May 25, 2018

Farm Bill; Budget; Ag Economy; Regulations; and Political Notes

Farm Bill Issues

A news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union (NFU) stated that, “[NFU] and a coalition of agricultural, conservation, environmental, energy, forestry, hunger, and rural stakeholders sent a letter to Senate leadership today urging them to bring the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 to the Senate floor as soon as possible. NFU led the effort, which was supported by more than 125 organizations.

“‘This is one piece of legislation upon which all Americans depend, urban as well as rural,’ stated the letter. ‘With limited time remaining before the expiration of current program authorities, time is of the essence.’”

Also yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee provided an updated summary of the Farm Bill proposal it passed on April 26; this summary overview is available here.

A Radio News Service item from USDA yesterday noted that, “A top Agriculture Department official says those who are crafting farm legislation need to realize the importance of insurance for crops, but should not forget that other producers need a safety net as well.”  To listen to this brief report (1:00), which includes remarks from USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse, just click here.

Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan, in an audio report today (“USDA’s Scuse: FSA not engaged in farm bill implementation planning yet”), also provided recent remarks on the Farm Bill from Under Secretary Scuse.  To listen to today’s Agri-Pulse report, just click here (1:52).

A news release yesterday from Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) noted that, “Today, Congressman Rick Crawford is reminding his constituents they can have a voice in crafting new farm policy. Crawford, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, is encouraging Arkansas farmers to submit comments and suggestions for federal agriculture policy online at  by May 20th.”

And later this morning at 11:00, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture will hold a Farm Bill hearing on Specialty Crops and Nutrition Programs.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial board opined yesterday that, “Congress continues to find ways to throw money at farmers, whether they need it or not. The latest boondoggle comes from the Senate Agriculture Committee, which last week passed a farm bill, known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.

“The bill slashes at least $23 billion from some farm subsidies and other programs, meaning lawmakers are living up to their pledge to stop making direct payments to farmers for crops they don’t grow. That’s progress. However, in a political sleight of hand the senators want to pour money back into the farmers’ pockets with over-the-top crop insurance subsidies.”

In other policy related news, David Brown reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In 2030, 42 percent of American adults will be obese, and about one-quarter of that group will be severely obese, a condition that shortens life and incurs large medical expenses, a new study predicts.

“This view into the future is less ominous than one published four years ago that predicted that 51 percent of the population would be obese in 2030. Nevertheless, the trend fortells a huge drag on the health and economic welfare of the United States.”

The Post article noted that, “The new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, used obesity prevalence data from 1990 through 2008 to extrapolate future trends. The information came from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a federally funded telephone survey. People underestimate their weight when asked on the phone; that fact was compensated for in the mathematical model.”


Budget Issues

Janet Hook and Damian Paletta reported last night at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “House Republicans, seeking to prevent defense-spending cuts at the end of the year, advanced a plan [summary, text] that would instead reduce spending on health-care programs, food aid and other major domestic initiatives of the Obama administration.

“The bill developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) would cut about $261 billion in domestic spending over the next decade and roll back portions of the 2010 health-care law and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

“It was approved Monday by the House Budget Committee on a 21-9 party line vote and likely will be approved by the House later this week. But it is a dead letter in the Senate because the cuts in the social safety net are anathema to Democrats who control that chamber.”

The Journal writers explained that, “The bill also stands as an opening GOP bid in negotiations—tied to last year’s failure by a legislative supercommittee to reach a broader deficit-cutting accord—that likely won’t be settled until a lame-duck session of Congress after the November election.

“The supercommittee impasse triggered a plan requiring nearly $1.2 trillion in spending cuts—half from defense programs and half from domestic programs—over the next decade. Of those, $110 billion are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 2, unless Congress acts to avert them.”

The Journal article added that, “A sizable portion of the domestic cuts in the House GOP bill come from programs benefiting the poor, including food stamps, Medicaid, and a child tax credit… But Democrats lambasted the GOP for slashing safety net programs, which would be exempt from the mandatory budget cuts, while protecting the Pentagon and ruling off limits any tax increases for the wealthy.

They said it spoke volumes about GOP priorities that the Agriculture Committee called for cutting food stamps while focusing less on cutting farm subsidies. ‘The issue is not whether we should implement a plan to reduce the deficit,’ said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. ‘We should. The question is how do we do it?’”

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “The House Budget Committee on Monday took up budget bills passed out of six different committees last month, packaged them and sent them to the full House as one bill on a party-line vote. A separate bill, also approved by the committee, would formally lift the threat of automatic Pentagon cuts next year.

“Neither of the measures will pass the Senate, but the final House vote this Thursday amounts to a Republican bet that voters will reward the party for its tough-love priorities, despite Democratic attacks that will only build in intensity this week.”

The Times article added that, “The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would push 1.8 million people off food stamps and could cost 280,000 children their school lunch subsidies…”

Rosalind S. Helderman reported yesterday at the 2chambers blog (Washington Post) that, “In his budget, President Obama proposed turning off the sequester and replacing it with a series of spending cuts but also closing tax loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthy.

“With Democrats in the Senate opposed, the House GOP proposal will not be used to turn off the sequester. Instead, many members of Congress hope to reach a bipartisan deal after the election, when the Jan. 1 expiration of the Bush tax cuts will also be looming, raising the possibility of a grand bargain on spending and taxes.”

An update posted yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog pointed out that, “In a quirky turn of events, the House Budget Committee on Monday modified its decision to use $1.028 trillion as the top-line discretionary spending cap for the House for fiscal year (FY) 2013.  Instead, the Committee temporarily adjusted the spending cap to $1.047 for the first three months of the 2013 fiscal year (Oct.-Dec. 2012), after which the cap would return to the lower level of $1.028 trillion.

