FarmPolicy

November 23, 2014

Senate Farm Bill Issues; EPA- Drones; Biofuels; Labor; and, Sec. Vilsack

Categories: Uncategorized

Farm Bill: Senate Process- Title I Issues

The Need-To-Know Memo (Email update from National Journal) stated Friday that, “The farm bill isn’t dead, but it’s fading fast after senators left town without agreement on how to deal with hundreds of proposed amendments. Senate Democratic aides now predict defeat under this scenario: Without an amendment deal, which isn’t expected, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)]  will file cloture on the bill next week, possibly on Tuesday. Backers probably ‘don’t have the votes’ to overcome the cloture hurdle, a Democratic leadership aide said. Though the vote might split both parties, most opposition would come from Republicans, many of whom will cite Reid’s blocking of amendments to oppose the bill on procedural grounds.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House and Senate return to a week of work that may well be dominated by reaction to President Obama’s decision to stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who join the military or graduate from high school.

“The Republican response to that Friday announcement has a good chance of playing out particularly loudly in the Senate. The upper chamber is planning more behind-the-scenes work on a farm bill, so Republicans will have plenty of time to fill the empty stage of the Senate floor with complaints about the immigration decision.”

The Hill update noted that, “The immigration decision undoubtedly makes tougher what was already tough, like the farm bill, which was already starting to get attacked by Republicans as a $400 billion increase in spending. Or cooperation on moving judicial nominations — Senate Republicans had already decided not to move any more circuit court nominees until the November elections.”

An update posted on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “Consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill moved ahead this week but progress in the Senate was slower than agriculture committee leaders had previously expected…[T]here is a reasonable chance a deal for debating and voting on the bill will be reached very early next week, though it is by no means a certainty.”

The NSAC item explained that, “If Senate leaders can come up with a list of amendments to debate, then debate on the bill can move forward.”

“If it seems like a deal on amendments can be reached, but it hasn’t been reached by early next week, then the Senate could continue in the holding pattern of this week, or it could move on to other business while a deal is being negotiated…[I]f they cannot come up with a list of amendments to debate and vote on, then the bill pretty much dies in the Senate for now.”

After additional analysis, Friday’s NSAC update noted that, “A draft farm bill has been put together by House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and is in the process of being evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office.  If all goes according to the Chair’s plan, the bill will be finalized early next week and may become publicly available by the end of next week, with Committee debate and voting on amendments the following week.”

“Also next week, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the FY 2013 agriculture appropriations bill,” the NSAC item said.

Erik Wasson reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “A new farm bill compromise floated by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on Thursday could be what is needed to get the bill through the Senate, but fiscal conservatives and environmentalists are crying foul.

“The Conrad amendment would reinstate one of the farm subsidies eliminated by the underlying bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, and would reestablish and raise target prices for all major commodities, except cotton.”

Mr. Wasson pointed out that, “The Conrad amendment, which the North Dakota Democrat has been working on with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), would raise target prices on all commodities by 5 to 7 percent.”

Also with respect to Title I issues, Friday’s “Washington Insider” section of DTN (link requires subscription) reported that, “This week, Brazil’s Foreign Trade Chamber announced that it is reactivating a work group that will update the suspended 2010 retaliation list against the United States in Brazil’s dispute over U.S. cotton subsidies. Back in 2009 Brazil won the seven-year cotton dispute before the World Trade Organization and the WTO authorized retaliatory sanctions. That list was released in March 2010 and included 102 American products that would face double or triple tariffs. The list was designed for maximum political effect and included food items, such as pears and potatoes, manufactured goods such as cars and appliances and many others. Their total value in terms of Brazilian imports was estimated at $591 million.

“At the same time, Brazil said it also would impose an additional $238 million in sanctions on services and intellectual property, including the breaking of patents on drugs purchased by Brazil’s public health system from American pharmaceutical firms.

Brazil then stepped back and agreed with Washington to suspend the sanctions until at least 2012 and the United States agreed to pay $147 million annually for technical assistance for Brazilian cotton farmers. But, all along, Brazil has continued to insist that the United States remove its cotton subsidies and reduce export credit guarantees for cotton and warned that it could still change its position and adopt sanctions. It was also agreed that the two governments would continue to hold negotiations on a quarterly basis until the farm bill came to a vote in 2012.”

