Farm Bill Issues
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the discussion focused on the Farm Bill (unofficial transcript here, audio replay here).
In part, Chairman Lucas indicated that, “Well, Mike, everything now, at this point, that adds to the schedule makes the farm bill process more complicated. I’m not surprised that the majority leader has announced that we will have a vote on repealing Obamacare. I think pretty much the issue is understood in the House and the lines are clearly drawn. The body that passed this when Speaker Pelosi was in charge is a body now under Speaker Boehner that will vote to repeal it…[i]t makes the farm bill process more complicated, but I’m not sure, Mike, you could have made the farm bill process any less complicated the way things have been going lately.”
In commenting on the Senate passed Farm Bill, Chairman Lucas pointed out that, “We will continue the effort at saving. They basically come up with $23 billion in savings, or cuts, however you want to describe it. We’ll have to achieve a bit more than that in the United States House, probably 30 some billion, but we’ll see how the numbers come together in the committee markup. We will have a form of their crop revenue assurance program, the shallow loss stuff. We may kick it in in a slightly different way. But in addition to that, we’ll have to have something that they don’t have, and that is give producers an option at some kind of a reference price proposal giving Southern plains and Southern crops, outside of, perhaps, what many people think of in the corn and bean area, a second choice in policy options to create them a safety net.”
With respect to funding allocations for nutrition programs, Chairman Lucas stated that, “One of the differences will be on the House definition of reforming SNAP, the food stamp nutrition program. We think, and I suspect when the final draft and the CBO scores are numbered together, Mike, you’ll see the base draft have savings in the nutrition title very similar to the dollar amounts over on the commodity title, probably somewhere in that $14, $15 billion range when the numbers are all added up.
“But also remember that’s a little bit… You need to look at the underlying numbers. Since we spend about 80%, at the current time, of all farm bill spending on the feeding programs – school lunch, SNAP, WIC, whatever – even if you save $15 billion there, say, and you achieve a $15 billion savings in the commodity title, commodity, conservation, rural development ag research, everything else is only about 20%, it still means that the part of the bill that raises the food and fiber takes the biggest hit. We’ll see if our nutrition activists want to acknowledge that.”
Chairman Lucas also commented on issues associated with timing in yesterday’s AgriTalk interview, stating that, “I’m going to start this process on the 11th of July, working with my colleague, Ranking Member Peterson, on the committee markup. Hopefully, we can hold a comprehensive, balanced, equitable bill together that achieves the savings that will be necessary to get the attention of my colleagues on the floor of the House. Once we’ve done our work, and I hope that will be in a few days, not a long time, but a very…a short but intense period of time, then I turn my focus to my elected leadership.
“The majority floor leader is responsible for floor time. It doesn’t matter whose side is in control. In the system in the United States House, the floor leader controls the floor time, access to the floor. The Speaker, of course, has a little influence over that process. I and my colleagues will begin to work the leadership hard for floor time. They want to do the appropriation bills as they have tax issues out there, potentially healthcare issues out there. There are a variety of things.
“But what I will say to my leadership is I’ve got a balanced, fair bill, I believe I’ll have a bill that represents bipartisan support as we leave the committee, give me floor time. I don’t care if it’s 8:00 in the morning, or if it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, or if it’s ten minutes till midnight, just give me time, and my committee time to go to the floor and make our case.”
At the conclusion of yesterday’s AgriTalk discussion, Chairman Lucas noted that, “I have carried for a year a draft copy of an extension in my pocket, which I don’t want to use, but I’m prepared to use if an extension is in the best interests of the folks back home on the farm.”
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The pundits are focusing on House Speaker John Boehner’s, R-Ohio, impasse over whether the bill should be even presented. For example, on Boehner’s right flank, conservative groups of non-ag committee members say they are ready to mobilize against the bill. These include ‘Under the Dome,’ tea party conservatives who insist on calling the legislation the ‘food welfare bill’ and want to stymie it before it ever gets considered and thus avoid even a floor vote.
“‘We’re trying to figure out how to keep this bill from coming to the floor altogether. It would divide the conservative movement in such a deep way right before the election that it could be truly devastating,’ an aide to a conservative member told the press this week. ‘If leadership tries to move the food welfare bill onto the House floor, they’ll have tremendous and sustained problems from conservatives in and out of Washington.’”
The DTN item indicated that, “The difficulty passing a farm bill has not come as a surprise to anyone, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has acknowledged as much in recent interviews. It has long been difficult to see how the debate over the nutrition programs could be avoided, since it accounts for the major share of the approximately $1 trillion in 10-year farm bill spending. Lucas says he will support cuts of about $14 billion to the nutrition programs, more than three times as much as the Senate bill proposes, but, still not enough to appease some Republicans.
“For example, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., a conservative member of the Agriculture Committee, said he anticipates the measure will clear the committee but not before a flurry of amendments to cut more out of food stamp spending. ‘There’s a lot more concern about fiscal issues in the House than there ever has been in the Senate, so we’ll face that head on and have a lot of amendments in committee on the cost of food stamps,’ he said.”
Meanwhile, Denise Ross reported earlier this week at The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.) Online that, “Fiscally conservative tea party members in the U.S. House could sink the farm bill passed last week by a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Tim Johnson said Wednesday.
