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Senate Moves Forward on Farm Bill; EPA; Ag Economy; and, Trade

Farm Bill: Senate Update

Meredith Shiner reported last night at Roll Call Online that, “Senate negotiators stuck a massive amendment deal on the pending farm bill tonight, working through contentious battles on the floor, in the cloakroom and in Capitol corridors to inch closer to potential passage.

“Although final Senate approval is far from guaranteed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a 73-amendment agreement just before 8:30 p.m. [related FarmPolicy audio here (MP3- 5:00)], hours after Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) could be seen and heard wrangling with rank-and-file Members in the chamber.

“The amendment package, which was agreed to by unanimous consent, includes measures both germane and nongermane to the bill. But it wasn’t secured easily.”

Ms. Shiner noted that, “Stabenow and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exchanged words on the floor, with Sanders getting red in the face and at one point brushing away Stabenow’s hand within full view of the gallery. The two then took their conversation into the cloakroom, where one source said their exchange was even more heated.

“Multiple sources indicated it was amendment-related and a Sanders measure on genetically engineered food was included near the end of the list of announced provisions.

“While Stabenow was working Sanders, Roberts was across the chamber talking to several Republicans trying to resolve their outstanding issues. As the two bill managers worked the floor old-school Senate style, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was delivering a speech on the DREAM Act, looking back at Stabenow and Sanders at one point in his remarks because their conversation had gotten so loud.”

The Roll Call article pointed out that, “The Senate will begin voting on the amendments Tuesday afternoon, with the measures that are relevant to the bill receiving a simple majority approval and nonrelevant provisions subject to a 60-vote bar.

“Sources were cautiously optimistic that the Senate will approve a bill that received a bipartisan 16-5 vote out of committee. But it is also clear that certain regional disputes will be tougher to bridge and that even if the Senate does pass the bill, the road to the president’s desk likely will be difficult, if not impossible, with a Republican-controlled House.”

A news release yesterday from the Senate Ag Committee stated that, “Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today issued the following statement regarding the bipartisan agreement on over 70 amendments that will allow the Senate to move forward with Farm Bill voting tomorrow.

“‘This bill was developed through bipartisan collaboration, passed committee with broad bipartisan support, and we now have a bipartisan agreement to move forward with a bill that affects 16 million American jobs.  My colleagues on both sides of the aisle understand we must act as soon as possible to give farmers the certainty they need to keep growing the economy.  This Farm Bill is unlike any other before it—it cuts spending, ends subsidies, improves accountability and strengthens healthy food systems.  We are now closer than ever to achieving real reform in America’s agriculture policy.’”

A portion of Chairwoman Stabenow’s remarks delivered yesterday evening on the floor regarding the agreement on amendments can be heard here (MP3- 2:12).

David Rogers reported yesterday evening at Politico that, “Crop insurance, sugar price supports and food stamps will all be subject to multiple challenges testing their political support. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is promised a vote on his RAISE Act amending labor law to give employers greater ability to reward performance bonuses. And side-by-side amendments — including one sought by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — will be permitted regarding the administration’s preparations for the threat of automatic spending cuts in January.

“Indeed, the list grew during three hours of final talks off the floor of the chamber, but the agreement is a genuine triumph for Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who now has the certainty she wanted of getting to final Senate passage.

“That, in turn, adds to the pressure on the Republican-controlled House to act this summer, and watching from across the Capitol, the House Agriculture Committee is poised already to take up its own draft bill before the July 4th recess.”

Chris Clayton, writing last night at the DTN Ag Policy Blog (“Senate to Debate More Than 70 Amendments”), provided a more detailed look at some of the amendments that will be considered, and explained that, “Still, other amendments appear to have fallen wayside. Senators won’t debate whether to place a $40,000 cap on crop-insurance premium subsidies. Senators also opted not to debate an amendment that would have established specific federal rules for the size of cages for egg-laying chickens.”

(Note that a Feedstuffs interview with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, which was posted yesterday (full interview  (MP3- 18:02)), included an exchange specifically related to crop insurance issues, as well as the egg bill issue– this particular portion of the Feedstuffs interview can be heard here  (MP3- 5:02)).

Ed O’Keefe reported last night at the 2chambers Blog (Washington Post) that, “Among the more notable amendments are GOP proposals to make deeper cuts to the federal food stamp program — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which has ballooned in recent years to more than $80 billion annually, making it the second-largest federal welfare program behind Medicaid and the largest chunk of spending in the farm bill.

“But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other urban-state lawmakers are expected to oppose cuts that go deeper than the $250 million in annual reductions over the next five years already included in the bill. Most of the reductions, backed by members of both parties, would come from reining in abuse and misuse of SNAP.”

Daniel Strauss reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Under the agreement, at 2:15 on Tuesday the Senate will begin voting on 73 amendments, some of them unrelated to the bill. One amendment, for instance, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) would cut off federal funding for presidential party conventions. Another, by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) restores some funding to the federal food stamp program that the farm bill takes out. An amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) requires the Department of Defense to release a report on the impact of $500 billion worth of funding cuts. Another amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) allows the Secretary of Agriculture to issue grants to promote the maple syrup industry. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has an amendment in the agreed-to 73 amendments which stops anyone making over $250,000 of adjusted gross income from receiving any kind of payment from the farm bill.”