Friday’s update explained that, “Now, Brazil is updating that position once again. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Development and Trade told the press, ‘The preliminary agreement will lose its validity when the United States puts into effect its new agriculture law [farm bill]. After this, Brazil can consider itself satisfied with the changes and close the case, or resume the retaliation or negotiate a new agreement with the United States.’

“While the 2012 farm bill is still a long, long way from implementation, the current draft being debated —sort of — in the Senate includes the provocatively-named, Stacked Income Protection Program (STAX) of supplemental crop insurance program for cotton. The plan is said to have come from the National Cotton Council, and supporters argue that it is an attempt to ease the WTO dispute over U.S. cotton subsidies.”

The DTN item stated that, “Brazilian reaction to the program in the Senate bill has been quite negative. Spokesmen assert that it would be more trade-distorting than current programs; that it could cost much more than the CBO believes; and that U.S. producers would be able to lock-in currently high cotton revenues and significantly insulate themselves from world prices — allegations U.S. groups dispute, of course.

“And, while the Brazilian position is likely to come up in the floor debate, there is little indication now that it will be a deal-breaker that would change the outcome of the debate.

So, it is not clear how Brazil’s recent new threat to ‘update’ the list of sanctions will play out. On the one hand, it would be an embarrassment for the United States to continue to pay $147 million annually for the opportunity to subsidize U.S. cotton producers, or for the United States to face new WTO litigation that could affect other programs as well as cotton. On the other hand, for pharmaceutical firms, for example, to see their patent protections sharply downgraded or for other exporters to Brazil to face sharply higher tariffs as a result of a program for cotton could also mean political difficulties.”

 

Farm Bill: Nutrition, Energy, and Conservation

Brian Lyman reported on Saturday at the Montgomery Advertiser (Ala.) Online that, “An Alabama senator is proposing an amendment to the farm bill before Congress that would require states to use an asset test before allowing participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

“Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, said in a phone interview that the proposal would help reduce spending on SNAP, which makes up about 80 percent of spending in the legislation. The change, he said, would save about $11 billion over ten year.”

Meanwhile, House Ag. Comm. Member Henry Cuellar (D., Tex.) noted in an opinion item on Friday that, “A common talking point during the increasingly contentious Farm Bill debate is that we need to cut funding for federal nutrition programs in order to remove waste.  And as a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, I agree that we must be responsible stewards of federal funds and take care to spend each taxpayer dollar efficiently and effectively.

“However, I also strongly believe that we can’t balance the budget on the backs of the children, families and seniors who rely on nutrition assistance programs to meet their basic needs.”

And Marcia L. Fudge (D., Ohio), the Ranking Member of the House Ag Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Credit, pointed out on Friday that, “In an effort to reduce our nation’s deficit, significant cuts to farm programs are expected. I am deeply concerned about the cuts proposed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s most important anti-hunger program…This is not the time to cut feeding programs. Hunger rates are steadily increasing.  Dispiriting high rates of joblessness and homelessness are a reality in communities across the nation urban, suburban and rural alike.”

With respect to the Energy Title of the Farm Bill, Darren Goode reported last night at Politico that, “Senators in both parties are trying to use the farm bill to go after EPA regulations and permits as a potential last-ditch effort to affect agency policy before the election.

“The amendments range from the usual moves against the agency’s renewable fuels mandate and so-called farm dust controls to efforts to limit pesticide permits and boost the power of the agency’s liaison to farmers.”

Orlan Love reported yesterday at The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Online that, “The ‘corn rush’ continues to shrink acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest boons to the environment in the nation’s history.

In an era of high farm land and commodity prices, many farmers cannot justify the financial sacrifices entailed in idling suitable cropland for the sake of conservation, said Tom Fuller, Iowa coordinator for Pheasants Forever, a leading CRP advocate.”

 

Farm Bill: Amendments

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

News Release, “The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and other agricultural advocates are calling on the Senate during the farm bill debate to maintain current funding levels for federal crop insurance and to avoid amendments that result in less participation, lower premiums or a weaker delivery system.”

– Article, “Chicken, Egg Pushing Farm Bill Amendment.”

– Article, “Schumer introduces farm bill amendment promoting maple syrup production.”

– News Release, “Kerry Farm Bill Amendment Would Provide Aid, Relief to Massachusetts Fishermen.”

