December 5, 2019

Farm Bill; Budget Issues; Trade; and, the Ag Economy

Farm Bill Issues

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “With farmers rallying at the Capitol Wednesday and the Senate showing no appetite for disaster aid substitutes, divisions are surfacing more among House Republicans over their leadership’s decision to block action on a five-year farm bill.

“Fresh from the summer recess, farm state lawmakers set off what was described as a spirited discussion at Monday’s meeting the GOP whip team, and the echoes continued at a Tuesday session of the full Republican conference.”

The article added that, “Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who has been hurt politically at home by the farm bill impasse, helped to trigger the whips’ discussion. But grayer heads—and traditional team players— backed him up including Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), as well as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

“‘Members had been home. People know the clock’s ticking,’ Cole said of the exchanges. ‘I believe we have a product ready to move,’ he told POLITICO. ‘We have an opportunity to do something that is not partisan. I think we ought to do it.’”

Mr. Rogers indicated that, “Neugebauer said his fellow conservatives demanding still greater cuts from food stamps were missing the point that the nutrition program will continue without change under the continuing resolution to be voted on Thursday, while the existing farm program will begin to unravel if nothing is done before Sept. 30.”

Lucas is keeping a low profile, and following on private talks with the House leadership at the Republican convention in Tampa, the chairman appears resigned to no action on his bill until after the election. Lucas spoke up in the whip’s discussion Monday but has shown no willingness to do more to challenge Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who seems intent on running out the clock until after the election and then pushing for a one year extension of the current farm program,” yesterday’s article said.

The Politico item noted that, “The situation has most infuriated Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. And in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, the Michigan Democrat all but ruled out any action on an interim disaster aid package until the House shows some movement on the larger bill.

“This could pose a real hardship for livestock producers caught in the devastating drought this summer. But Stabenow dismissed the short-term disaster aid bill passed by the House before the August recess as ‘wholly inadequate’ and said she has seen ‘no desire by the House leadership to do anything’ to broaden the coverage.”

Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Chairwoman Stabenow made a presentation on the status of the Farm Bill and the need to get the legislation passed through the House and signed into law.  Near the conclusion of her remarks, former Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) also highlighted the need to get the Farm Bill passed.

Ben Terris reported yesterday at the National Journal Online that, “The House is only scheduled to be in session for about two weeks this month, but that should be plenty of time to move on the farm bill, so says Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

“‘I don’t care if there’s eight days left, we only need a couple in the House to get this done,’ the Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman said Tuesday.  ‘They are going to pass their C.R. this week. What’s more important to do next than a farm bill?’”

Daniel Looker reported yesterday at that, “Stabenow said that if the House passes a farm bill this month, the conference committee could meet in October and both chambers of Congress could vote on final legislation in November.”

Mr. Looker added that, “‘It’s very clear to us that the organizations that represent farmers and ranchers across the country are calling on us to get the job done,’ Stabenow told reporters in a press conference Tuesday.

“She pointed out that leaders of major farm organizations have written the Senate’s majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and its minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging them not to approve a disaster bill passed by the House this summer.  They want the Senate to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives to hold a vote on the farm bill that its ag committee has already passed.”

At Tuesday’s press briefing, Chairwoman Stabenow also noted that if House leadership let the Ag Committee Farm Bill go through regular order, that “the votes are there” for it to pass. “I have been talking to people in the House, I am confident the votes are there if they are willing to do this on a bi-partisan vote,” she said.

If the House passed the bill, Chairwoman Stabenow expressed confidence “that the leadership in the House and Senate Agriculture Committees can get the job done.”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “It may be November before the U.S. Congress completes the new $500 billion U.S. farm bill as lawmakers cannot agree on how much to cut support to farmers or food stamps for the poor.

“‘We’re stuck at the moment,’ said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. ‘All we need is a bill from the House … we could negotiate during October and pass it when we get back in November.’”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “There would be little immediate impact on farmers or commodity markets if the 2008 farm law expires. So long as Congress appears on road to passing a farm bill, the Obama administration could refuse to heed an underlying Depression-era law that limits plantings and sets sky-high support prices.”

Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Peter Cook reported yesterday that, “A one-year extension of current farm law being floated by congressional Republicans is ‘unacceptable,’ Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said.

“‘People who don’t want reform want to kick the can down the road,’ Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. The House leadership, which hasn’t scheduled a vote on a bill approved by its agriculture committee, would only need ‘a couple of days’ to get a measure passed, allowing both chambers to hammer out a final agreement, she said.”

Meanwhile, the “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The top Democrat on House Agriculture, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, told the press that House leaders seem to have dropped the idea of passing a farm bill this year in favor of a one-year extension. He is critical of that decision and suggests that ‘There’s no reason we couldn’t have got this done, in my opinion. For whatever reason, they don’t want to do it. Some on the Republican side have this hope that somehow or another, this is going to get done in the lame duck. I think that’s unlikely.’

Peterson said Lucas hasn’t returned his calls since the Republican National Convention. ‘Something happened where he was told or he decided that we’re going to do an extension and not move the bill. I called him a couple of times and never got a call back.’

“In something of a strange note, Peterson reported that farmers in his western Minnesota district don’t seem to be that worked up about the issue, either. ‘They just kind of figure we’re hopeless, so it’s not a big shock — although, they’d like to see it get done,’ he said.”

An update yesterday at the Marshall Independent (Minn.) Online reported that, “[Rep. Collin] Peterson, the veteran Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District, told the Independent on Monday that he’s been told Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio will probably put the farm bill on hold for this year.

“‘I’m not optimistic right now,’ Peterson said. ‘People out there are trying to stir up support for it, but it just doesn’t seem to be resonating. I get questions about it, but nobody is really strung out about it in my district. I don’t really sense it around the country, either.’”

The article noted that, “Peterson, the ranking member of the House Ag Committee, said a farm bill extension at this time isn’t necessary and would just be kicking the issue into next year. He said it’s more likely the farm bill will be delayed until 2013.

“‘If they put an extension through, the House might pass it but I don’t know if the Senate will,’ said Peterson. ‘I would guess they might not, but it’s very unclear.’”

Humberto Sanchez reported today at Roll Call Online that, “‘We’re at a stage now where it’s been a total failure … of leadership in the House,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after his party’s weekly caucus lunch. ‘Just to walk away from this? And that’s what they’re doing. There is no bill that’s come from the House. Nothing.’

“Reid called on the House to take up the Senate’s [farm] bill, seemingly backing away from the position he took before recess, when he said he would be willing to move a standalone drought aid bill if the House took the Senate’s language.

“A top House Republican aide was ‘highly skeptical’ that the Conference would be able to do anything on farm issues before the elections and unclear on what the House might do on the issue in the lame-duck session.”

The Roll Call article noted that, “When asked about the farm bill Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would prefer an extension to expiration, but he noted that not all Republicans agreed.”

Mr. Sanchez added that, “Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), a member of the Agriculture Committee who voted for the Senate bill, agreed with McConnell.

“‘We need to have some policy in place,’ Thune said. ‘I think allowing it to expire would be a mistake, and I say that as somebody who voted for the farm bill.’

“‘I would like to see a five-year farm bill,’ Thune continued. ‘But in the number of legislative days that are left, it’s unlikely we probably get there. So if we could do something that would provide some disaster, some drought assistance to people who have been impacted by the drought this year, and do an extension of some time frame of the existing farm bill, that would probably be maybe the best solution we could hope for right now.’”

An update yesterday at the Wisconsin Ag Connection Online reported that, “The nation’s top farm official says Wisconsin’s dairy industry has a lot at stake if the current farm bill is allowed to expire without any replacement or extension in place. In an exclusive interview with Wisconsin Ag Connection on Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said his agency is encouraging producers to contact their local members of Congress to let them know the importance of having a new federal farm policy by the end of the month.

“‘I’m deeply concerned for our nation’s farm producers, especially those in the dairy industry, if Congress fails to pass a new farm bill,’ Vilsack said as he speculated that the delay is likely a result of partisan politics rather than lack of time. ‘This legislation was approved by a bipartisan committee, so I don’t understand what the hold up is. I can say with certainty, that if Speaker John Boehner were to hold a vote on the farm bill, he would get the required votes to get it passed. But the question is, why are they not holding the vote?’”