The discretionary spending adjustment would temporarily bring the House spending level in line with the Senate level and with the levels agreed upon by both chambers in the Budget Control Act of 2011.  This leaves open the possibility that the House Appropriations Committee will re-issue its allocations to each appropriations subcommittee, including the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.”

The NSAC update added that, “The allocations determine how much each appropriations subcommittee can spend on its respective funding bill for the year.  The House Appropriations Committee’s current allocation for the agriculture appropriations bill is $19.4 billion, which is $1.4 billion below the Senate allocation.

“The adjustment also means that the Subcommittee will now have the option to produce a FY 2013 appropriations bill that more closely parallels the Senate bill, which was written to Budget Control Act levels and which the Committee passed on April 26.”

Also note that Jackie Calmes reported in today’s New York Times that, “With a polarized Congress already on the defensive, President Obama on Tuesday will outline a five-point ‘to do’ list for lawmakers that packages job creation and mortgage relief ideas he has proposed before, administration officials say.

“Mr. Obama will present the election-year list during a visit to a university science complex in Albany. The components of his challenge to Congress — and to the Republican-led House in particular — will be a feature of his appearances throughout the spring, aides said.”


Agricultural Economy

Cheri Zagurski and Anthony Greder reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Soybean emergence was reported for the first time this growing season on Monday’s USDA weekly Crop Progress report. The nation’s soybeans are 7% emerged for the week ended May 6, compared to 2% last year and a 3% average rate.

Soybean planting was reported at 24% complete, compared to 12% last week, 6% last year and an 11% average.”

The DTN item added that, “Corn planting continues to rocket along with 71% of the crop reported in the ground. That compares to 53% last week, 32% last year and a 47% average rate. Corn emergence is reported at 32%, compared to 15% last week, 6% last year and a 13% average.”

Dan Piller reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Beef Products Inc. said Monday it will close permanently the three plants, including one in Waterloo, that made lean textured beef trimmings that became a media sensation in March.

“After the moniker ‘pink slime’ was widely used in network news and social media reports, BPI closed the Waterloo plant under what it said at the time were temporary conditions. On Monday the company, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., made the closing permanent in Waterloo and also at plants in Amarillo, Tx., and Garden City, Kan.

“A total of 650 workers will lose their jobs, 220 at Waterloo.”



Marjorie Elizabeth Wood, a lecturer in history at the University of New Hampshire, noted in a column posted yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Last month, a proposal by the United States Department of Labor to prevent children under age 16 from working in dangerous farm jobs ignited a firestorm in conservative media outlets. The new rules would have restricted having young workers handle pesticide, operate heavy machinery, cut timber and perform other agricultural tasks identified as hazardous to children by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“Conservatives quickly went on the attack. Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, argued that ‘if the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family’s farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.’ Fox News posted a story entitled, ‘Team Obama Wants Children Banned from Doing Farm Chores.’ Sarah Palin chimed in on Facebook: ‘The Obama administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms.’

“So the Obama administration quickly reversed course, acknowledging ‘thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms.’”

Ms. Wood noted that, “This is not the first time reform of agricultural child labor laws has been beaten back by a supposed threat to the family farm. In the 1920s a proposed Child Labor Amendment to the Constitution was fiercely contested. The amendment would have given Congress power to regulate the labor of people under age 18. But by orchestrating a sophisticated campaign that included front groups with names such as Citizens’ Committee to Protect Our Homes and Children, business interests frightened farm families with propaganda about a government conspiracy to forbid chores on the family farm.”

Concluding, yesterday’s column stated that, “The recent proposal by the Department of Labor was intended to protect poor migrant child workers who do seasonal farm work for ‘Big Agriculture.’ They sorely need it. According to Human Rights Watch, child farm workers are at greater risk of pesticide poisoning, serious injury, heat illness, and death than any other youth workers in America.

The hullabaloo revealed that the same commercial forces that thwarted the Child Labor Amendment in the 1920s continue to stymie reform today. In an age when Big Agriculture still benefits from the laxity of our child labor laws, the reformers’ legacy is one we would do well to reclaim.”


Political Notes

Paul Kane reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) will head into Tuesday’s Republican primary as the underdog to a conservative challenger, threatening to end his 36-year tenure not as his party’s elder statesman on foreign affairs but as an ousted moderate who had trouble explaining to voters where he lived.

“Lugar, 80, will face Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a career politician whose staunch conservatism could make him a more beatable opponent for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Rep. Joe Donnelly.”

Michael Warren reported yesterday at The Weekly Standard Blog that, “Big Government reports that the Young Guns Network, a group tied to House Republican leader Eric Cantor, has purchased another direct mail item supporting Dick Lugar over Richard Mourdock in the GOP Senate primary in Indiana. The item focuses on Lugar’s support for ethanol subsidies and pro-environmental policies, while Mourdock’s plan is called ‘extreme’ and one that ‘means higher prices at the pump.’

“Mourdock, the state treasurer and a favorite among Tea Party members and grassroots conservatives, appears to have a lead over Lugar going into tomorrow’s primary. A poll released late last week showed Mourdock 10 points ahead of the 80-year-old, six-term incumbent Lugar. Lugar has earned support from establishment Republicans, like the Young Guns Network and the Chamber of Commerce.”


Lastly today, The National Agricultural Law Center recently announced a webinar (“Legal Issues in Animal Agriculture: Regulating Living Space”) that will be held on Thursday, May 10, 2012.

According to the Center’s webpage, where registration for the webinar is available, “This presentation, part of a series of webinars on current legal issues in animal agriculture, will focus on the emerging legal and policy issues dealing with farm animal confinement. This presentation focuses on the laws and regulations of farm animal confinement in the United States, with a special emphasis on the statutory evolution behind them.”

Keith Good

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