. It would report to Congress within six months on how to ‘ensure an efficient, secure, and transparent carbon market,’ according to the derivatives bill.

Financial Regulation

More specifically with respect to financial regulation, Damian Paletta and Scott Patterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Democrats took a step toward their goal of overhauling financial regulation, reaching a tentative deal to set restrictions on trading in exotic financial instruments known as derivatives.”

“Sunday night’s deal, hammered out by Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) reflects the populist, anti-bank sentiments simmering on Capitol Hill.

“A Senate Democratic official said the two have ‘worked out a deal,’ which is expected to be folded into a broader Democratic measure that revamps the U.S. system of financial regulation in the wake of the catastrophic financial collapse that occurred in 2008. The agreement includes a proposal that could force banks to spin off their lucrative derivative trading operations, reshaping Wall Street.”

Reuters writers Roberta Rampton and Rachelle Younglai reported yesterday that, “The Senate votes on Monday on whether to start debating Democrats’ bill to impose strict rules for banks, capital markets and derivatives — one of the most contentious parts of the proposed legislation.”

Farm Bill

Carolyn Lochhead reported on Friday at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Politics Blog that, “Some of the more thoughtful members of Congress have just sent Obama a letter he might consider reading. It wonders why the administration has twisted itself into a special-interest pretzel that is so absurd it makes the jaw drop. See here and here.

“To wit: our crusading president is going to send $150 million of your tax dollars to subsidize the Brazilian cotton industry. Why? so that he can continue to spend several billion more of your tax dollars subsidizing U.S. cotton farmers.

“This is the Obama administration’s idea of how to fix the problem of a WTO finding that the U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal, permitting $800 million in Brazilian sanctions against all manner of U.S. exports, perhaps the ones our dear Chron readers make in Silicon Valley.”

Ms. Lochhead added that, “Reps. Jeff Flake,R-Az., Ron Kind, D-Wisc., Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Barney Frank, D-Mass. (find the last time Barney Frank and Paul Ryan agreed on anything) have penned a note to the prez suggesting that perhaps the way to fix the problem is to end the U.S. cotton subsidies.”

Ag Econ Issues- Biotech

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The U.S. Supreme Court is considering genetically engineered crops for the first time, in a case that has divided conventional and organic farmers.

“The justices will hear oral arguments Tuesday on a lower court’s ruling that halted the sale of biotech alfalfa seeds that were developed by Monsanto Co. and briefly sold to farmers after getting government approval.

“The biotech industry, including Monsanto and Johnston-based Pioneer Hi-Bred, and organizations representing conventional farmers argue that the case could stifle the development of biotech crop varieties, unless the justices make it harder to block the sale of the seeds.”

Mr. Brasher noted that, “Farmers would be hesitant to start using some new biotech products if they’re worried a court could stop the crop varieties after they’ve gone on the market, said Danielle Quist, an attorney for the American Farm Bureau Federation. ‘For farmers who want to use any sort of biotechnology trait, if they can’t rely on a decision made by USDA to regulate a product that is put out there, then they may not want to use it,’ she said.

“The impact on individual crops and companies could vary. Pioneer’s biotech work focuses on corn and soybeans. Company officials say they are concerned about delays they are already seeing in getting new biotech crop varieties approved. But they also say they have improved the data they give the USDA and don’t expect the court case itself to have a major impact.

“Organic food companies, growers and environmental organizations say the federal government hasn’t regulated the crops tightly enough. They say regulators are allowing biotech seeds to go on the market before enough is known about their impact on the environment or on farmers who have to keep their crops uncontaminated by gene-altered varieties.”

Ag Econ- Animal Agriculture

The AP reported today that, “As more states move to ban restrictive livestock cages, the campaign to free egg-laying hens from cramped cages and shift them to pens animal rights advocates call more humane could be poised to unintentionally boost deaths among those birds.

“Researchers say decades of breeding to make the white leghorn hens that lay most of the nation’s eggs more productive have also boosted the birds’ territorial instincts, making them prone to pecking attacks so fierce they’re often called ‘cannibalism.’

Scientists and egg producers warn that deadly skirmishes that start with feather-plucking and turn into bloody frenzies when a bird’s pecking breaks a flockmate’s skin will increase if those same aggressive hens are moved from small cages with five to 10 birds to open pens that can hold dozens.”

The article stated that, “Seven states have passed laws that will eventually ban or limit different types of livestock cages. Two of those states — California and Michigan — have passed laws that will eventually ban battery cages for chickens, as has the European Union.

