FarmPolicy

April 25, 2014

Farm Bill Issues and Supercommittee (Budget) Developments

Categories: Audio /Budget /Farm Bill

Farm Bill Issues

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported earlier this week that, “Agriculture lobbyists are divided over whether to end guaranteed subsidies to growers as rural lawmakers face a deadline tomorrow to propose $23 billion in farm-spending cuts.

“The House and Senate agriculture committees have received at least seven proposals from interest groups such as the National Cotton Council and National Corn Growers Association that would end ‘direct payments’ made to farmers regardless of crop prices, according to a report by Carl Zulauf, an Ohio State University economist. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farmer group, is trying to save the subsidies.

The differences are complicating efforts by lawmakers meeting behind closed doors to craft a 10-year plan for cuts in farm spending. The proposal from the agriculture panels may form the foundation of the next farm-policy bill as some payments to growers of corn, cotton and other crops are replaced by initiatives that may be less costly.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “‘We have not given up on direct payments in some form,’ Mary Kay Thatcher, the Washington-based organization’s chief lobbyist, said last week in an interview. ‘Our farmers would like some sort of option that would include that.’”

Brett Neely reported yesterday at Minnesota Public Radio Online that, “The leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, including DFL Rep. Collin Peterson, have missed a self-imposed deadline of Nov. 1 to present their bipartisan plan for reducing agriculture spending by $23 billion over the next decade.

“A spokeswoman for the Republican staff of the House Agriculture Committee told MPR News that as of Tuesday afternoon, the majority and minority leaders of both committees have not yet reached a final agreement. She did not know if an agreement was imminent.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “One Washington-based farm lobbyist contacted by MPR News suggested that the lack of an announcement, or even background details from committee staff, suggested that there was likely a major disagreement among the four lawmakers [Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)] that was blocking the way forward.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees won’t make their self-imposed deadline for releasing a farm-bill proposal today, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said Tuesday.

“Regional and crop differences are coming into play as lawmakers study several different proposals for trying to reshape the commodity programs, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters in a conference call.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Grassley said there was no farm-bill proposal to review, and added that it could take longer than a few days to hash out the differences between proposals.

“‘There isn’t such a draft put together at this point,’ Grassley said. ‘They aren’t going to meet the Nov. 1 deadline, but that doesn’t mean that maybe between now and Nov. 23, when the committee has to report to the Congress, that they (ag committee leaders) can’t maybe work with the members to get it done, and I’m sure that’s their hope.’”

Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture.com that, “But the committee leaders and their staff are still working on exactly how to redesign commodity programs. As in the past, they’re finding it hard to get an agreement between agricultural groups that represent the West and the eastern half of the country, and North and South. Part of that difference is over whether any new revenue program should be aimed at giving farmers added protection against ‘shallow losses,’ (a certain amount over crop insurance guarantees) or a different program that only kicks in when losses are deeper.

“According to several Washington lobbyists, southern cotton and rice growers don’t support revenue programs advocated by the National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and the National Farmer Union as much as the Systemic Risk Reduction Program (SRRP) that the American Farm Bureau Federation has thrown into the mix. Farm Bureau is one of the few ag groups that is truly national in scope, but it includes cotton and rice producers.”

(Note: For a brief recap of some of the recent Farm Bill proposals that have been made, see this FarmPolicy.com summary page).

Mike Hergert of the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) filed a report yesterday from Washington, D.C. that focused on current Farm Bill developments, the overview was part of yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio podcast.  The analysis included remarks and observations from David Graves, the Manager –Secretary of the American Association of Crop Insurers.  Click here (MP3- 2:23) to listen to a portion of yesterday’s RRFN Agriculture Today program.

And Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the two discussed a variety of issues, including the supercommittee and the Farm Bill.  To listen to this portion of yesterday’s AgriTalk program, just click here (MP3- 1:33).

Meanwhile, an update posted earlier this week at the San Francisco Chronicle’s Politics Blog indicated that, “A scheme by the House and Senate Agriculture Committee chairs to sneak the next farm bill into law without debate or amendment is drawing more scrutiny, today from Oxfam America.”

Elizabeth Titus writing yesterday at the Texas Tribune Online, included a transcript of a recent conversation she had with Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX).

