FarmPolicy

September 18, 2019

Farm Bill Issues

Categories: Farm Bill

Farm Bill: Senate Process

Meredith Shiner reported last night at Roll Call Online that, “While there might be some glimmer of hope for approval of a bipartisan farm bill, it was hard to see the light today as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filled the amendment tree on the sweeping legislation and moved on to another issue.

“The managers of the bill, Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), came to the floor after Reid announced he would be proceeding to flood insurance legislation. They reiterated their dedication to completing the bill and weeding through the many amendments that others are hoping to attach to it.”

(Note that remarks yesterday evening by Chairwoman Stabenow on the Farm Bill process moving forward, including remarks on amendments, can be heard here, (MP3- 4:55)).

Ms. Shiner pointed out that, “But their tone could be described as cautiously optimistic at best, and Roberts reached back to the Revolutionary War for a rallying cry that rang both genuine and weary from the enormity of the task at hand.

“‘Well this isn’t exactly the trail that I had hoped that we would take to get to … a successful conclusion to a farm bill that we need so vitally in farm country and for all the reasons that the distinguished chairwoman has outlined,’ Roberts said. ‘So we will persevere and we will get this done. I guess we’re John Paul Jones. We have just yet begun to fight.’”

The Roll Call article noted that, “While the $969 billion vessel for a farm bill that would reform the nation’s crop insurance and food stamps programs as well as eliminate direct subsidies to farmers has not yet sunk, it is being punctured from all sides by nongermane political amendments, regional battles and GOP Senators who do not want to take another vote on a bill doomed to fail in the House.

“On Wednesday, the Senate will vote to table two amendments of the six on the tree, which would make room for a large manager’s amendment if Stabenow and Roberts were able to thread the needle on all of the competing interests, both geographic and political. Several aides tracking the bill suggested they would have a better idea of whether it eventually will be able to pass based on how Senators vote Wednesday.”

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Senate farm bill stumbled badly coming out of the gate Tuesday evening, but its floor managers promised to persevere despite the partisan dysfunction that so plagues Congress this year.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “Indeed, more than 220 [amendments] have been filed thus far, many not relevant to the farm bill itself. Part of this is a conservative strategy to bait Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into a confrontation that will ultimately kill the bill. Given his temper, Reid can be his own worst enemy in these situations and appears to get little help from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), under pressure from his own right.

Much depends then on the willingness of farm-state Republicans to establish some stabilizing centrist bloc with a limit on amendments. ‘It can’t be one of those deals where everybody gets every amendment they want on the farm bill,’ [Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.)] said. ‘At some point, this has to get done.’

“‘I would hope we could restrain them to relevant farm bill issues,’ said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).”

The Politico article added that, “But for the farm bill, the decision was to go ahead Wednesday with just two amendments: one for [Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.)] on food stamps and a second offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) related to the sugar program. Reid appears to have put himself in a procedural situation where select amendments can be called up then subject to tabling votes. But together with Roberts and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Reid said he was committed to finding some larger agreement allowing more votes.”

Daniel Strauss reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday blocked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) from attaching an amendment to the farm bill that would withhold U.S. aid to Pakistan.

“Reid asked for unanimous consent Tuesday to consider a batch of five amendments to the farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S.3240), but Paul objected, arguing that his amendment on withholding aid to Pakistan should also be included.

In response, Reid performed a procedural move called ‘filling the tree,’ or taking up all the amendment space, to keep Paul’s amendment from being considered.”

The Hill update explained that, “By filling the tree, Reid blocked Paul or other senators from attaching amendments to the farm bill. Senators will have to come to an agreement on amendments or Reid will have to file cloture in order to attach more amendments to the bill.

“Now, the Senate is set to hold two symbolic votes on Wednesday on two matters in the farm bill, one on food stamps and one on a U.S. sugar quota. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the cosponsors of the farm bill, said that they would still try to find a ‘global agreement’ on amendments to the farm bill.

“Specifically, senators will vote to table the two amendments on Wednesday. One, by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) lowers the loan rate for producers of sugar beet crops. The other, by Paul, replaces the federal food stamp program with a state block grant system.”