 

Farm Bill: Opinion

A Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) editorial noted on Saturday that, “In simple terms, things get complicated when the government decides to stick its nose into private business, and it is now in the messy business of choosing winners and losers.”  And,  a Las Vegas Review Journal opinion item from Saturday stated that, “While the 2012 farm bill does indeed include a modicum of reasonable reforms, one travesty remains: the indefensible sugar subsidy.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial from today regarding last week’s Senate vote on the sugar amendment stated that, “The Senate voted 50-46 to table Senator Pat Toomey’s reform bill, but the reform would have passed if not for the votes of 16 GOP Senators. (See the nearby table.)

“The usual sugar beet and sugar cane state suspects dominate the list, but one name leaps out—[Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.)], the freshman from Florida who won his seat in 2010 while running as a tea party favorite in opposition to the crony capitalism and government meddling of the Obama Administration.”

 

EPA Issues- Drones

David A. Fahrenthold reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “It was a blood-boiler of a story, a menacing tale of government gone too far: The Environmental Protection Agency was spying on Midwestern farmers with the same aerial ‘drones’ used to kill terrorists overseas.

“This month, the idea has been repeated in TV segments, on multiple blogs and by at least four congressmen. The only trouble is, it isn’t true.

It was never true. The EPA isn’t using drone aircraft — in the Midwest or anywhere else.”

The Post article added that, “This is the part that’s true: For more than a decade, EPA inspectors have flown over farmland in small private planes — the traditional kind of aircraft, with people inside them. The inspectors are looking for clean-water violations, like dirty runoff or manure dumped into a stream.

“The EPA says the flights are legal, under a 1986 Supreme Court decision. And they’re cheap: An on-the-ground inspection might cost $10,000, but it costs just $1,000 to $2,500 to survey the same farm by air. An agency spokesman said these flights are not happening more frequently now than in the past.

“But in Nebraska, the cattlemen have raised new concerns about the effect of the flights.”

 

Biofuels

A statement from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Friday indicated in part that, “Today, the last significant federal hurdle has been cleared to allow consumers to buy fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol (E15). This gets us one step closer to giving the American consumer a real choice at the pump. The public has a right to choose between imported oil and home-grown energy and today’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advances that goal.”

 

Labor

Pamela Constable reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Hidden behind the Banco del Sol and the Tienda El Nino is the economic pillar of this [Alabama] rural town: A massive factory that processes 130,000 chickens a day. Inside, headless plucked birds move along conveyor belts while 300 workers, in repeated deft strokes, slice each passing carcass into chunks of kitchen-ready meat.

“For years, most poultry workers here were Mexican immigrants, including some who were in the country illegally. But last fall, after a tough state law against illegal immigrants took effect, many vanished overnight, rattling the town’s large Hispanic community and leaving the poultry business scrambling to find workers willing to stand for hours in a wet, chilly room, cutting up dead chickens.”

The Post article pointed out that, “[A] variety of employers in Alabama said they have not been able to find enough legal residents to replace the seasoned Hispanic field pickers, drywall hangers, landscapers and poultry workers who fled the state. There was an initial rush of job applications, they said, but many new employees quit or were let go.”

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Tracie Mauriello authored an article profiling Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that was posted yesterday at the Pittsburg Post-Gazette Online (“Tom Vilsack: City boy, Iowa pol, Cabinet secretary).”

In part, the article stated that, “Host two conference calls, attend a Cabinet meeting, provide a mad cow disease update on a national television news program, visit an agricultural exhibit, work out, check in with staff working on a key piece of legislation, record a spot for rural radio stations, explain a new funding formula for school lunch programs, speak at a biodiversity summit, check in on employees in a financial management seminar, host a media conference call on fire prevention — and don’t forget to keep up on the Pirates.

“Sound like a busy week? That’s a typical day for Tom Vilsack, who’s learned to expect the unexpected in his life.”

The article noted that, “Mr. Vilsack tries to keep up by juggling an iPad, a black binder and a pile of index cards filled with talking points he revises at odd moments between speaking engagements and on car rides in his chauffeured SUV.

“‘He’s like a sponge,’ said press secretary Courtney Rowe. ‘He makes notecards with questions on what he wants to know more about and what he wants to talk about. … We don’t write a single speech for him.’”

Keith Good

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