November 17, 2019

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Regulations; and Trade

Farm Bill

Meredith Shiner reported today at Roll Call Online that, “Battle-weary from the year’s constant spending fights and hyper-aware of stagnating job numbers, Congressional leaders are working to avoid a rehash of the same disputes in the impending debate to fund the government for the coming year.

“However, serious obstacles remain, including a potential clash over disaster relief funding and the fact that a deal must be completed in less than four weeks. The fight to finish last April’s stopgap spending bill, set to expire Sept. 30, was the opening act for the debt ceiling debate that dominated the House and Senate floors for months.”

Today’s article added that, “The House has only 11 workdays until the end of the fiscal year. Neither the House nor the Senate is slated to be in session the week before the Sept. 30 deadline to keep the government funded into the next fiscal year.”

The Roll Call article quoted a Senate Appropriations Committee aide as saying: “The committee intends to move as many bills as possible in the next few weeks in order to make them available for consideration by the full Senate. … It will not be possible to enact all 12 annual appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. As a result, a short-term continuing resolution will likely be needed.”

For more on budget and appropriations issues, see Monday’s report.

Meanwhile, Courtney Collen reported on Saturday at KSFY-TV Online (Sioux Falls, SD) that, “The upcoming Farm Bill debate will be one of the most difficult in recent memory. That’s according to a panel of experts assembled today at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron. A panel of six agriculture and conservation experts took part in a Farm Bill Forum today, sponsored by South Dakota Farmers Union, to discuss the upcoming legislation that will be debated in Congress that affects the agriculture industry.”

The update noted that, “Senior Policy Advisor for Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) Lynn Tjeerdsma has been working on Farm Bills for over 20 years and said, ‘This is going to be by far the most challenging Farm Bill that I’ve worked on since the 1990 Farm Bill, and the number one reason is the budget we’re faced with.’…Josh Tonsager, legislative assistant to Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), said much of the focus in Congress in the short-term will be how the rest of the federal budget will be spent. Then it will be easier to see what cuts agriculture might be faced with.

“‘The most immediate thing we’ll be looking at dealing with appropriations for fiscal year 2012 and the so-called super committee that’s going to be looking at adjustments to federal spending,’ Tonsager said. ‘We want to make sure any reductions to spending aren’t coming just from agriculture and USDA. It’s really important to protect USDA programs.’”

A news release Friday from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) stated that, “[Sen. Bennet], chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, today met with farmers and organic growers at the Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford to discuss their ideas to boost agriculture in the state, the importance of agriculture to Colorado’s economy and the 2012 Farm Bill.”

With respect to nutrition issues, Bloomberg news reported yesterday that, “The number of Americans on food stamps [SNAP benefits] dropped in June for the first time since October 2008 – mainly because of a dip in disaster-related help for Alabama.

“Still, the total number of people relying on food stamps is 9.5% higher than a year ago.

Nationwide, there were 45.184 million food stamp recipients, down .5% from May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Sunday. In Alabama, the number of people getting food stamps plunged by 532,369, or 37%, as the need for aid related to storms dropped, USDA data shows.”

And The Washington Post editorial board indicated yesterday that, “Fewer than half of the children from low-income families who qualify for a free or reduced-price breakfast through the federal food program are taking advantage of the opportunity — and it’s not because they aren’t hungry.

Bus schedules and frazzled morning routines prevent many children from getting to school early. Others are reluctant to go to cafeterias when doing so clearly labels them as needy. But children who skip breakfast not only lose nutritionally but also tend to do worse at school. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to provide this critical morning meal where it has the best chance of being eaten — in the classroom.

“Prince George’s County schools are among the latest to join a growing national trend of schools that have moved breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom. Thanks to the $3 million Breakfast in the Classroom initiative promoted by four leading hunger, nutrition and education nonprofits, Prince George’s, where school is already underway this year, is now equipped to improve breakfast services at the schools with the biggest populations of students from low-income families. In addition to moving breakfasts from the cafeteria to the classroom, the program — funded generously by the Wal-Mart Foundation — expands the meal to all students.”


Agricultural Economy

Michael Cooper reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “The flooding unleashed a week ago Sunday by the remnants of Hurricane Irene played havoc with farms across Vermont. Rushing waters left fields of silt-caked cornstalks matted down on their sides. Farmers are still checking to see what vegetables and flowers can be saved.