“‘The farm bill passed by a big bipartisan majority in the Senate. It’s up to the House now to get it done,’ Johnson, D-S.D., told reporters in a conference call. ‘We’ll see if that’s possible or not.’”
Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga noted in an article yesterday that, “In the Senate, Republicans joined with Democrats to easily pass the bill 64-35 on June 21. Don’t expect similar harmony in the House when it gets to work on its version in July.”
And Tom Lutey reported yesterday at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “Days after watching the farm bill sail through the Senate, farm groups are doubtful the House can do the same…There’s a food stamp battle expected when the House takes up the farm bill next month.”
With this background in mind, Randy Koenen indicated in a report on yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program (from the Red River Farm Network -RRFN) that there may be an effort to pass the Farm Bill without it going to the House floor. The Agriculture Today report included analysis from reporter Jerry Hagstrom; to listen to a portion of yesterday’s RRFN program, just click here (MP3- 1:27).
However, Tom Steever reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Representative Kristi Noem of South Dakota says the preferred option in the House is to complete a farm bill and to work out differences with the Senate version. But the GOP House lawmaker concedes that the current measure would be acceptable temporarily.
“‘In light of the fact that a farm bill doesn’t get done, a full extension of the current farm bill for another year would be South Dakota’s best option,’ said Noem, during a conference call with reporters Thursday. ‘The farm bill has worked in South Dakota fairly well; it’s not perfect, but it is much better than going back to 1949 law or ending up with nothing going forward.’
“But even with the growing number of House issues and the late date, Noem maintains confidence that the legislation will be completed.”
In an opinion item this week at The Hill’s Congress Blog, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) stated that, “The first clue this bill was bad news was the enthusiastic reaction from the Obama Administration, which noted that it ‘makes meaningful progress toward the administration’s goals.’ This should be a red flag to anyone paying attention. The administration’s goals include increased ‘flexibility’ in the delivery of international food aid, funding bio-energy programs, and rejecting any reductions in food stamp benefits. Most of those goals have little or nothing to do with helping farmers or encouraging fundamental agriculture research. Simply put, the modern day Farm Bill, as conceived by the Senate, is hardly about farmers anymore. It’s now about welfare.”
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday sent a bill slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the House floor for consideration on a 26-19 vote.
“The bill would cut the EPA budget by $1.4 billion.”
Mr. Wasson added that, “House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said ‘this bill wisely places a limit on big-government excess — cutting funding for programs and agencies that stifle economic growth rather than encourage it — including reducing the EPA’s budget by 17 percent.’
“The bill coming out of subcommittee included riders that limit EPA’s power to expand the scope of Clean Water Act oversight, and prevent the Interior Department from toughening regulation of mountaintop-removal coal mining.”
An update posted yesterday at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) stated that, “The TRCP and other sportsman-conservationists strongly criticized a U.S. House of Representatives bill that would dramatically reduce critical natural resource programs and sharply curtail federal agencies’ abilities to responsibly manage public resources and outdoor opportunities.
“‘This misguided action by the House not only would roll back investments in conservation spending,’ said TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh, ‘it also undermines the foundation of our nation’s conservation policy. The bill wages a full-frontal assault on basic natural resources management measures that will cost us money and jobs, both in the near and long term.’
“Funding levels and policy riders proposed by the House in its fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies would severely reduce operating budgets for agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Environmental Protection Agency.”
Meanwhile, a recent update at Inside EPA noted that, “EPA appears to be opening its use of aerial monitoring of livestock operations for Clean Water Act (CWA) compliance to greater public scrutiny, a move that appears aimed at quelling concern over the practice after an attempt to ban it won majority Senate support but fell short of overcoming a 60-vote threshold during the recent Farm Bill debate.
“The agency’s new approach appears likely to go some way toward satisfying Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), the sponsor of the ban, who said in a statement after the vote that ‘EPA must be honest about this program or cease it entirely, and I will continue pressing for this information on behalf of all concerned farmers and ranchers.’”
A news update yesterday from University of Missouri Extension stated that, “An arid spring brought only 4 inches of rain to Missouri in May and June. Normal rainfall is 10 inches, says a University of Missouri climatologist.
“We have a 6-inch moisture deficit going into what are normally the hottest and drier months of summer, says Pat Guinan with the MU Extension commercial agriculture program.
“In addition to the rain shortage, January-to-June temperatures show the warmest average on record in 118 years. The state continues to set heat records: Third warmest winter, warmest March and warmest spring.”
The update noted that, “‘It’s beginning to look a lot like 1988,’ says Bill Wiebold, MU Extension agronomist.
“Guinan says 1988 was one of the three worst droughts of the last century. That includes the mid-1950s and the dust bowl days of the 1930s.”
A look at the U.S. Drought Monitor is available here.
University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey noted yesterday at the farmdoc daily Blog (“Grain Farm Income Prospects Given Drought Conditions in 2012”) that, “Low corn and soybean yields are increasingly likely as hot, dry weather is forecast to continue over much of the corn-belt during the critical corn pollination period. Lower yields then lead to questions about grain farm incomes in 2012. Grain farm incomes likely will be above projections made in winter of 2012, assuming that crop prices increase if crop yields are below trend-line levels. However, some farms will suffer losses. Farms that did not purchase crop insurance could face losses. Also, grain farms that have hedged a great deal of expected production could have lower incomes than those farms that have not pre-harvest hedged as much grain.”