FarmPolicy

August 20, 2019

Farm Bill Issues

Categories: Farm Bill

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Speaker John Boehner begged off making any immediate decision Thursday on when — or if — a new farm bill will be brought to the House floor before Congress leaves for the August recess.  [Note: a video replay of yesterday’s press briefing with Speaker Boehner is available here, while relevant clips regarding the Farm Bill can be heard here (MP3- 0:23) and here (MP3- 1:04)].

“The timing is crucial if the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are to have any hope of negotiating a final package before the current farm program expires Sept. 30. And Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) told POLITICO a drought now hitting big stretches of the Midwest only increases the urgency.

“‘There’s a need to move before the Sept. 30th deadline,’ Roberts said, adding that he is skeptical of shortcuts like extending the current law until after the elections.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “Much about the Republican legislative schedule this month has had more to do with political messaging than substance. Time constraints would appear to be less a reason for delay of the farm bill than the leadership’s fear that the debate will anger the tea party wing and fracture the GOP conference.

“Boehner, who once served on the agriculture panel, was complimentary Thursday of the work done by the current chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) but clearly wants more time to assess the next step.

“‘He’s never said, ‘By God I’m not going to do it,’’ Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R- Ga.) said of his own conversations with the speaker about scheduling the farm bill. ‘He’s going to give serious consideration to it, I know that,’ Chambliss told POLITICO. ‘But he hasn’t made any decision.’”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Boehner’s choices are not simple. The House floor debate could indeed be messy, but to do nothing would mean walking away from farm states months before the November elections. Despite Roberts’ reservations, a short term extension of the current farm law is being considered. But this also flies in the face of the fact that there is bipartisan support for a more comprehensive approach, including reforms that would end the current costly system of direct cash payments to producers.”

Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Boehner criticized ‘Soviet-style’ elements of the bill and gave no commitment it would reach the House floor.

“Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday criticized elements of a sweeping farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee and said ‘no decisions’ have been made about bringing it to the House floor.”

The article added that, “‘There are some good reforms in this farm bill, and there are other parts that I have concerns with,’ he said when asked to elaborate on his views about the legislation. ‘We’ve got a Soviet-style dairy program in American today, and one of the proposals in the farm bill would actually make it worse.’”

Ben Terris reported yesterday at National Review Journal [corrected 7.13] Online that, “When pressed several times about whether the legislation now heads to the floor, or if it will hit the floor before the August recess, Boehner only repeatedly said that he has not decided.”

Jack Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “Publicly, Speaker John Boehner has been coy about bringing the farm bill to the floor — it would be messy, aides say, pitting regional and ideological interests against one another other in an election year. Officially, Boehner said ‘no decisions have been made’ about if and when to bring it to the floor.

Behind the scenes, the plan is far clearer.

The committee’s product won’t see the light of day. Instead, Republicans are likely to try to extend the current farm policy that they’ve consistently decried as broken. And they won’t even do it this month, GOP aides say — they’ll likely wait until September.”

Yesterday’s article indicated that, “The reality is that GOP leaders are worried about a messy floor fight over divisive regional policies months before voters head to the ballot boxes. Odd couples could abound: The far left and far right would likely vote against the bill on the floor, the former thinking the bill cuts too much from food stamps, the latter insisting cuts aren’t deep enough. There’s also division over how much the government should be subsidizing the farm industry and whether it should control commodity prices. Arguing complex farm policy on the House floor in this political climate gives many Republican members pause.

“If the House can’t pass a bill, then it would go into negotiations with the Senate with a weak negotiating stance.”

Mr. Sherman added that, “And that’s why this will be another chapter of griping from the rank and file about the leadership. Rural lawmakers, whose districts are dotted with farms and cattle, have long been talking about their desire to reform the nation’s agricultural policy. Not to mention that the droughts that have swept through the Midwest could add pressure to move on this legislation.

“Now, they’ll likely have to grit their teeth and vote to extend current policy. And that will come only after rural lawmakers go home for all of August and face questions about why the bill hasn’t been debated on the House floor.”

Ron Nixon, writing in today’s New York Times, pointed out that, “Patrick Westhoff, professor of agriculture at the University of Missouri and director of the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute there, said it was not unusual for a farm bill to be delayed.

