Farm Bill- Senate Update
Erik Wasson reported yesterday morning at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The Senate will take up 73 amendments to the 2013 farm bill, but none will address the objections that rice and peanut farmers have to subsidy cuts in the legislation.
“Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) last week devised an amendment to restore optional target price-based supports favored by rice and peanut growers that were eliminated by the draft bill.”
Mr. Wasson stated that, “Conrad decided to stop pushing for the amendment after talking with Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
“‘After speaking with Sen. Stabenow, Sen. Conrad determined the best strategy would be to withhold the amendment and pursue improvements in conference committee negotiations,’ a Democratic aide said.”
Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “The Senate began voting Tuesday on a slimmed-down list of amendments to a farm bill that would set the nation’s food and agriculture policy for the next five years.
“The number of proposed amendments had grown to about 300, covering a range of issues like crop insurance subsidies and aid to Pakistan. But late Monday, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, reached an agreement that narrowed the list to 73.”
Mr. Nixon pointed out that, “Among the amendments approved on Tuesday was a proposal by Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, to add more peas, lentils and chickpeas to the federal school lunch program. The vote was 58 to 41.
“Another amendment, by Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, would require the Agriculture Department to study an insurance program for poultry producers that would protect them from disease outbreaks or bankruptcies. It passed on a voice vote.
“The Senate voted down amendments by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, that would have changed the eligibility requirements for recipients of food stamps and would have ended bonuses to states for increasing enrollments in the food stamp program.”
The Times article added that, “An amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, would have cut the amount paid to insurance companies to subsidize their costs in selling crop insurance. Last year, the government paid insurance companies $1.3 billion, and Ms. Gillibrand’s amendment would have reduced that amount to offset a $4.5 billion cut to the food stamp program. But the Senate rejected the amendment, 66 to 33.
“An amendment by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, would allow the agriculture secretary to issue grants to promote the maple syrup industry.”
The AP reported yesterday that, “An early amendment in the Senate dealt with the price of the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now totals $80 billion a year, about 80 percent of the bill’s spending. Food stamp rolls have doubled over the last eight years to 46 million people, driven by the recession.
“The Democratic-led Senate defeated 56-43 a proposal by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have restored strict asset tests for food stamp eligibility. Households with gross incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty level and liquid assets below $2,000, or $3,250 for households with elderly or disabled people, qualify for food stamps. But Sessions says the asset test is widely ignored by states that allow the asset limit to be exceeded if a person receives other welfare benefits. He said his amendment would have saved taxpayers $11 billion over 10 years.
“A second Sessions amendment, to prevent states from getting bonuses for increasing registration of food stamp recipients, was also defeated.”
Yesterday’s article added that, “The base bill does save $4.5 billion over 10 years by ending another practice by some 15 states of giving low-income people as little as $1 dollar a year in home heating assistance, even when they don’t have heating bills, in order to make them eligible for increased food stamp benefits.
“Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sought to rescind those savings, saying the reduction would result in half-a-million households losing an average $90 in monthly food benefits, but her amendment went down 66-33. Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the heating assistance loophole was ‘undermining the integrity of the program.’”
On the nutrition related votes, The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined in today’s paper that, “It’s true that the recession and feeble recovery have expanded the number of people who need food assistance, but Mr. Sessions’s reforms would have harmed no one who really needs help. His amendments would have saved at most some $20 billion over 10 years, which would still leave some three-quarters of a trillion dollars in outlays.
“Earlier this year, House Republicans passed their own food stamp reform that will save some $34 billion over a decade. That bill will now go to a House-Senate farm bill conference, and perhaps some savings can be salvaged. But the news in the Senate vote is that the political class still isn’t remotely serious about reforming government. The voters are going to have to clean out a lot more spenders in November if they want real change.”
Meanwhile, Chris Clayton reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “The U.S. Senate resoundingly rejected a push to put a $250,000 adjusted gross income means test on people to receive farm-program benefits in the farm bill…[S]en. Rand Paul, R-Ky., proposed the $250,000 AGI test, saying the wealthy should not be receiving farm subsidies. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., countered quickly that the farm bill already had major reforms to income caps. Paul’s amendment failed 15-84 in a recorded vote.
