September 18, 2019

Farm Bill; Animal Ag; Ag Economy; and, Trade

Farm Bill Issues: Focus on the House

Late last week, Pete Kasperowicz reported at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House next week is expected to take up two bills that would continue the GOP’s trend of seeking cuts to 2013 spending levels.

“The Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bill, H.R. 5972; [while], “the second spending bill would fund the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and related agencies. This bill, H.R. 5973, spends $19.4 billion, a $365 million cut from current levels.”

The Hill update, which was posted on Friday morning, added that, “GOP leaders have indicated that both of these bills will be up next week — the House has already approved four of the 12 annual spending bills, and approving these two next week would bring the House to the halfway mark before the July 4 break.”

However, David Rogers reported on Friday afternoon at Politico that, “Having delayed a farm bill markup in deference to an agriculture appropriations bill due on the floor next week, the House Republican leadership confirmed Friday that the $19.4 billion appropriations measure isn’t likely to come up either before the July Fourth recess.

“Instead Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has assigned the first slot to a transportation appropriations bill which will be called up Tuesday night. Given the press of other legislation—and some annual social events for lawmakers—both the leader’s office and the Appropriations Committee signaled that it is unlikely the agriculture measure will make it to the floor before the holiday.

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) was described as unfazed. But just days ago, Cantor asked him to delay any action on the farm bill precisely because of the conflict. Why the leader didn’t follow through and schedule the agriculture appropriations first next week is unclear. But it is sure to feed into doubts that he and top GOP leaders really want to move on a farm bill this summer at all.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “Cantor’s office insists that is not the case and he is not saying ‘no’ to a farm bill this year. But his top advisers admit too that they were taken by surprise this week when the Senate completed its farm bill with bipartisan support…‘[R]egardless of how the schedule progresses next week, we have assurances from leadership that House consideration of the [agriculture appropriations] bill will not interfere with our scheduled farm bill markup on July 11,’ said a spokesperson for the chairman.”

A separate update Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog reported that, “Next week may go down as the busiest of the year in Washington, as the Supreme Court’s long-anticipated ruling on the healthcare law is expected just as the House will vote on a resolution holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, and as Congress faces two key deadlines related to the highway bill and student loan interest rates.”

Links to the weekly and daily House floor schedules can be viewed at this webpage.

Meanwhile, in an interview Friday morning on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed some Farm Bill issues, and with respect to timing, he noted that, “When Leader Cantor suggested that he’s got the finger on the pause button, I am hoping he takes his finger off the pause button because I don’t want to have to put mine on the panic button.”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “I [Clayton] asked Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on a press call Friday what was the likelihood of some key amendments added to the farm bill making it through conference negotiations with the House. He said the best indicator was to simply look at how many members of the Senate Agriculture Committee backed any particular amendment that passed. Harkin’s comment suggest at least two key changes made to the farm bill on the Senate floor won’t survive the conference talks.”

Yesterday’s update explained that, “Reading the roll-call votes on amendments adopted that affect federal programs for farmers, here is a breakdown of how members of the Senate Agriculture Committee sided:

“Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., got 66 senators to back their amendment #2439 to shave 15% of the premium subsidy for farmers with an average adjusted gross income in excess of $750,000. Of the 33 votes against the amendment, 14 were members of the Agriculture Committee.

“The ‘no’ votes on Coburn-Durbin included Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and committee ranking member, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. That’s a strong indication that without similar language coming out of the House, Coburn-Durbin is unlikely to make the cut.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “On Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., amendment, #2438, the vote was a narrow 52-47 to require farmers to stay in compliance with conservation soil erosion standards in order to be eligible for crop-insurance premium subsidies. Twelve members of the Ag Committee voted against it, 7 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Both Stabenow and Roberts also voted against the Chambliss amendment.”

