FarmPolicy

May 24, 2019

Farm Bill; EPA Issues; and; Trade

Categories: Farm Bill /Trade

Farm Bill: Senate Overview

Paul Kane reported in today’s Washington Post that, “To the purported short­list of certainties in life — death and taxes — add large, bipartisan support in the Senate for the farm bill.

“Despite the pattern in recent years of intense partisan acrimony, backroom bickering and publicly staged fights over nearly every piece of legislation, the Senate has begun to plod through a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that is likely to get a bipartisan vote for its approval by week’s end.”

The Post article noted that, “Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate, said the chamber can still function if the Democrats in charge allow it to happen. The farm bill is the latest in a string of measures that went through what insiders call ‘regular order’ — a committee drafted a bill over several months, sent it to the larger Senate and, after haggling, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to allow a few dozen amendments.”

And, Manu Raju reported earlier this week at Politico that, “No, Reid and [Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.)] aren’t about to solve the nation’s fiscal problems and announce a historic tax and spending agreement. But on a wide range of issues before the Senate, the chamber has been functioning on a surprising level lately.

“The Senate leaders cut a massive deal to move forward with a farm bill — and allow votes on more than 70 amendments, some of which are fairly controversial.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Strauss reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate completed consideration on 63 of 73 amendments to an agricultural farm bill on Wednesday [summary of amendments here].

“Wednesday’s votes indicates a strong possibility that the bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S.3240), will pass the Senate Thursday… [T]he Senate will proceed to vote on the last ten amendments on Thursday and then vote on the amended farm bill, which will have a 60-vote threshold for passage.”

“The Senate resumes consideration of the remaining amendments when it resumes at 10:30 on Thursday,” the update said.

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “A vote by the full Senate is expected Thursday afternoon, said the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.

“Southern farmers, especially peanut growers, have opposed the bill because it ends direct payments.  The farmers argue that crop insurance would not provide an adequate safety net for them.

“A number of budget watchdog and environment groups have also opposed the Senate legislation. A major point of contention has been the crop insurance program, which cost about $7.3 billion last year, up from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation.”

 

Farm Bill: Crop Insurance

In a press briefing yesterday with reporters, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted in response to a question about linking conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance that, “Well, first of all, we have fought very hard in the Farm Bill to strengthen the work we’re doing around conservation.  And we have more of a focus on conservation than any farm bill in the past.  And we also do a couple of new things.  First of all, we make sure the commodity title, the new risk management programs that we have, are all tied to conservation compliance.  So there’s a lot of misinformation out there.  Anything in the commodity title: to get a marketing loan, if you’re under the new ARC program, anything in the commodity title is tied to conservation compliance.

And then we made a major step forward with the Sod Saver program to protect native grasslands, which is in crop insurance…What we did not do is take the step totally on crop insurance, primarily because crop insurance is a different kind of entity.  It is a private insurance program that people purchase into so that it is a different approach than what we do when folks are receiving dollars under the commodity title.  And so at this point, you know, crop insurance is fundamentally different, and we did not make that total link.”

On the overall question of crop insurance limits, Chairwoman Stabenow noted at yesterday’s briefing that, “So I am concerned about looking at these limits and what it does to small- and medium-sized farms.  So at this point, we are basically putting the stake in the ground at eliminating four subsidies, moving to crop insurance.  We want farmers to be paying in, sharing the cost, have skin in the game.  And this whole process of change nets over $15 billion in the commodity title in deficit reduction.  And I think that’s important place to be right now, and that we need to be careful about any changes in crop insurance so it won’t undermine what we’re trying to do.”

Daniel Looker reported at Agriculture.com that, “In what could be a historic change of fortune for the nation’s crop insurance industry, the Senate voted Wednesday to link eligibility for coverage to meeting conservation rules, and it approved reducing premium subsidies for farms with adjusted gross income (AGI) above $750,000.

Neither change is law yet, but it will be part of the Senate’s version of a farm bill that’s expected to be finished on Thursday.