A news release yesterday from the Senate Ag Committee indicated that, “Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today issued the following statement regarding confirmation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Senate will begin debate on Farm Bill amendments tomorrow. The Senate will begin with consideration of two amendments, one from Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire regarding U.S. sugar policy, and another from Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“‘I am pleased that debate will begin in earnest on the Senate floor tomorrow. Considering two amendments on major policy issues allows the process to move forward while leaders continue to work on an agreement on the full slate of amendments that will come up for a vote.’

“‘Up to this point our work on the Farm Bill has been a glimmer of bipartisanship that is unfortunately all-too-rare in Congress today. With more than 16 million agriculture jobs hanging in the balance, it is critical that we keep moving forward and pass a Farm Bill that gives American farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy.’”

Interestingly, in today’s papers, The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined about sugar policy; while the editorial board at The New York Times  penned an opinion item titled, “Food Stamps and the Farm Bill.”

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to eliminate ‘non-germane’ amendments but his Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is arguing that the must-pass legislation is a prime opportunity to enact a GOP priority wish list of anti-regulation legislation.

“While the farm bill as drafted has the 60 votes it needs to pass, according to Stabenow and Roberts, the bill could fail if McConnell decides the GOP has not been treated fairly and urges the GOP conference to vote it down.”

The Hill update stated that, “[Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)] said that Farm Bill could fail.

“‘There is always that risk. The farmer puts his seed in the ground and hopes for a crop. That’s about where we are,’ he said.

“Roberts and Stabenow say they are still trying to finish up work on the farm bill this week, but aides say that deadline is very much in doubt.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “The bill is vulnerable in part because it does not enjoy the full support of the Agriculture Committee, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said.  He and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) are leading an effort to set up an alternative system of farm subsidies for rice and peanut farmers in the bill.

“He said on Tuesday that time is running out on talks with Stabenow and Roberts on the effort, and that without agreement, he will vote against the bill.”

Note that the AP reported today that, “This regional divide is one of the two major obstacles to getting a farm bill through Congress before the current law expires at the end of September.

Nutrition programs, primarily food stamps, are the other hurdle. They make up about 80 percent of the cost in the $100 billion-a-year bill. The Senate proposal would cut the food stamp program now serving about 46 million people by $4 billion over the next decade — largely by targeting abuses. Some senators and the Republican-controlled House would like to see a far bigger cut, mainly by tightening eligibility for food stamps.”

And DTN writer Katie Micik reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Rice farmers aren’t thrilled with either farm-bill talks in the House or the Senate’s farm bill being debated on the floor this week. Farmers don’t believe that either bill helps U.S. growers compete in a global market driven by Thailand, Vietnam and China. U.S. farmers prefer the target price proposal being discussed in the House, but think setting a $14-per-hundredweight target price won’t be enough to cover escalating input prices down the road.

“Rice yields are less susceptible to big year-to-year swings, making crop insurance a less effective risk management tool. The Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage program relies on a yield and price formula, and growers say it doesn’t protect them against long periods of depressed prices because it uses an Olympic average, which excludes the highest and lowest price of the last five years from the calculation. ARC is designed to cover shallow losses — when payments cover 10% of the losses after prices reach 89% of the Olympic average.

“Rice farmers vividly remember 1997 to 2002 when the $2 to $3 per cwt countercyclical payment was all that stood between them and bankruptcy, said Jay Davis, market adviser and partner at Coastal Rice Inc. During that timeframe, rough rice prices fell from $12 to $3.45 cwt.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where a large portion of their discussion focused on the Farm Bill amendment process.  Sen. Blunt remarked on Majority Leader Reid’s handling of the amendment process in general, as well as issues associated with crop insurance.  To listen to a portion of yesterday’s AgriTalk program with Sen. Blunt, just click here (MP3- 4:42).