“In recent decades, he said, only one farm law, in 2002, passed on time.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported yesterday that, “But the House [Ag] committee’s [Farm Bill] vote also opened the possibility of direct talks between the House and Senate agriculture panels on a compromise bill that could be presented to the full House later as a completed package. That’s what happened recently with a two-year highway bill that had divided House Republicans.”

In an interview on C-SPAN Wednesday, Roll Call writer Philip Brasher elaborated on the proposition of bypassing the House floor – related audio here (MP3- 1:27).

Nonetheless, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “[House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.)] added that there is little else right now in the House pipeline to compete with the farm bill, so there aren’t many excuses not to bring up the legislation before the August recess. Along with that, Peterson said he doesn’t think Republicans could forego a real floor debate and take the farm bill directly to conference talks.

“‘I don’t see any way (House Speaker John) Boehner could do that,’ Peterson said. ‘I don’t see how he is going to convince his people he is going to bypass the floor.’”

And, in a statement yesterday, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) indicated that, “Now that the House Agriculture Committee has acted, House leadership should swiftly bring this bill to the floor.  American agriculture supports more than 16 million jobs across the nation and represents a bright spot in our economy.  With droughts and weather disasters plaguing America’s agriculture economy, failure to pass a Farm Bill or passing a short-term extension would add even more uncertainty and stress onto American farm families and small businesses.

“Letting current farm policy expire and reverting back to the policy of the 1940s or kicking the can down the road with a short-term extension will not only hurt our economy, it will also mean a lost opportunity to enact major reforms in farm policy and substantial spending cuts.”

A statement yesterday from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated that, “Unfortunately, the bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee contains deep cuts in SNAP, including a provision that will deny much-needed food assistance to 3 million Americans, mostly low-income working families with children as well as seniors. The proposed cuts will deny 280,000 children in low-income families access to school meals and reduce farm income across rural America.”

Secretary Vilsack was also 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).

Sec. Vilsack noted that, “The key question now is whether or not House leadership will allow it to get on the floor before September 30th so we can get into a conference and work out the differences between the two bills, between the Senate bill that’s passed and the House Ag bill.”

Later in the discussion, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “As far as my personal role, I’m going to continue to advocate for floor action. Here’s the deal. It doesn’t make any difference what the Senate has done and it doesn’t make any difference what the House Ag committee has done unless there is a bill coming out of the House and unless there’s a conference committee to work out differences.

“And given the drought situation, given the fact that livestock producers have no protection whatsoever, because disaster programs expired last year, even an extension of the existing farm bill, 2008 Farm Bill, is not going to provide assistance and help to those livestock producers that are scratching their heads trying to figure out what they’re going to do. And we need to make sure that we recognize – this year is a good reminder – that there needs to be a strong safety net for producers.

“And obviously there are differences between the House and the Senate. I think those differences can be worked out. They will need to be worked out. But you can’t work them out unless there’s a House bill and a Senate bill. It just comes down to House leadership understanding and appreciating how important this is to rural America. And if it doesn’t get done, I think that sends a very strong message to folks in rural communities about what the priorities are in Congress. And I would certainly hope, given the sacrifice and contribution that rural Americans make to the entire country, that every member of Congress would see this as a priority.”

In more specific news about the House Ag Committee markup earlier this week, Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “In a shot against state ballot initiatives on agricultural production standards, the committee adopted an amendment that prevents states from denying the trade of an agricultural product from another state based on its means of production.

“Committee members got into the details of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution and the way it may be usurped by state ballot initiatives on issues such as pork gestation or egg production. The amendment goes after the spreading use of such state ballot measures.

“Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who introduced the amendment, characterized it as a ‘protect interstate commerce amendment’ by prohibiting states from regulating the means of production over a particular farm product. King cited issues such as pork production, eggs and cages for hens and expressed concern that states adopting such laws on production standards would restrict shipping of those products from other states.”

Speaking on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, Senior Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, Mary Kay Thatcher,  indicated that the King Amendment was “the Amendment of the Farm Bill yesterday.”  To listen to a portion of Ms. Thatcher’s remarks on this issue from yesterday’s AgriTalk show, just click here (MP3- 1:27).

