The Washington Insider section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Budget concerns and the looming crisis over the debt limit dominate conversations in Washington now as the White House budget meetings become increasingly prominent in each news cycle. An important development so far this week was the announcement of additional detail about the administration’s position.”
“In an indirectly related policy development this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the press that the administration favors basing farm programs on producer need, and intends to push that approach for future program cuts. ‘I think, frankly, many farmers understand and appreciate that there has to be change,’ Vilsack said.
“Discussions on the debt ceiling and spending issues that are underway right now have included ag spending, Vilsack observed. ‘It’s no secret that they’re talking about that, absolutely. And what they’re talking about I think is a change in the direct-payments system,’ he said. And, he indicated that many of the discussions about cutting back farm programs are merely ‘catching up to where the president was in 2009.’
“‘The president suggested that there be limitations on who receives this, that the help should go to folks who need it the most,’ Vilsack explained. ‘It doesn’t necessarily need to go to people who have off-farm income of a half a million dollars, they’re going to be able to probably weather the storm. Or folks who have fairly large operations who’ve diversified and have farm income that is substantially higher than what most Americans experience. They may not need the help, so you target it.’”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “USDA’s chief economist found himself on the spot Tuesday trying to defend USDA’s controversial livestock marketing rule, which senators argued oversteps USDA’s authority and will cost the livestock industry dearly.
Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “The Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri released a report Monday looking at some market effects of ethanol policies.
“Congress is considering several different alternatives to current ethanol policies. Reports coming out of the deficit negotiations seem to indicate negotiators are willing to consider significant cuts in the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or VEETC, which most of us just call ‘the blenders’ credit.’ The credit is approaching $6 billion a year in cost, which isn’t considered sustainable politically.
“The Senate earlier this month voted to eliminate the blenders’ credit and import tariff immediately, even though both already are set to expire at the end of the year. Still, the overall bill in which that ethanol language was included actually failed to pass.”
A news release Friday from the House Agriculture Committee stated that, “Today, Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, held the first audit hearing on farm policy. This audit of agricultural programs is the first step in the farm bill process. Each chairman of the six subcommittees will hold hearings to examine programs in their respective jurisdictions to determine spending trends and confirm how programs work together.
“Today’s hearing examined the Federal Crop Insurance Program, which is a cornerstone of U.S. farm policy. Subcommittee Members looked for ways to reduce duplication between crop insurance and other farm programs, and examined whether the current administration and funding of the crop insurance program is sufficient to meet producer risk management needs.”
Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan reported yesterday that, “Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday praised U.S. Department of Agriculture efforts to crack down on fraud and abuse in farm and nutrition assistance programs and asked a panel of senior USDA officials for suggestions on how they might further streamline programs and services in the 2012 Farm Bill.
“‘We need to be thinking about ways that we can streamline the services we’re offering to make them more effective, and cut red tape and paperwork that our producers shouldn’t have to worry about,’ said Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow at a hearing on accountability in USDA programs.”
“Four agriculture undersecretaries in charge of implementing ag and nutrition programs assured committee members they’d taken steps to measure performance and eliminate duplication and waste in their respective mission areas.”
Ron Hays reported yesterday at The Oklahoma Farm Report Online that, “The Chairman of the House Ag Committee, Oklahoma Third District Congressman Frank Lucas, talked with Director of Farm Programming Ron Hays about a variety of ag issues on Wednesday morning- including a discussion of the three day debate on the FY2012 Ag Appropriations bill. Lucas says that except for the amendment offered by Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake that prohibits USDA from paying the $147 million to the Brazilian Cotton Institute [background on that trade case available here and here], the attempts to change farm policy on the floor was turned back.”
(FarmPolicy Note: To listen to a portion of yesterday’s discussion between Mr. Hays and Chairman Lucas, which included analysis of the House Agriculture Appropriations bill, just click here (MP3- 3:21). Also, a related editorial on the Brazil cotton issue posted earlier this week at the Wisconsin State Journal Online (Madison) stated that, “If Congress can’t cut off one wasteful payment to Brazil, how will it ever get serious about scaling back billions in domestic subsidies?”)
Yesterday on the AgriTalk Radio Program, host Mike Adams interviewed Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). In part, Chairwoman Stabenow discussed the budget that the House of Representatives passed back in April, and the implications the agricultural portion of that budget is having on negotiations over the debt limit that are being spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden.