 

Farm Bill: Policy- Crop Insurance, Nutrition, Conservation

More specifically on the crop insurance issue, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “The American Association of Crop Insurers, which represents companies and agents, and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, which also represents the companies, issued a statement Monday urging the Senate to reject all the amendments that would change the crop insurance section of the farm bill while reform coalitions urged the senators to consider them.

“”Farmers from across the country and the nation’s banking community are sending a unified message to Congress: Do no harm to crop insurance,’ the groups said in a statement, noting that the industry has already taken cuts through the 2008 farm bill and the latest standard reinsurance agreement. The statement addressed each of the four amendments separately.

“‘The Coburn-Durbin amendment harms crop insurance, and by extension, every farmer and rancher who participates in it,’ the groups said. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would limit crop insurance subsidies for the wealthiest farmers.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a also a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk program with Mike Adams, where in part, the conversation turned to crop insurance issues- (note that an unofficial transcript of parts of this conversation from yesterday’s AgriTalk program is available here).

Sec. Vilsack stated that, “On the crop insurance, I think everybody understands and appreciates that crop insurance is the key risk management tool that is sort of the lynchpin of the safety net. While we all may disagree about what the proper rate of return may be for that program to be sustainable, I think everybody understands the importance of crop insurance, so at the end of the day I would expect that whatever gets passed by both chambers and signed by the president is going to have a very good, strong, solid commitment to crop insurance.”

And with respect to issues regarding the nutrition programs, Sec. Vilsack stated that, “I take a little, a slightly different view on the nutrition programs than some people do, Mike, and the reason I do is that I understand that 14 cents out of every food dollar that’s spent in a grocery store goes into a farmer’s pocket. And so when you basically look at limiting nutrition assistance, you’re also looking at limiting farm income.

“The House budget process has suggested a cut as deep as $130 billion, which would be roughly a $20 billion cut over the next ten years to farm income. That’s obviously something that I don’t think anyone really can support. And I think it’s important to recognize that that nutrition program is part of the overall safety net for farmers. It helps to stabilize markets, it helps to create markets. So as people begin to think about that, I think they’ll see that deep cuts in nutrition are probably not going to be something that would be acceptable to the Senate or to the president.”

Also yesterday, Tom Steever reported at Brownfield that, “The President says the farm bill should provide timely certainty for rural America, including needed reforms in budget savings, and among other things, should maintain the U.S. status in global commerce.

“‘We’ve got to honor our World Trade Organization commitments and we should do it under an umbrella of reform where we can actually save some money and I think that the Senate bill’s a good start,’ President Obama told Brownfield. ‘We are continuing to work with them, and hopefully we can get something done before the end of the year.’

“Where food assistance is concerned, the President tells Brownfield the Senate farm bill’s $800 billion to be spent over the next decade will help needy families put food on the table and will benefit the farm economy.”  A replay of the Brownfield interview with the President is available here.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal (“Farm Bill Has N.Y. Roots”) pointed out that, “[Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.)] has been most vocal in her opposition to cutting $4.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps—a stance that led her to vote against moving the bill out of committee, the only member of the panel to do so.

Even if she succeeds in restoring funding in the Senate, food stamps will likely come under pressure in the House of Representatives, where the majority Republicans have said they want deeper cuts to the program. Ms. Gillibrand stepped onto the Senate floor last week and delivered an emotional plea for maintaining food stamp funding.”

In other developments, a news release yesterday from several conservation organizations stated that, “Today, more than 500 organizations, businesses and individuals signed a letter asking congressional leaders not to further cut funding to the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill. Noting that conservation programs already have been significantly cut in recent years and will bear more than their fair share of deficit reduction in the Farm Bill as currently drafted, the letter asks Congress to ‘hold the line’ on conservation funding at the amounts provided in the bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

 

Farm Bill: Amendments

The following items provide additional detail on some of the Senate Farm Bill Amendments:

– News Release, “Johanns Introduces Legislation Banning EPA Aerial Surveillance.”

– Article, “DeMint introduces farm bill amendment repealing Dodd-Frank.”

– Article, “Senators hoping to lay federal egg production standards in farm bill.”

– Opinion, “Make egg production more humane,” by. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

Keith Good

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