“As those bans go into effect and more birds move to open pens, a solution may lie in the work of an influential Purdue University scientist whose breeding method produces more congenial, peaceful chickens by focusing on the birds best suited for life in groups.”

Gene Gregory, the president of the United Egg Producers, penned a short item that was posted yesterday at the Des Moines Register Online, that stated in part that, “Iowa has some of the best egg farms in the country, and most of them follow the strict United Egg Producers certified guidelines for the care of hens, while providing an abundance of affordable, safe, local food. You can learn more about that program by visiting www.uepcertified.com.

“Through that program, egg farmers have followed recommendations from an independent scientific committee in providing considerably more space for each bird, while also implementing many other equally important animal welfare components.

If we followed the recommendations of the Humane Society of the United States, we would create massive egg shortages. It would convert farming back to the 1950s, despite the fact that we have 150 million more people to feed than at that time, and with fewer people producing the food.

You cannot take farming back to the 1950s without great consequences to Americans in terms of food abundance and affordability.”

Ag Econ- California

Jim Carlton reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “There’s a trickle of new hope in California’s drought-stricken farm economy, as water agencies open irrigation spigots a little more this year, allowing farmers to increase planting and hiring.

“After abundant winter rains this year, state and federal officials are increasing water allocations to farmers in California’s semi-arid Central Valley. While flows are still far below normal, the increases are a welcome respite for local economies, where unemployment reached above 40% in some towns in which farmers stopped planting during a three-year drought.

“Harris Farms, a family-owned agribusiness in Coalinga, Calif., expects to increase production of lettuce, tomatoes and other crops about 7% to 7,000 acres from 6,500 in 2009, said John Harris, the company’s chief executive officer. Harris expects to hire 1,800 seasonal workers this year, up 29% from 2009, he said.”

The Journal article noted that, “Home to some of the most productive farmland in the nation, the Central Valley has been hit by a triple whammy of recession, drought and federal environmental rulings that have sharply constricted the flow of water through California’s network of aqueducts.”

Ag Econ- Trade

A recent AFP article reported that, “Long-stalled world trade talks may still be making little evident progress, but at least the issue of agricultural tariffs that sank a 2008 accord is not as insurmountable as it used to be, Australia’s trade minister said Thursday.

“‘I don’t think in the end agriculture will be the sticking point. It’s really the balance between what we do on agriculture and industrials, and what we’re trying to do within that balance to address services’ that is key, Simon Crean told AFP in an interview during a visit to Brazil.”

Chairman Lincoln

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter stood Tuesday night before a somewhat tough crowd of about 25 people at the Western Sizzler as he explained his campaign against the status quo, Wall Street and incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in next month’s state Democratic primary.

“Backed by labor unions and disgruntled liberals angry over Lincoln’s back-and-forth on the health-care bill, Halter, 49, argues he is in striking distance of Lincoln, who is running for her third term. But as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Lincoln has gained new visibility this month for taking the lead on a derivatives bill that is key to financial reform. Halter questions Lincoln’s new-found financial toughness.”

“With a primary challenge from the left and a GOP frontrunner that appears to be Rep. John Boozman, Lincoln has used the attack to declare herself as the strong center, highlighting that she doesn’t answer to her party on everything, but she’s taking on special interests such as Wall Street.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Lincoln is running some ads touting the value of being Agriculture Committee chairman, largely targeted to the farm audience. In the ad, crop farmer L.D. Brantley of England, Ark., points out that in 184 years, Lincoln is the first chairman from Arkansas and asks why the state would give that up. Brantley acknowledged that even despite her status, there are farmers upset over Washington.

“‘Everything has been so rough and people are upset over the economy that they are going to lash out,’ Brantley said. ‘I’ve been surprised, but, by and large, the farm community should be in her camp in a real positive way.’

Brantley said it’s important for Arkansas to have a strong voice for the next farm bill. ‘I think Sen. Lincoln, just now at the end of her second term, is in a real position to provide heavy influence on policy,’ he said.”

Lincoln, Halter and D.C. Morrison, the three Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate seat from Arkansas, held their first debate on Friday evening.

To listen to an audio clip from Sen. Lincoln in which she highlights her Chairmanship of the Ag Committee just click here (MP3-1:16).

To listen to a Q and A from Friday’s debate on “cap and trade,” just click here (MP3-2:42).

Keith Good

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