Chairwoman Stabenow indicated that, “So this $48 [billion] now has become something that is being held up in the negotiations since it passed the House and its created more extreme cuts than we otherwise would be seeing because they have changed the bar. Instead of talking about $10 [billion] or whether its 10 or eight, or nine- now its 48 and someplace between 10 and 48. So the kinds of numbers being talked about are of great concern to me and have become much larger because the House of Representatives actually passed the huge cuts in their budget.”
Yesterday on the AgriTalk Radio program with Mike Adams, guest host and AgriTalk producer John Herath interviewed Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The interesting discussion, which can be heard here (MP3- 11:07), provided an excellent overview and analysis of current farm policy issues including: The recently passed House Appropriations Bill, the 2012 Farm bill, last week’s Senate vote on ethanol subsidies, prospects on the Senate Appropriations process, as well as federal deficit issues and the negotiations over the debt limit that are being spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden.
Bartholomew Sullivan reported late last week at The Commercial Appeal Online (Memphis, Tenn.) that, “Major hits to the domestic cotton program were averted Thursday when efforts to scale backcountercyclical payments, ban cotton storage payments and means-test farm subsidy recipients failed in a series of congressional votes.
“But a major element of the compromise forged with Brazil last year to settle an eight-year-old World Trade Organization case against U.S. cotton was eliminated in another vote.”
Molly K. Hooper and Pete Kasperowicz reported last night at The Hill Online that, “The House on Thursday narrowly approved a 2012 Agriculture spending bill in a vote that tested Republican unity.
“Members in the chamber stopped to watch as the vote tally settled at 217-203 in favor of the third fiscal 2012 appropriations bill to be considered in the House this year.
“During a two-hour series of votes on amendments, members of the GOP leadership team, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) scrambled around the chamber to persuade on-the-fence Republicans to vote yes.”
The AP reported this morning that, “Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid.
“The GOP move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest…[T]he annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10 percent below this year’s budget.
“The farm subsidy cuts won bipartisan approval in the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago, but as debate on the House floor began Tuesday, Republicans turned to a procedural maneuver to drop that language.”
Philip Rucker reported in today’s Washington Post that, “This is what Washington’s new austerity has brought.
“A freshman Republican congressman, himself a fifth-generation corn farmer and his family a longtime beneficiary of government agricultural subsidies, drove through the endless fields of far-flung western Kansas to deliver a difficult message.
“‘Everybody needs to share,’ Rep. Tim Huelskamp told a few dozen townspeople sitting patiently on the hard wooden benches of the Graham County Courthouse. ‘If you’re a farmer like me, you’re going to expect less. Something’s going to go away. The direct payments are going to go away.’”
Jake Sherman reported on Friday at Politico that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Republican lawmakers in a memo Friday what to expect for the rest of the summer, including votes on three stalled trade agreements, action on an intelligence bill, and movement throughout the summer on the debt ceiling…[C]antor did not let on to when he thinks there will be a vote to raise the statutory debt ceiling — the major issue of the next two months. He said he expects action ‘throughout the summer.’”
More specifically on the debt ceiling issue, Carl Hulse reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “As hard as it may be for lawmakers and the White House to reach an agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling in the coming weeks, striking a budget bargain is just the beginning of the real work.
“When and if bipartisan talks being overseen by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. produce some combination of spending cuts, major program changes and revenue increases, the House and Senate must then assemble those various agreements into legislative form and approve them.
“While many members of Congress might like the overall framework of any budget deal, some are sure to balk at the legislative detail required to wring money out of popular programs like farm subsidies, Medicaid and Medicare or to force federal retirees to kick in more of their own money for their pensions.”
Robin Bravender reported last night at Politico that, “Top Cabinet officials insisted Thursday that the White House hasn’t forgotten rural America, despite critics’ claims that the administration is pursuing policies that will hurt farmers and small businesses.
“President Barack Obama signed an executive order Thursday establishing a White House Rural Council aimed at boosting job creation and economic development in rural areas.
“But key administration officials said Obama has had rural America’s back all along.”
The AP reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama plans to create a special advisory council to recommend ways to boost the economic outlook and quality of life for the estimated 60 million people who live in rural areas of the U.S., a White House official said.
“Obama was expected to sign an executive order Thursday establishing the White House Rural Council and naming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, of Iowa, to be its chairman.”