December 15, 2019

Farm Bill; Food Safety; Ag Economy; Climate; and Animal Ag

Farm Bill- Deficit Focus

Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Voorhees reported yesterday at Politico that, “Republicans on the warpath against federal spending will soon be put to the test on three popular but expensive pork-laden bills for farms, highways and water projects.

“The major infrastructure bills are all due for major updates in the 112th Congress, forcing difficult decisions on measures that lawmakers in the past found easy to trumpet back home but could be more difficult to sell given the deficit-busting rhetoric that Republicans just rode to victory.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “The likely chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), plans to hold hearings ‘looking at how every penny is spent’ in anticipation of writing a farm bill in 2012 to replace the current $288 billion, five-year plan.

“‘The federal budget is still going to be tighter than anything we’ve seen in my 20 years up here,’ Lucas said. ‘It’s going to [take] some tough decisions.’

“‘When we have to write a farm bill, we’re going to have to write it with the money that will be available to us,’ he added. ‘Who knows what it will be. But I’m almost certain it won’t be as much as the last farm bill.’”

The Politico writers concluded yesterday’s article by stating that, “An Agriculture Department spokesman said the Obama administration is trying to relieve fiscal pressures on the next farm bill through ‘landmark concessions’ from the crop insurance industry that equate to $4 billion in savings for deficit reduction.

“Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is second in line to chair the Agriculture Committee, said the three bills each have an important economic message. ‘We’ll need to get those things done,’ she said.”

Meanwhile, during a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked about the $3 billion in proposed cuts to farm programs that were included in last week’s Debt Commission markup. Sec. Vilsack state in part that, “[W]e’ve already matched what the Commission has asked us to do, this year we basically reduced our subsidy support through crop insurance by $4 billion, so we have already sort of ‘given at the office.’”

To listen to Sec. Vilsack’s full statement on this issue form The Journal interview, just click here (MP3- one minute).

In addition to the Debt Commission recommendations, Jackie Calmes reported earlier this week at The New York Times that, “The other [debt reduction plan] was unveiled on Wednesday by a 19-member panel sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center [BPC] and led by former Senator Pete V. Domenici, who was the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee for years, and Alice M. Rivlin, a former budget director to Congress and to Mr. Clinton. The panel’s members include former governors, mayors, cabinet members and budget experts from both parties — though none of them are as conservative as most Republicans nor as liberal as most Democrats now in Congress.”

This report also calls for cuts in agriculture related spending, proposing to “Reduce and Limit Payments to Commercial Farms and Certain Producers” (at page 110 of the report); as well as to, “Reform Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) and Reduce Premium Subsidies” (at page 111 of report); and to, “Consolidate and Cap Agriculture Conservation Programs” (at page 111).

The BPC report also indicated that: “Help reduce long-term healthcare spending to treat obesity-related illnesses – including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke – by imposing an excise tax on the manufacture and importation of beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup” (page 18 and page 69).

This sweetener tax proposal received some attention on the Diane Rehm Radio Show on Wednesday, where former Sec. of Agriculture Dan Glickman stated that, “I don’t think there’s any question the consumption of sugar — large amounts of sugar is not good for you. But this will be a contentious issue. It’s a creative approach and — but it will be subject to a lot of intense lobbying.”

In other opinion regarding federal farm spending, Edward Lotterman opined yesterday at the Pioneer Press Online (Minn.) that, “Farm subsidies pose a knotty and immediate dilemma for Republicans, especially those aligned with the tea party. If you campaign on a platform of lower taxes, smaller government, no budget deficits and ending government redistribution of income to small interest groups, how on Earth can you vote for continued spending on federal commodity programs?”

Farm Bill- New Members and Committee Focus

Philip Rucker reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Sixteen months ago, at the height of the health-care reform debate, Blue Dogs were at the seat of power in Congress….[now]…the Blue Dog Coalition has been halved, from 54 members to 23.”

The Post article noted that, “The Blue Dog Coalition, created after the Democratic drubbing of 1994 as a home for moderate and conservative Democrats, reached the zenith of its power over the past two years.”