“Senators did adopt an amendment that sets a $75,000 cap on marketing-loan gains for individuals. The amendment, pushed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, passed 75-24.”
Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns was a guest yesterday morning on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the discussion focused on Farm Bill issues.
In part, Sen. Johanns highlighted the importance of crop insurance within the Senate amendment process (audio- MP3- 2:40), and also talked about issues associated with Farm Bill passage and timing (audio- MP3- 1:38).
On the crop insurance issue, Damian Paletta reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “A Senate bill would expand the federal crop-insurance program while eliminating direct subsidy payments to farmers.
“Such an expansion would benefit numerous U.S. insurance companies—as well as several based in Australia, Bermuda and Switzerland that in recent years acquired five of the nine largest U.S. crop-insurance companies.”
The Journal article noted that, “David Graves, manager and secretary of American Association of Crop Insurers, said both foreign and U.S. firms retain the bulk of their earnings from the program domestically.
“‘Ninety-nine percent of the money goes to…U.S. citizens living in the United States, working in the United States, paying United States taxes,’ he said.”
“Farmers say insurance enables them to rebound after unexpected weather or price fluctuations. They also say that with more than 250 million acres of farmland insured, the program helps keep food prices lower than otherwise. Larry Flohr, a wheat farmer in Nebraska, said crop insurance lets farmers invest in equipment and take out loans to plant and harvest crops,” the Journal article said.
Farm Bill: Consideration of Other Senate Amendments
Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Sen. Jim DeMint’s [R., S.C.] push to end mandatory or compulsory checkoffs failed in a 20-79 vote…DeMint also garnered only 14 votes for an amendment that would have prevented USDA from offering federal loan guarantees.”
“Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., won a vote to require a study on determining the feasibility of offering crop-insurance policies that provide coverage for specialty crops involving food-safety issues.”
“By late afternoon, senators also had passed an amendment By Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to provide $150 million in mandatory funding to rural development, including $85 million over five years for beginning farmer and rancher programs.”
Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “The conservation community will be watching some amendments set to come up, including one to eliminate the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“Some agricultural ag-conservation groups sent a letter asking senators to support amendment 2438 by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The amendment would tie conservation compliance to eligibility for the crop-insurance premium subsidy.”
Several updates posted yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog by Daniel Strauss included information on a variety of amendments considered by the Senate.
Mr. Strauss indicated that, “The Senate began consideration of 73 farm bill amendments on Tuesday, one of which established an Office of Tribal Relations…The amendment to the farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240), is sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). The amendment was passed by voice vote…The Senate voted down an amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), 38-61, aimed at improving value-added grants for agricultural producers.”
A separate update by Mr. Strauss noted that, “…[T]he Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) calling on studies of food safety recalls…The Senate also voted down an amendment by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that eliminated a cost share assistance program for organic food.”
Mr. Strauss added yesterday that, “The chamber also approved an amendment by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) on increasing the frequency of dairy reporting and one by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) meant to incentivize using certain crops for school meals. Cantwell’s amendment was approved 58 to 41 and Casey’s was approved 73 to 26.
“An amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that would enforcing states use certain federal payments for food stamps only was approved by voice vote as well.”
Mr. Strauss also noted that, “The Senate voted down an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that would have maintained the current funding levels for programs in rural areas that provide access to broadband telecommunications…The vote on the farm bill amendment on Tuesday was 45 to 54.”
“The chamber did, however, approve four amendments by voice Tuesday evening. Sen. Kay Hagan’s (D-N.C.) amendment aimed at making crop insurance more accessible, DeMint’s amendment expressing the sense of the Senate’s disapproval if the farm bill interferes ‘with the free market,’ Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) amendment extending emergency loan eligibility for commercial fishermen and Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) amendment modifying a section of the farm bill on rural development all passed.”
And, Mr. Strauss pointed out that, “A farm bill amendment repealing a catfish inspection program was approved Tuesday…The amendment, introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) was approved by voice vote.”
Meanwhile, Todd Neeley reported yesterday afternoon at DTN that, “The U.S. Senate will consider competing farm bill amendments that address the EPA’s use of flyovers to conduct Clean Water Act surveillance on agriculture operations, including primarily feedlots.