“It would be the first time since 1996 that conservation compliance is required to buy crop insurance coverage. The close vote of 52-47 in favor of a conservation compliance amendment offered by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) was followed by a two-thirds vote in favor of the premium subsidy cut for large farms that was backed by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is the assistant majority leader for the Democrats in the Senate.”

Mr. Looker noted that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) spoke passionately against both changes. Programs are in the commodity title already have conservation compliance, he said, and linking compliance to crop insurance would be wasteful duplication. When farmers find out how much extra paperwork will be added to crop insurance, ‘You will have to hide in your office four weeks. Don’t hide in your office, vote no,’ he said [related audio here, MP3- one minute].”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “In one of its last votes Wednesday evening, the Senate approved an amendment to the farm bill by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., which would reduce the taxpayer share of the crop insurance premium by 15% for farm businesses with Adjusted Gross Incomes above $750,000. The amendment, which passed 66-33, would save about $1.1 billion over 10 years. It would affect about 1,500 farm operations nationally.”

Mr. Clayton indicated that, “Rising to oppose the Coburn-Durbin amendment was Agriculture Committee member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who noted the strong opposition of the insurance industry, but also most major farm groups. Roberts, who spoke against a couple of key amendments, said in his own characteristic way that senators would have to hide in their office for weeks on end because of some of their votes on the legislation.

“‘It will impact every single producer in the program,’ Roberts said. ‘Not only those that exceed this arbitrary limit or rich producers. The rest will pay higher premiums when they are out of the program because that’s what happens in an insurance pool. I have no doubt … that under this amendment we will soon return to the days of low crop insurance participation, multi-billion ad-hoc disaster programs, just like the 1990s, $36 billion over 10 years, $11 billion over one year. These are a disaster to plan, to legislate, to implement. If you are for these ad-hoc disaster programs, you will have to hide in your office for six weeks.’”

Yesterday’s DTN update added that, “Coburn also succeeded in a 63-36 vote that people earning $1 million or more in AGI would not be allowed to receive conservation subsidies.”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The farm bill under debate in the Senate would boost the cost of the [crop insurance] program by 5 percent, estimates the Congressional Budget Office, mostly by creating two new insurance plans with higher subsidy rates than usual; 80 percent for cotton and 70 percent for grains and soybeans.

“Importantly, the bill also directs the Agriculture Department not to try to save money by revising terms of business with the industry in the next few years. USDA used that route in 2010, under orders from Congress, to pare $6 billion over 10 years, a move that still rankles the industry.”

Charles Pope reported yesterday at The Oregonian (Portland) Online that, “The big news from the normally lethargic U.S Senate Wednesday is that the chamber is actually voting all day long.

“That’s good news for Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley whose amendment to the farm bill was approved 63-36 by the Senate in one of Wednesday’s first votes.

“His amendment, which makes it easier for organic farmers to get crop insurance, was co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, of Maine.”

 

Farm Bill: Sugar, and other Amendments

The AP reported today that, “The Senate voted Wednesday not to tamper with the Depression-era program that protects U.S. sugar growers as it sped toward completion of a $500 billion bill to operate farm and food programs over the next five years.

“The sugar program, which controls supply levels, sets prices and limits imports, has long been a target of those who say the government supports agribusiness over the interests of consumers.

“But in a 53-46 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment to the farm bill that would have reduced the scope of the program, including eliminating a provision of the 2008 farm bill that required the federal government to buy surplus sugar, which was then sold to ethanol companies at a loss.”

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 approved a farm bill amendment requiring the secretaries of Agriculture and Transportation issue studies on transportation problems in rural areas…[T]he chamber also approved an amendment by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) revising the criteria for an area to be designated ‘rural’ in the U.S. Census. That amendment was approved by voice vote.”

A separate update by Mr. Strauss noted that, “The Senate defeated two amendments by Coburn and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Coburn’s other amendment would have cut funding to the market access program in order to prohibit spending on ‘television shows, wine tastings, animal spa products, and cat or dog food.’ DeMint’s amendment would stop the Secretary of Agriculture from increasing grants to entities that provide broadband access in rural areas.”