But for livestock farmers — especially the dairy farmers who are a symbol of Vermont — the toll has been more gut-wrenching, and the crisis has lasted longer, as they have struggled to take care of their animals.”

The article added that, “With power out in many places, some dairy farmers could not operate the machines they use to milk their cows. Smaller farms relied on volunteers to milk them the old-fashioned way. Others got their hands on generators to run their machines. The cows needed to be milked, but with dairy pickups halted in many parts of the state because the roads were inaccessible, some farmers were forced to dump thousands of dollars worth of milk.

Then there was the emotional toll of losing animals.”

Jaine Treadwell reported on Thursday at The Troy Messenger Online (Troy, Alabama) that, “Thursday morning, Pike County farmer Billy Hixon stood looking across the peanut field that had once held a lot of promise. Now, it’s history.

“‘Commodity prices were up this year but that won’t do you any good if you don’t make a crop,’ said Hixon who farms with his dad, Bill Hixon, near Josie. ‘I planted peanuts in the dust in late May. They came up spotty and I replanted but they didn’t come up good either. We just didn’t get the rain we had to have to get the crop up.’”

The article stated that, “If Hixon’s peanut crop is history, it will be the second crop he has lost this growing season.

“‘I strip-till all my crops and, in the spring, I had to wait for rain to soften the ground,’ he said. ‘We got .6 of an inch and I laid the rows and got planted. But the rain held off until mid-July so the corn crop was a total loss.’”

A lengthy and interesting article titled, “Can the World Still Feed Itself?” was posted on Saturday at The Wall Street Journal Online, the article, which was written by Brian M. Carney, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, provided a look at a variety of agricultural issues from the chairman of the world’s largest food-production company (Nestlé), Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.


Regulations: Political Shift? Smog Issue Offers Illustrative Analysis

Juliet Eilperin reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “Facing fierce resistance from congressional Republicans, industry and some local officials, President Obama abruptly pulled back proposed smog standards Friday that would have compelled states and communities nationwide to reduce local air pollution or face federal penalties.

“Key GOP lawmakers including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had identified the Environmental Protection Agency’s restrictions for ground-level ozone, along with other air pollution regulations they described as ‘job-destroying,’ as targets for a regulatory rollback this fall. Members of the business community had launched an all-out public relations blitz against the rules, saying that they should be delayed in light of the economic downturn.”

The Post article noted that, “Obama’s decision was announced shortly after disheartening employment numbers were released Friday morning. It drew harsh reaction from environmentalists and their allies — including a statement from questioning why its members should work for the president’s reelection — highlighting the dangers the White House faces as it seeks middle ground among competing interests.

“In a statement, Obama praised EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s effort to improve the nation’s air quality but said he had asked her to withdraw the draft standards because they were scheduled to be reconsidered two years from now anyway.”

On this development, The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined on Saturday that, “To recap: In fall 2009, Mr. Obama’s EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, requested that the Bush Administration’s proposed reduction in permitted ozone levels, measured in parts per million, be put on hold while her new regime reconsidered the rule. In 2008, the agency proposed reducing measurable ozone levels to 0.075 ppm. It doesn’t sound like much, but wait.

“Come January 2010, the Obama EPA said it wanted to lower the ozone standard more, to between 0.060 and O.070 ppm. Problem is, this would have put 85% of monitored U.S. counties (628 out of 736) into ‘non-attainment’ status. And the problem with that is that under current law, non-compliance effectively forces many utilities, businesses and agricultural operations in those counties to shelve expansion plans.

Translation: no new jobs. In Indiana alone, some 175 business appealed to Ms. Jackson to ditch the ozone rule. By its own undoubtedly lowball estimate, EPA said compliance costs could come to $90 billion a year by 2020. All of this to advance by a couple of years an EPA review of the ozone rule that was already scheduled by law to take place in 2013.”

The Journal added that, “Normally, these disputes are fought among lawyers for the EPA, industry and the environmental lobby. But ‘normally’ means when the economy’s growth rate is greater than 2% and unemployment is no worse than 6%. Then costs are merely passed along to consumers. But with ‘new normal’ unemployment sitting at 9.1%, someone on the re-election side of Mr. Obama’s universe must have taken a closer look at the consequences of what Ms. Jackson’s squads were up to.”