Mr. Rucker added that, “Election after election, Blue Dogs were able to explain away their votes back home and keep from being lumped together with the national party. They withstood various winds over the years but had never faced a storm of hurricane force like the this year’s midterms.”

McClatchy News writer Michael Doyle reported earlier this week that, “The Blue Dog caucus, a home for moderate and conservative Democrats, will be much smaller than this year’s 58-member organization. Mass defeats and retirements whittled the caucus to only about two dozen for the 112th Congress next year.

“[House Ag Comm. Member Jim Costa (D-CA)] asserted the caucus will actually be more potent and nimble, now that it’s been reduced to a solid core. [House Ag Comm. Member Dennis Cardoza (D-CA)] said the role of moderates remains to be seen.

“‘It depends on how unified the Republican caucus is, whether they’re going to have to come get Democratic votes,’ Cardoza said.”

AP writer David A. Lieb reported yesterday that, “Voters across the county this year ousted veteran lawmakers — adept at using their powerful positions to steer federal money and projects toward their districts — in favor of newcomers who pledged to rein in government spending and ridiculed earmarked pork projects.”

The article added that, “Arkansas Rep. John Boozman got a similar pledge for a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee if he defeated the committee’s chairwoman, Democrat Blanche Lincoln. Boozman won easily.

“Mike Freeze, who runs a fish farm southeast of Little Rock, Ark., says he is somewhat concerned about losing an incumbent with a track record of delivering for farmers — even though he believes Lincoln’s replacement is a good guy.”

With respect to the Senate Ag Committee, the “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Within the Washington ag establishment, there is still considerable uncertainty and speculation about who will head the Senate committee next year. Most observers suggest the most senior potential chairman, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., will want to keep his current job as chair of the Budget Committee. But last week he told the press he is still considering the Ag position, and said, ‘I’m talking to colleagues and constituents right now.’”

The DTN item explained that, “The next most likely prospect if Conrad stays put is Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who says she is interested.”

After additional analysis, the DTN item noted that, “[T]he political pressure on Conrad to keep his budget committee chairmanship will continue to be strong, even though he likely will be pushed toward agriculture by groups who worry that Stabenow may favor specialty crops rather than the more basic commodities. The fact that Conrad can argue he can accomplish more of his objectives from the Budget committee post than as Ag chairman likely will push him in that direction — and, could mean that the Ag chair will go to Senator Stabenow, Washington Insider believes.”

On the House Ag Committee, Chris Clayton stated yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “I [Clayton] had a question posed to me yesterday regarding just who do Democrats find to put on the House Agriculture Committee. The current committee makeup of the 46-member committee is 28 Democrats and 18 Republicans. That ratio effectively flips with the size of the GOP House win, with a likely ratio of 27 Republicans and 19 Democrats if the committee remains the same size.

“Fifteen Democrats on the committee won’t be returning in January.

That means current Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson still has to find at least six, and possibly more new committee members, depending on desire of Democrats to stay on the committee or pick assignments elsewhere. If you look at the election maps, it likely means Peterson is going to have to go outside some traditional agricultural areas to find members. Or, what happens if some of the 2008 reform crowd want on the committee?

Food Safety

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported today that, “Some small farms would be exempt from government efforts to prevent foodborne illness under a Senate agreement on food safety legislation announced Thursday.

“The food safety bill now pending in the Senate would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to recall tainted products, increase inspections of food processors and require producers to follow stricter standards for keeping food safe. Operators of smaller farms and advocates for locally produced food have worried that the bill’s requirements could force small farms out of business.

“An agreement brokered by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana would attempt to allay those concerns, allowing farmers who make less than $500,000 a year in revenue and sell directly to consumers, restaurants or grocery stores within their states or within 275 miles of their farms to avoid expensive food safety plans required of larger operations. State and local authorities would still have oversight over those farms.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement issued Thursday night:

“‘The fresh produce industry has long supported food safety modernization with industry leaders testifying to that effect before Congressional committees numerous times. But, we have also consistently stated that food safety policy must be based on risk and science, not speculation and ideology. Unfortunately, Senator Tester’s amendment would reject a risk-based approach to food safety, setting up a federal food safety system that adheres to arbitrary exemptions rather than to sound scientific principles.’