Mr. Strauss added yesterday that, “An amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to issue grants promoting the maple syrup industry was approved by the Senate on Wednesday…[J]ust before and just after the Senate approved the maple syrup amendment, it also approved three other amendments by voice vote. The Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) aimed at improving broadband access in rural areas. An amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) modifying a provision in the farm bill on locally produced foods was approved. Sen. John Boozman’s (R-Ark.) amendment aimed at improving research and information dissemination on food and agriculture was approved by voice vote as well…[T]he Senate defeated an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) repealing two federal conservation programs in a vote of 15 to 84. The two programs were the conservation stewardship program and the conservation reserve program.”

And, a press release yesterday from Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) stated that, “Today, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment to S. 3240, the Farm Bill, offered by [Sen. Moran] that will make certain rural communities throughout Kansas remain eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development loan and grant programs. In the absence of this amendment, nearly 1,000 rural communities across the country would have become ineligible for USDA funds due to small increases in population identified by the recent 2010 Census. USDA Rural Development programs help provide affordable single and multi-family housing, finance water and waste loans and grants, and support essential community facilities like hospitals and schools.”

 

Farm Bill: Opinion

The Washington Post editorial board opined today that, “Alas, the elimination of direct payments is not an unmixed blessing for taxpayers. The proposed farm bill before the Senate replaces direct payments with an enhanced system of subsidized crop insurance.”

 

Farm Bill: House

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “With the Senate nearing passage of its farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee abruptly pulled back Wednesday from its long-planned markup next week, amid signs that House Republican leaders want a pause to consider how to proceed this summer.

“House Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told POLITICO that he will move ‘hell or high water’ on a farm bill when lawmakers return after the July 4th recess. But he confirmed the change in plans, which came after discussions with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

“Cantor’s involvement is an ominous sign for farm bill advocates, but his aides insisted that the Virginia Republican was not saying ‘no’ to any House farm bill this summer. Instead, they said the majority leader wanted to ‘push the pause button’ and allow time for some assessment of the political situation.”

The Politico article added that, “Lucas said the changed House schedule is driven too by the fact that floor debate is scheduled next week on a $19.4 billion Agriculture Department appropriations bill that touches on farm programs. After his meeting with Cantor, the chairman agreed that it made sense then to have his committee members on the floor in what could become a preview of the whole farm bill debate.”

An update on the House Agriculture Committee schedule is available here.

Meanwhile, both Chairman Lucas and House Ag. Comm. Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) spoke in separate interviews yesterday with Chuck Zimmerman of AgWired.com.  To listen to each of these conversations from yesterday, just click here.

 

EPA Issues

Jonathan Allen and Erica Martinson reported yesterday at Politico that, “This election year the EPA is toxic.

“The Senate is voting on whether EPA planes can take pictures of farms — after it was mistakenly reported that drones were flying over the heartland. House Republicans want to cut the agency’s funding to pre-1998 levels. And the president has threatened to veto a House bill, due up Wednesday, that would restrict Clean Air Act rules.

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The House GOP on Wednesday advanced a 2013 spending bill with deep cuts and limitations to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The bill cuts EPA by $1.4 billion, about 17 percent, compared to current funding. The GOP points out that this brings the EPA below fiscal 1998 funding.”

And, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and 10 other House Republicans want to prevent the EPA from conducting air surveillance of farms.

“Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and 11 other House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from conducting aerial drone surveillance of farms to enforce the Clean Water Act, or using any other overhead surveillance.”

 

Trade

Vicki Needham, Peter Schroeder and Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The Senate Finance Committee wraps up work Thursday on the prospect of granting Russia permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) following a House Ways and Means hearing on the same issue Wednesday.

“Finance will talk to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on how best to separate or combine complex human-rights issues with the repeal of the obsolete Jackson-Vanik provision.”

The update added that, “Panel Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wants to combine PNTR legislation with the so-called Magnitsky bill, a human-rights bill named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died while in police custody. Th measure would freeze assets and deny U.S. visas to Russian officials linked to human-rights abuses.

“While House Democrats, including Ways and Means ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), are all for it, Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) sided with Kirk and the Obama administration in calling for a clean bill to normalize trade relations.”

Keith Good

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