To listen to the full discussion leading up to the vote on the King Amendment that took place Wednesday night during the House Ag Committee markup, just click here (MP3- 23:00).  The clip includes remarks from Reps. Steve King (R., Iowa), Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.), Dennis Cardoza (D., Calif.), Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), Mike Conaway (R., Tex.), and Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.).

The audio clip is a bit lengthy, but the discussion regarding the King Amendment was interesting and educational.

Meanwhile, with respect to nutrition issues, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) slammed the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thursday for reportedly conducting an aggressive outreach campaign to increase the number of people on food stamps, and said news of this campaign means Congress needs to look more closely at federal food aid programs.”

A Daily Caller article from yesterday reported that, “The government has been targeting Spanish speakers with radio ‘novelas’ promoting food stamp usage as part of a stated mission to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.”

A news release yesterday from Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) stated that, “In response to news reports that USDA is encouraging increased participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through Spanish soap operas, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding a full accounting of the scope and effectiveness of taxpayer funded promotional campaigns on the SNAP program.”

On yesterday’s AgriTalk show, Mike Adams asked Sec. Vilsack, “We’ve learned that USDA is advertising in some states to try to reach out to people eligible for food stamps that are not on the program. What are your thoughts on – is that a good use of money to go out and be advertising to get more people on the program?”

Sec. Vilsack stated that, “Well, here’s the problem, Mike. First of all, you’ve got to take a look at who is benefiting from this program. This is not a circumstance and situation where the vast majority of people who are benefiting are not working or not paying their dues or playing by the rules. These are senior citizens, people with disabilities, and working men and women. Ninety-two percent of the folks receiving SNAP benefits are in those categories – seniors, people with disabilities, children of working families and moms and dads who are actually in the workforce.

“This is a tough economy for many, many people, and so we need to help them get through this difficult time. And so it’s important for folks to know about the programs, know where to be able to sign up for the programs if they’re struggling. If they’re recently unemployed, this may be a new experience for them. So I think it is appropriate for us to make sure that folks know about the program.

“And again, I think there is a feeling out there that all the people receiving SNAP benefits are not working and not trying, and not playing by the rules, when the vast, vast majority of people are actually in the category of people who play by the rules and are just struggling through a tough time.”

In other developments, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The U.S. House Agriculture Committee challenged two crop insurance reforms approved by the Senate, creating another farm-bill dispute with time running out to enact the new law.”

Mr. Abbott explained that, “Senators voted, 52-47, to require farmers to practice conservation to qualify for federally subsidized crop insurance.

“They voted 66-33 to reduce the premium subsidy available to operators with more than $750,000 adjusted gross income a year.”

The Reuters article added that, “Both were backed as reforms that would save money and prevent erosion.

But Agriculture Committee leaders decided neither step merited inclusion in their bill and no one suggested adding them. Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, said there was no support for the ideas: ‘We listened to our people.’”

Also yesterday, USDA’s Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy was a guest on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the discussion focused on crop insurance within the context of this year’s drought conditions (unofficial transcript here,  audio replay here).

In other Farm Bill news, Agricultural Economists Gary Schnitkey and Carl Zulauf penned an update yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Price Loss Coverage in the House Discussion Bill and Acreage Decisions”) which noted that, “The House Agriculture Committee released a discussion draft of the 2012 Farm Bill, which is further described here. This draft includes a target price program called Price Loss Coverage (PLC), a different approach from revenue options in the Senate Farm Bill. If the House Discussion Bill becomes law, farmers will be able to choose between PLC and Revenue Loss Coverage, essentially a county revenue program similar to the ARC program in the Senate Farm Bill. Herein PLC is described. Parameters of the House Bill cause estimated payments from PLC to be higher for wheat, rice, and peanuts than for corn and soybeans, potentially impacting acreage decisions.”

And, Bloomberg writer Jack Kaskey reported yesterday that, “A U.S. House committee advanced a bill today that would accelerate approval of genetically modified crops from Monsanto Co. and other seed makers by limiting environmental reviews and setting decision time limits.

“The provisions, part of a farm-policy overhaul approved 35-11 by the House Agriculture Committee, would limit the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider most environmental laws in determining the safety of new biotech crops. The crops would be approved automatically if no decision is made within 18 months.”

Keith Good

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