After additional analysis, the DTN update noted that, “A full breakdown of roll-call votes on the bill can be found at…

Brad Dokken indicated yesterday at the Grand Forks Herald (ND) Online that, “The Farm Bill that the U.S. Senate passed Thursday has drawn positive reviews from conservation groups. The big question now is whether the House version of the wide-ranging farm legislation will be as friendly to conservation.

“Given recent House actions, such as a bill passed Wednesday by a House subcommittee to cut the North American Wetlands Conservation Act by more than $13 million, I wouldn’t bet the farm on a bill with the same commitment to conservation.”

Mr. Dokken added that, “That’s only speculation, though, because the House hasn’t released its version of the bill.

“One thing’s for sure: Conservation groups will be ramping up the pressure on the House as it prepares its version of the Farm Bill.”

Other news articles have included reaction to the Senate passed Farm Bill from House lawmakers.

Agri-Pulse reported late last week that, “[Chairman of the House Ag General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee] Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, had harsher words for the Senate Farm Bill, which had difficulty gathering southern support over regional differences in the commodity title and crop insurance programs.

“‘It lacks regional balance by providing new entitlements for only a handful of farmers in selected states, while freezing out all other commodities from any sort of safety net,’ Conaway said. However a fellow Republican Texan, [and House Ag. Comm. Member] Rep. Randy Neugebauer, said he anticipates changes to the Senate bill, but appreciates ‘the leadership from Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts to move this legislation forward, and I’m pleased that my Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) on crop insurance was included in their bill.’”

Ben Terris and Kelsey Snell noted last week at National Journal Online that, “‘One thing missing in the Senate farm bill, and that’s actually an attempt to get at where most of the spending is at,’ said [House Ag. Comm. Member] Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. ‘We certainly have billions of dollars spent on people who do not qualify for food stamps, and only in Washington, D.C., could they say that’s not fraudulent.’”

An update Friday at KXLH-TV (Helena, Mont.) noted that, “Now that the [Farm] bill is headed to the House, [Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R., Mont.)] says he would like to see some things changed.

“‘Time and again the Obama Administration and their Senate allies have demonstrated how little they understand the challenges folks in Montana face on farms and ranches. The Farm Bill actually spends more on food stamps for urban populations than supporting our family farms,’ Rehberg says.”

Carolyn Lochhead reported on Friday at the San Francisco Chronicle Online that, “The Senate’s passage Thursday of a nearly $1 trillion farm bill with bipartisan support presented House Republicans and their antideficit Tea Party faction with a huge spending bill that subsidizes large corn and other commodity farmers while spending record sums on food stamps.

The House Agriculture Committee delayed consideration of its version until after Congress returns from its recess July 11. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., ordered a slowdown to assess the political ramifications. The House Republican majority includes several lawmakers from rural states whose championship of farm subsidies has often trumped their claims of fiscal austerity.”

The article pointed out that, “Food stamps consume about 80 percent of the Senate bill’s $969 billion cost over the coming decade. Food stamp spending has doubled since 2008 as a result of the recession, with about 1 in 7 Americans receiving assistance.”

Kevin Woster reported on Friday at the Rapid City Journal (S.D.) Online that, “The House could be in a less-conciliatory mood, however. Conservative Republicans in particular are geared up to challenge the costs of the bill, particularly for the nutrition provisions, known as the food stamp program.

“The program, which accounts for about 80 percent of farm bill costs, has seen increased use and outlays in recent years. The widely used nutrition program will cost about $770 billion over 10 years under the Senate bill.”

Art Hovey reported on Thursday at the Lincoln Journal Star (Neb.) Online that, “Attention now shifts to the House, where bipartisanship may be more elusive and where budget cutting might be deeper.”

Arkansas GOP Representative and Ag Committee Member Rick Crawford indicated last week that, “Unfortunately, the Senate Farm Bill passed today takes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to agricultural production, and applies a Midwest insurance risk-management model to the entirety of U.S. agriculture. The House Farm Bill must be fair to every region of the United States – not just a single region.”