“One amendment would outright ban the process and another would allow EPA to continue the practice under certain circumstances.”
“Because the proposed amendments are considered to be non-germane to the farm bill both will require 60 votes to pass,” Mr. Neeley noted.
The DTN article explained that, “According to EPA the agency completed nine flights in Iowa from 2010 to 2012. In Nebraska, there were nine in 2011 and 2012. Region 7 has conducted 16 individual flights since the region began performing flights in 2010.
“According to EPA’s answers, two more flights were scheduled in each Nebraska and Iowa in 2012.
“As of June 1, EPA Region 7 has taken enforcement actions at animal feeding operations where aerial photographs were taken. Aerial photos were used in 25 compliance orders in Iowa and just four in Nebraska. In addition, there were eight penalty orders in Iowa and two in Nebraska, while six warning letters were issued in Iowa and eight in Nebraska.”
With respect to animal agriculture, The Kansas City Star editorial board noted yesterday that, “Leaders of the U.S. Senate chickened out this week. Yielding to paranoia from beef and pork producers, they nixed a bipartisan amendment that would lead to more humane treatment for the hens that produce most of the eggs consumed by Americans.
“Hopes for the measure now reside with the House, which is considering a similar amendment to the new farm bill. Passage there could encourage the Senate to reassess an opportunity to improve the nation’s food supply.”
And, Sarah Muirhead reported earlier this week at Feedstuffs Online that, “Drive-in chain giant Sonic Corp. is the latest to announce plans to phase in a pork supply chain free of gestation stalls.
“‘Sonic is actively working to eliminate gestation crates from its pork supply chain, and intends to reach that goal no later than 2022, although is working toward 2017, the timeframe several large pork producers have set to be fully-transitioned to group housing,’ the company said. ‘Sonic will continue to favor suppliers that raise hogs in a gestation crate-free environment in addition to suppliers that can provide audit and tracking reports for sourcing crate-free pork.’”
Farm Bill: House Perspective, Rep. Collin Peterson
Yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program from the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) included a report by Mike Hergert that contained perspective on the Senate Farm Bill action from House Ag. Comm. Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.).
An RRFN summary noted that, “Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, who serves as the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, is pleased to see the farm bill action in the upper chamber. ‘I’m not on board with everything they’re doing over there, but my position is I don’t really care too much what’s even in the bill as long as they get a bill out of the Senate,’ Peterson told RRFN, ‘We’ll fix it in conference.’”
A clip from yesterday’s Agriculture Today program featuring remarks from Rep. Peterson, where he also discussed nutrition funding, can be heard here (MP3- 1:43).
A news update yesterday from the House Appropriations Committee stated that, “The House Appropriations Committee today approved the fiscal year 2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The legislation funds several important and necessary government programs and services, including food safety, animal and plant health, rural development and farm services, and nutrition programs. In total, the legislation includes $19.4 billion in discretionary funding – a cut of $365 million below last year’s level and a cut of $1.7 billion below the President’s budget request.”
An amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) that was adopted as part of the legislation yesterday, “…[P]rohibits funding to provide farm program benefits to individuals or entities with adjusted gross incomes of more than $250,000. The amendment was adopted on voice vote.”
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “House Republican appropriators on Tuesday voted to cut funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which is charged with enforcing President Obama’s signature financial reform law.
“The Appropriations Committee is providing $180 million for the CFTC, far less than the $308 million the Obama administration wants in order to implement the Dodd-Frank law. The funding level in 2012 was $205 million and the Senate is on track to provide $308 million.”
Separately, Mr. Wasson also noted yesterday that, “House Republican appropriators on Tuesday unveiled a 2013 spending bill with deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The bill cuts the EPA by $1.4 billion, about 17 percent, compared to current funding. The GOP points out that this brings the EPA below fiscal 1998 levels.
“Overall the newly revealed 2013 Interior and Environment bill has $28 billion in funding – a cut of $1.2 billion below 2012 levels.”
Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Canada on Tuesday became the second nation in two days to receive the go-ahead to join talks on an Asia-Pacific trade deal.
“Canada and Mexico, which got the nod on Monday, have been pressing for entry into the discussions over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) while trying to meet the requirements set by the group.”