In part, the report included these remarks from Rep. Neugebauer: “We’ve been very involved in crop insurance, and we introduced in the last farm bill a crop insurance bill that really begins to give producers a better risk management tool. It gives them more flexibility and helps them manage their individual risks. We’ve reintroduced that piece of legislation, and we’ve offered that up as a solution as people are beginning to ascertain what part of the current farm program that might be reduced or, in some cases, possibly done away with, and if there are some things that you can trade out or replace it with that actually make it better but more cost effective.”

In other developments, a news release yesterday from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition stated that, “Today Senator Sherrod Brown [Democrat] of Ohio and Representative Chellie Pingree [Democrat] of Maine and 35 original co-sponsors introduced the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773, H.R. 3286), a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.  The legislation helps farmers and ranchers by addressing production, aggregation, processing, marketing, and distribution needs to access growing local and regional food markets.  The bill also assists consumers by improving access to healthy food.  The measure provides secure farm bill funding for critically important programs that support family farms, expand new farming opportunities, create rural jobs, and invest in the local food and agriculture economy.”  (Note that a related news release from Sen. Brown is available here, and an update yesterday from Rep. Pingree can be found here).

A news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union stated that, “[NFU] supports the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, introduced in both chambers of Congress today by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D- Maine, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The bill will address production, aggregation, processing, marketing and distribution needs for farmers and ranchers engaged in local and regional agriculture. It also provides consumers with access to healthy food in direct and retail markets.”

In more specific news regarding dairy issues, a Congressional Research Report (“Dairy Farm Support: Legislative Proposals in the 112th Congress,” by Dennis A. Shields (October 28)) stated in part that, “Proposed dairy legislation has the potential to eliminate some dairy programs and modify others, or replace them altogether with a new approach to dairy farm support. Many in the industry, including both producers and processors, have concluded that at least some change is needed in the federal marketing order system, although the degree of desired change varies substantially. The industry is not unified on the general approach to dairy farm price and income support. Cost considerations and familiarity with existing programs or comfort level with new ones are likely factors in how dairy policy is developed in the 112th Congress.”

And a news release yesterday from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) noted that, “[NMPF] today questioned the selective and simplistic interpretation of new dairy legislation by organizations opposed to the Dairy Security Act (DSA) that Congress is now debating.

“On Oct. 24th, the Dairy Business Association (DBA), an organization of dairy producers and corporate interests based in Wisconsin, issued a press release that cited the findings of a review of the congressional dairy legislation by Dr. Mark Stephenson of the University of Wisconsin, and Dr. Chuck Nicholson of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.”

Yesterday’s release noted that, “However, on October 25th, a short paper authored by Drs. Stephenson and Nicholson reported that the provisions of the DSA, if enacted with high dairy producer participation, would save the U.S. government close to $700 million. Specifically, the DBA interpretation reported government expenditures of $3.663 billion, versus a baseline of $1.601 billion during 2012-2020, while the recent Stephenson/Nicholson paper shows government expenditures of just $824 million, versus a baseline of $1.592 billion during 2012-2018, under a high participation scenario.

“According to NMPF, these contrary findings ‘clearly illustrate the challenges associated with simplistic attempts to communicate results from complex economic modeling,’ said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF.”

In news regarding the current sugar program, Charles McMahon reported yesterday at the Seacoast Online that, “On a day when many across the country took to the streets for trick-or-treating, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., outlined her bipartisan effort to end federal sugar support programs that could have a major impact on what consumers pay for candy.

“Shaheen was originally expected to tour Granite State Candy Shoppe in Concord on Monday to talk about her bill, the Stop Unfair Giveaways and Restrictions (SUGAR) Act.

“The visit was canceled due to power outages, but Shaheen spoke with the Portsmouth Herald via telephone about her efforts to phase out government sugar price supports that she said keep U.S. sugar prices artificially high, harming consumers and businesses.”

And in news regarding nutrition programs, Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “The number of Americans receiving food stamps reached a record 45.8 million in August, the government said.

“The figure was 1.1 percent higher than the previous month and 8.1 percent more than a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report on its website. Assistance rolls are increasing as joblessness remains at 9.1 percent of the workforce.”

And Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “The government has some thoughts on how to make the federally financed school lunch program more nutritious: A quarter-cup of tomato paste on pizza will no longer be considered a vegetable. Cut back on potatoes and add more fresh peaches, apples, spinach and broccoli. And hold the salt.

The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school-lunch program — are meant to reduce rising childhood obesity, Agriculture Department officials say. Food companies including Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and the makers of frozen pizza and French fries have a huge stake in the new guidelines and many argue that it would raise the cost of meals and call for food that too many children just will not eat.

“With some nutrition experts rallying to the Obama administration’s side, the battle is shaping up as a contentious and complicated fight involving lawmakers from farm states and large low-income urban areas that rely on the program, which fed some 30 million children last year with free or subsidized meals. Food companies have spent more than $5.6 million so far lobbying against the proposed rules.”

Earlier this week, Nebraska farmer Quentin G. Bowen penned an Op-Ed that was published in the Lincoln Star (Neb.) (“Speed of crop insurance is crucial”) which noted that, “And one of the greatest features of crop insurance — and an aspect that has made it a hands-down favorite among farmers of all types — is the speed of delivery of payments, that puts funds quickly into the hands of farmers who have lost everything in a natural disaster. This is possible because of large investments by private companies that have built the infrastructure that makes this delivery possible.

“Crop insurance is a critical component of my risk management tool kit and one that most farmers like me rely on to face the unknown every year. Because I’m a young farmer getting started, should disaster strike and the crops be wiped out, we, like all other small businesses, are in need of capital.

“That’s where the speed of delivery component of crop insurance comes in to play. The industry has invested dramatically to make the speed of delivery possible.”

 

Budget, and Supercommittee Developments

Josiah Ryan reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate on Tuesday cleared a $182 billion appropriations ‘minibus’ bill on a bipartisan basis after working through a week that included the first detailed debate in the Senate over fiscal 2012 spending levels.

“The legislation, passed 69-30, was the first to emerge from the Senate that includes cuts in discretionary spending that conform to the summer’s debt-ceiling deal under which both parties agreed to a cap of $1.043 trillion in discretionary spending for 2012. The measure includes spending for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and Transportation, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and federal housing programs for 2012.”

In a separate update yesterday at the Floor Action Blog, Mr. Ryan reported that, “The Senate voted Tuesday morning to kill an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would have wiped out $1 billion in funding from rural development programs for FY 2012.

“The rural development programs run by the Department of Agriculture help pay to improve housing, build community facilities and fund infrastructure projects, such as supplying broadband Internet to rural areas where demand is low.

“Only 13 senators voted for the amendment.”

With respect to the supercommittee, Naftali Bendavid reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Lawmakers from both parties are increasingly worried that Congress’s deficit-cutting supercommittee will have trouble reaching a significant agreement in time to meet a rapidly approaching deadline.”

The article added that, “Some lawmakers suggest the pressure of the approaching deadline, and the consequences of failure, could prompt action in the next few days. ‘Things are starting to percolate,’ said Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), a supercommittee member. ‘We’re going to get an agreement.’”

Robert Pear reported in today’s New York Times that, “A co-chairman of President Obama’s fiscal commission told members of a powerful Congressional panel on deficit reduction Tuesday that he feared they would fail, and he said the consequences of such failure could be calamitous.

“Four experts on fiscal policy — two Democrats and two Republicans — told the panel that Congress should reduce the budget deficit by adopting spending cuts and increases in tax revenues.”

And Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “With barely three weeks remaining until the committee’s Thanksgiving deadline, there has been little outward sign of progress. Members of the panel and senior aides said the two sides remain deadlocked over the issue of taxes, with Democrats unwilling to accept significant cuts to health and retirement programs unless Republicans assent to billions of dollars in fresh revenue over the next decade.

Various subgroups of the supercommittee have been meeting for weeks to try to forge a compromise, aides and members said, looking for agreement on a deal that ranges from $1.2 trillion to as much as $4 trillion. Portman, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), for example, have met several times to swap ideas. More recently, Camp, Baucus and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) met with Portman, Kerry and Van Hollen.

“But those familiar with the meetings say they have made almost no headway, given the refusal of [House Speaker John Boehner] and other GOP leaders to accept tax increases except through economic growth. ‘Meeting does not equal progress,’ one Democrat said.”

Keith Good

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