A news release last week from House Ag Committee Member Peter Welch (D., Vt.) stated that, “Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch Thursday hailed Senate passage of a 5-year Farm Bill that includes a new risk-management-based safety net to help dairy farmers pummeled by wild price swings in milk prices.

The bill includes an entirely new approach, advocated by Leahy, Sanders and Welch, to help stabilize the dairy industry, which has been rocked by volatile and unmanageable price shifts in recent years.”


Farm Bill: Senate Postscript

Friday’s Agriculture Today radio program from the Red River Farm Network included a report by Mike Hergert featuring remarks on the Senate passed Farm Bill (audio– MP3- 1:25) from Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.).  The report noted that Sen. Hoeven was already working to get the conservation compliance tie to crop insurance eliminated in conference.

Senate Ag. Comm. Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) noted yesterday at the Wichita Eagle Online that, “I fought for a farm bill to move our farm programs away from subsidies and toward a safety net that helps producers when they need assistance. We streamlined and eliminated programs where necessary. This bill is indeed reform and progress.”

The New York Times editorial board opined today that, “The farm bill approved by the Senate last week makes significant changes in existing farm programs, some for the better. But it takes a disproportionate whack from environmental programs, needlessly trims food stamps and does not fundamentally alter the program’s bias toward relatively well-off growers of big crops like corn, wheat and soybeans…[W]hen the House gets around to producing a bill, it is likely to be no less generous to big farmers and even stingier on food stamps and conservation. Any such cuts must be resisted.”

Animal Agriculture

The editorial board at the Iowa City Press Citizen indicated on Friday that, “When it comes to regulating commercial livestock operations, it’s highly usual to find any common ground on the treatment of the animals when talking simultaneously to representatives of the industry and to representatives of the humane community…[B]ut when it comes to establishing new minimum standards of care in the egg industry, Congress right now is considering legislation that not only has the backing of the industry (including United Egg Producers, which represents nearly 90 percent of industry), but also the support of animal advocacy groups…”

The opinion item noted that, “It’s been more than 30 years since Congress has passed significant farm animal welfare legislation. This bipartisan bill [The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R.3798)]  — which would improve conditions for more than 270 million animals each year — would be a good place to start.”

And, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D., Calif.) statement for the record on the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 from June 19 is available here.


Agricultural Economy

Mark Peters reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “A year after enduring massive floods, much of the Midwest faces a drought expanding in size and intensity, damaging crops and raising concerns about the threat of fire from fireworks as July 4 approaches.

“Large sections of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas face drought conditions [related graph] after a mild winter, little spring rain and recent scorching temperatures. The National Weather Service predicts drought conditions will persist or even intensify over the next three months in much of the lower Midwest.

“Prices for crops have surged recently on concerns the dry weather will lead to a lower harvests. Corn prices for the coming crop hit their highest level since March, while soybean prices climbed to a nine-month high at the Chicago Board of Trade.”

And Marshall Eckblad, also writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, reported that, “The recent heat wave in the U.S. Midwest has helped lift hog futures out of the mud.

“Lean-hog prices have surged 21% over the past six weeks as scorching temperatures have caused hogs headed for slaughter to carry less weight. Leaner hogs mean less meat per animal and smaller supplies of pork. This has accentuated a seasonal increase in prices that usually happens this time of year.”



Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On The Money Blog that, “Business groups say they feel encouraged that Congress will approve Russian trade legislation before the August recess.

“The groups said the Obama administration will have to work quickly to bridge their differences to pass the legislation, but the groups expressed confidence it would get done.”

Ms. Needham noted that, “‘A lot of progress was made this week,’ said David Thomas, vice president for trade policy, with the Business Roundtable.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill along with trade officials are trying to balance the passage of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for Russia with a push by a broad coalition of lawmakers to link the measure with human rights legislation. The latter bill would withhold visas for Russian officials accused of human rights violations.”

Keith Good

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