“Tester said the exemption would protect the growth of farmers markets and sales of locally produced foods.”

To listen to some of Sen. Tester’s remarks on the Senate floor yesterday regarding this issue, just click here (MP3- 3:41).

Today’s AP article also stated that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will vote on the bill after Congress returns from a one-week Thanksgiving recess. Reid said senators will vote on several amendments, including two sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

“Coburn had threatened to hold up the bill unless the Senate voted on the amendments. The first would place a moratorium on spending for ‘earmarks,’ pet projects in lawmakers’ states and districts, while the second is a separate amendment that is a substitute for the food safety bill.”

Sen. Coburn made several interesting arguments yesterday on the Senate floor against the pending food safety bill- click here to listen (MP3- 3:23).

Sen. Coburn’s remarks did not sit will with either Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) who both offered spirited responses to Sen. Coburn’s remarks.

A portion of Sen. Durbin’s remarks from yesterday can be heard here (MP3- 4:50), while some of Sen. Klobuchar’s remarks are available here (MP3- 3:43).

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also countered some of Sen. Coburn’s arguments against the food safety bill yesterday; a portion of his remarks can be heard here (MP3- 4:08).

Ag Economy

Scott Kilman reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago said Thursday that prices of farmland in its district, which straddles the heart of the U.S. farmbelt, jumped 10% in the third quarter from a year earlier.

“The Chicago Fed covers all or parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Meanwhile, a video update posted recently at the Financial Times Online (“What’s driving food prices?”) noted that, “Javier Blas, commodities editor, explains why the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation are giving the global food market ‘critical’ status, and considers what must be done to stave off a repeat of the 2007/2008 crisis.”

Climate Issues

An news release Wednesday from the House Committee on Science and Technology indicated that, “Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing entitled: ‘A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.’ Today’s hearing focused on the basic science, the evidence, and the response to climate change.”

An update yesterday form Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe stated that, “[Sen. Inhofe] delivered a Senate Floor speech today on global warming policy, warning that, despite its defeat this year in Congress, ‘backdoor’ cap-and-trade is ‘alive and well’ at the EPA.”

In part, Sen. Inhofe stated that, “What Sen. Reid said about cap-and-trade-that it’s dead for next Congress-may be true for the massive, thousand-page bills filled with mandates, taxes, regulations, bureaucracy, and much else.

But it’s not true for the more subtle strain of cap-and-trade now moving through the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s right: this is backdoor cap-and-trade, hidden behind an administrative curtain.

“So we need to address this, because employers and small businesses are afraid to hire and expand in large part because of EPA’s global warming regulations. To get this economy moving again, and create jobs for those who need them, we need to stop EPA.”

And Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Poor nations accused donors on Thursday of failing to keep a promise of extra climate aid, which the U.N. says will be the ‘golden key’ to successful global warming talks in Mexico this month.

“‘The promises (of aid) are there, and they keep coming, but we don’t see anything on the ground,’ said Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, who will chair the group of least developed countries (LDCs) at the United Nations’ negotiations in Mexico from November 29 to December 10.”

Animal Ag

Ken Anderson reported earlier this week at Brownfield that, “Is Nebraska next on the HSUS’ hit list?

“HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle won’t say as much, but his upcoming visit to the state is fueling speculation. David Martosko, editor-in-chief of, a web site that closely monitors HSUS’ activities, sees Pacelle’s visit as a possible first step towards a Nebraska ballot initiative in 2012.

“‘I think it’s very likely that he’s coming to town to try to build some sort of a grassroots base,’ Martosko says, ‘because eventually, if he’s going to put an initiative on the ballot in 2012 in Nebraska, he’s going to need people—you know, peasants with pitchforks—to carry the clipboards around and collect signatures. And meetings like this tend to be where those lists are built.’”

The Brownfield link includes an audio interview with David Martosko.

Keith Good

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