And a statement yesterday from Dairy Farmers of America Senior Vice President John Wilson indicated that, “Today the member owners and employees of Dairy Farmers of America delivered nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to schedule a floor vote on H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012.

“The 2008 authorization bill expires on September 30, 2012, and current domestic dairy programs do not provide farmers with the tools they need to weather extreme volatility in the global market. The bill pending before Congress represents significant compromise and fiscal discipline, and addresses critical needs of the dairy industry.”

An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “On Tuesday, September 11, 30 organizations including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership delivered a letter to Congress rejecting the notion that cuts to farm bill conservation funding should be used to pay for short-term disaster assistance.”

Also, an update earlier this week at the NSAC Blog, “Continuing Resolution Would Stop Key Conservation Programs in 2013,” discussed conservation issues and the proposed House continuing resolution.


Budget Issues

Corey Boles and Damian Paletta reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress appears on track to avert a politically perilous fight over a government shutdown, but the top House Republican said Tuesday he has little confidence that lawmakers will be able to prevent an economically damaging combination of tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect in the new year.

“House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) expressed his skepticism just hours after Moody’s Investors Services said Tuesday that it could downgrade the U.S. government’s Aaa credit rating next year unless policy makers take steps to slow the rise of government debt. The ratings firm said that if Congress were unable to strike a deal on large-scale deficit-reduction measures next year, the government would lose its top-notch rating.”

The Journal article noted that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said he was ‘optimistic’  that after the election, the parties could come together and reach a deal that would benefit most taxpayers.

“Under current law, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at year-end, raising tax rates on 100 million Americans. Many analysts say these tax increases, combined with roughly $100 billion of spending cuts imposed by a deficit-fighting deal last year, would likely tip the economy into a recession in 2013.

The White House and members of Congress say they want to avoid the cliff, but disagree on how to do so.”

For more detailed reporting on this issue, see this recent Politico article, “Fiscal cliff: All talk, no deal-making.”



Vicki Needham and Julian Pecquet reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “A Russia trade bill that would extend permanent normal trade relations with Moscow remained entrenched in political limbo on Tuesday.

“House leaders continue to argue that they aren’t seeing the action needed from the Senate or the Obama administration to pass a bill, yet.

“‘We have not come to a specific date for a vote on that,’ House Majority Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters on Tuesday.”


Agricultural Economy

The AP reported yesterday that, “Kansas farmers have begun seeding the 2013 winter wheat crop amid a grim fall harvest of other major crops in the state.

“Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that 2 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop had been planted by Sunday.”

A separate AP article  from yesterday noted that, “In August, the ranchlands spreading over the boot of Louisiana were dotted with hundreds of cows and calves grazing on a smorgasbord of tall marsh grasses.

“But Hurricane Isaac took all that away, turning some of the best cattle country on the Mississippi River delta into brackish, foul-smelling floodwater stretching for miles. A lot of the livestock raised here by a handful of ranching families drowned in Isaac’s storm surge along with birds, snakes and other wildlife. The storm overwhelmed weak levees protecting this farm country south of New Orleans.”

Meanwhile, an article posted yesterday at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online reported that, “A gathering in St. Louis this week of mayors from Minnesota to Louisiana marks the beginning of a plan to bring national attention to the Mississippi River’s problems at a time when money to fix them has grown scarce.

“More than 20 mayors are scheduled to be on hand Thursday and Friday for the inaugural event of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative as many river communities suffer from the one-two punch of drought and Hurricane Isaac.

“But even before the summer’s low water forced river closures and the storm damaged wetlands in the lower river, local officials had grown concerned about diminished attention to a host of river issues ranging from crumbling ports to aging locks and dams.”

And, Owen Fletcher reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Farm-equipment makers are banking on soaring crop prices to help them weather a historic U.S. drought.

“Executives at Deere & Co., Agco Corp. and other makers of combines, tractors and planters foresee little disruption for the industry in coming quarters, even as the drought takes a heavy toll on the nation’s corn and soybean crops.”

Keith Good

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