However, The Washington Post editorial board indicated on Saturday that, “What is clear is that the ‘job-destroying regulation’ line is a better slogan than it is an expression of the real trade-offs involved in EPA regulation. Aside from ozone pollution, EPA rules under development would restrict the emission of mercury, acid gases, dangerous fine particles and other pollutants from power plants and other sources. These regulations have costs that can be predicted and measured, in jobs and dollars. They also have measurable benefits — lives saved, chronic illnesses prevented, hospital visits avoided and sick days not taken, which in turn have economic effects.”

The Post noted that, “An Aug. 8 review by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) refuted much of the criticism of the EPA’s regulatory push. Fears of disruption to the power sector are overblown, the CRS said: Newer coal power plants already have pollution controls, and many older ones are set to shut down anyway, in part because burning cleaner natural gas is now so cheap. Meanwhile, studies that many critics continue to rely on in their forecasts of expensive regulatory disaster assume stringent provisions that the Obama administration never proposed. A note from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, cited by many critics, admits that its analysis is ‘inadequate to use as a basis for decision-making, given that it used information and assumptions that have changed.’

Reasonable people can disagree on how much economic cost is worth bearing for how much environmental benefit. But the Republican critique seems to deny that such a trade-off even exists.”

And, in Sunday’s Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin reported that, “President Obama’s controversial decision last week to suspend new anti-smog standards offered hints — but not the full road map — of how the White House will navigate politically explosive battles with congressional Republicans over which industry regulations to sacrifice and which ones to fight for this fall.

“The Friday decision, which angered many environmental activists and won praise from business groups, represented the most high-profile case in a debate that carries deep implications for Obama’s reelection campaign as he tries to spur job creation, woo business donors and fire up his voting base. It came as the president prepares for a major address Thursday night to lay out a new employment strategy.”

Ms. Eilperin explained that, “Most notable in the smog decision was that Obama made it himself — undercutting his own Environmental Protection Agency leadership and siding with industry officials who warned that stricter ozone standards risked further damage to a fragile economy.

And yet, as the administration signals that it will stand by other rules opposed by industry groups, advocates on both sides are left wondering what broader strategy may be guiding the White House as it reviews existing and proposed regulations.”

The Post article stated that, “The ozone decision signaled a new phase in Washington warfare. For their first two years, Obama and his team pushed through ambitious legislative initiatives such as the economic stimulus, the health-care overhaul and a rewrite of the financial regulatory system.

Now, newly empowered congressional Republicans are driving an agenda of smaller government, deficit reduction and regulatory rollbacks that GOP lawmakers say will help spur job growth.

And Obama, his presidency on the line amid fading hopes of a near-term economic recovery, is eager to show that he, too, recognizes the need to curb government overreach. At the same time, he needs to reassure anxious advocates on the left, many of whom have complained since last month’s debt-ceiling deal that the president has become too easily cowed by Republican arguments.”


Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported on Friday that, “After a slow start that has frustrated U.S. business groups, the next four months could be important to President Barack Obama’s legacy on trade.

Obama has a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014 but he has not moved as aggressively as his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, to open markets abroad.

This month business groups expect Obama at long last to submit three Bush-era free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for approval.”

Mr. Palmer pointed out that, “Successful passage by Congress would burnish Obama’s free trade credentials and boost talks on a regional free trade agreement that the White House hopes will establish ‘21st Century’ trade rules in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.

“The plan is for Obama and leaders of the eight other ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership’ countries to shake hands on the broad outlines of a deal in November when the United States hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“The proposed pact would build existing U.S. free trade deals with Australia, Chile, Singapore and Peru into a regional free trade pact that includes Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei Darussalam.”

Friday’s article added that, “Still, Congress’ approval of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama deals is not assured.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation which opposes the deals, boasted on Wednesday that opponents may have the votes to stop the pacts, which they see as a threat to U.S. jobs. ‘I think we have a real shot at it,’ Trumka said.

“In addition to the challenge from organized labor, Obama must persuade Republicans focusing on spending cuts to renew a retraining program for displaced workers known as Trade Adjustment Assistance. This is critical to gaining enough Democratic votes in the Senate to approve the trade pacts.”

And Reuters writers Tom Miles and Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck reported on Friday that, “Fifty economists have written to ask U.S. President Barack Obama to ‘step up to the plate’ on World Trade and champion a last gasp deal on the moribund Doha round of world trade talks.

“The letter was drafted by Jagdish Bhagwati, a professor at Columbia University, and signed by economists based in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore and Japan, as well as three former trade ministers and a former president of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo.”

Keith Good

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