Mr. Strauss noted that, “Reid suggested in a floor speech earlier in the day that if the Senate could not reach an agreement on amendments to the farm bill he would have to file cloture” (related audio– MP3- 1:20).

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Votes on the measure are expected to begin Tuesday afternoon and will alternate between Democrats and Republicans until the amendments list is exhausted, probably some time Wednesday, depending on the breakdown of roll call and voice votes, the aide estimated.

“The only expected break at the moment will be Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning to vote on a joint resolution by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on the boiler MACT-Environmental Protection Agency rules.”

In other Farm Bill news, in a speech yesterday on the Senate floor, Sen. Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) stated in part that, “Another important area of reform in this bill is payment limitations and ensuring that actual farmers receive payments.  Senator Grassley and I have worked for years to lower the caps on our farm program payments and to direct payments to family farmers.  The new Agriculture Risk Coverage program contains a cap of $50,000 and requires that program payment recipients contribute labor to the farm operation.  Current law has enabled multiple farm managers in an operation to qualify for separate farm program payments with as little participation as one conference call a year.  Not anymore under this bill.  I am disappointed there have been amendments filed to weaken this language.  I don’t understand how anyone can stand before this body and justify sending federal farm program payments to people who aren’t engaged in agriculture.  Our country faces serious fiscal challenges, and it seems to me that limiting farm payments to real farmers is a reasonable concept.  I urge my colleague to oppose efforts to weaken this language.”

Meanwhile, a Seattle Times editorial from Sunday noted that, “Too many Americans are still out of work to justify cuts to the food stamp program,” while an editorial posted yesterday at The Detroit Free Press Online stated that, “The Senate’s farm bill sets the right tone for both nutrition and farm policy. Members of the Michigan delegation in the U.S. House should join in supporting its basic tenets when their turn comes.”

And, a news release yesterday from Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) stated that, “Today, standing at Chobani, [Sen. Schumer] urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to revise the federal School Lunch and Breakfast Programs to make Greek yogurt a more affordable option for schools. Current USDA regulations for public schools consider Greek yogurt to be the same as regular yogurt despite its higher protein content. By creating new guidelines for Greek yogurt that recognize its dense nutritional and high protein value, Schumer’s push would enable schools to better incorporate the food into their meal programs.”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union (NFU) indicated that, “[NFU] supports the Rural Energy Investment Act of 2012, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. The bill would reauthorize the most critical farm bill energy programs that are currently set to expire Sept. 30.”

 

EPA- Drones

David A. Fahrenthold reported yesterday at the 2chambers Blog (Washington Post) that, “Fox News Channel on Monday issued an on-air ‘clarification’ to an earlier report that said, incorrectly, that the Environmental Protection Agency was using unmanned drone aircraft to spy on Midwest farmers.

“‘We identified and discussed the aircraft as being unmanned drones,’ Fox’s Megyn Kelly told viewers after 2 p.m. ‘In fact, the EPA is flying these missions and taking pictures from manned aircraft. We apologize for the confusion.’”

 

Agricultural Economy

Owen Fletcher reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “U.S. corn futures closed higher, boosted by forecasts for dry weather and by strong cash markets…[F]orecasts Monday for hot, dry weather in much of the Midwest heightened concerns the unfavorable conditions could damage the U.S. corn crop, just as it enters its key pollination phase in the next few weeks. Government condition ratings for the corn crop have already fallen in recent weeks, and analysts expect a further decline in a report due out Monday afternoon.”

Emily Garnett and Lindsay Calvert reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “For the second week in a row, the nation’s corn and soybean conditions declined. Corn in good-to-excellent condition dropped three points, from 66% to 63%…Soybean conditions declined four points, from 60% in good-to-excellent condition to 56%.”

Yesterday’s complete Crop Progress report from USDA is available here.

Javier Blas reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Food security, long only a concern for aid advocates and farming ministers, is now hotly debated among G20 leaders.

“‘The sharp increase in food prices has put agriculture back on the political agenda,’ says Frank Rijsberman, head of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, a network backed by donor countries such as the US, the UK and Germany.

“The G20 will receive a stark assessment of the situation. A group of UN institutions, including the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have written a report for the group’s leaders warning that ‘global agriculture will face multiple challenges over the coming decades’”.

 

Trade

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The United States formally announced Monday that Mexico has been invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks.

“‘We are obviously two of our most important trading partners to each other, but we both recognize that growth is going to take place in the Asia Pacific region,’ President Obama said at the meeting of the G-20 in Los Cabos, Mexico.”

A House Ways and Means Committee news release yesterday noted that Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) said that, “I applaud Mexico’s decision to resolve key issues and its commitment to adopt TPP’s high standards and ambition.  Mexico’s participation should result in even greater benefits to U.S. employers, workers, and farmers.”

Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) indicated that, “I welcome the invitation to Mexico to join the TPP talks.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President Bob McCan also issues a statement on this development yesterday.

Keith Good