Farm Bill Issues
In an interview yesterday on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, House Agriculture Committee Member Tim Huelskamp (R, Kan.) indicated that consideration of the Farm Bill was headed for the lame-duck session of Congress. Rep. Huelskamp, a first-term lawmaker “who won the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Jerry Moran” (Almanac of American Politics, 643) noted that, “we just received some information from Agriculture Committee staff saying we will not be considering an extension next week…we’ve got so many things left to do, it looks like all of them will be waiting until after the election.”
Rep. Huelskamp went on to say that nutrition spending, and in particular food stamps (SNAP program) was an issue where there was the most disagreement between the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, and he added that he thought the Farm Bill should be extended for one-year.
Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, was also a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk program and noted that Farm Bill renewal, or extension, in a lame-duck session could be influenced by election related variables such as who wins the presidency and which party controls the Senate.
Audio clips from both Rep. Huelskamp and Ms. Thatcher from yesterday’s AgriTalk show have been posted here at FarmPolicy.com.
With respect to the potential obstacle of nutrition spending in the Farm Bill debate, recall that in an interview on Monday, Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) noted that the food stamp portion of the Farm Bill is not the biggest hurdle, but rather the commodity title remains the larger issue of concern- audio- (MP3- 2:45).
An update this week at CINewsNow.com (NBC television affiliate, East Peoria, IL) noted that, “Congressman Aaron Schock [R., Il] says a divide over the food stamp program is preventing the 5 year farm bill in the House of Representatives from being called to a vote.”
And Larry Bivins reported this week at the Green Bay Press-Gazette Online that, “The food stamps funding has become an issue ‘this time around because of the wild increases in the cost of SNAP over the past few years,’ [Bill Bruins, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation] said. ‘But historically, it’s been a plus for farmers and agriculture to have had food nutrition’ included in the farm bill.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Fox reported yesterday at U.S. News Online that, “The bad news is, when the farm bill expires in two weeks, members of Congress won’t be in Washington toiling away on a deal, but will be back home on the campaign trail. The good news is, despite desperate calls from farmers and ranchers around the country, few in agriculture will immediately feel the consequences of Congress’s gridlock.”
The article pointed out that, “The Congressional Research Service confirms that if the 2008 farm bill expires at the end of the month, many programs including the farm commodity programs, food stamps, and some research and conservation programs will continue without a new bill. Nearly 40 programs that were authorized under the 2008 legislation will not continue beyond the fiscal year, including the wetlands and grassland reserve programs, some nutrition assistance programs, a few energy programs, and several rural development provisions.
“Another program, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, a support provision where the government buys up excess dairy commodities, due to changes in funding on September 1 won’t be triggered despite rising feed costs for dairy farmers, leaving many vulnerable to volatile markets in the wake of the summer drought.”
Jennifer Steinhauer reported in today’s New York Times that, “Members of Congress feel mighty proud of themselves this week, mainly because they appear to be avoiding a government shutdown — an outcome taken as an actual accomplishment in this turbulent and acrimonious legislature. But by the end of this week, lawmakers plan to leave town and not return until after the election, leaving behind a staggering pile of bills, many of pressing importance to voters across the nation.”
The Times article stated that, “On the House side, leaders have had trouble finding support for some major legislation this year, even bills that have come flying out of their own committees with bipartisan backing.
“For example, while the Senate passed a bipartisan version of the farm bill, the House does not have the votes for its own bill, largely because many Republican members do not support its level of spending. Many Democrats have also resisted cuts to the food stamps program in the bill.
“This inaction has led to a petition circulated by Democrats but signed by many Republicans willing to buck the leadership that would force House leaders to bring the farm bill to the floor anyway. This demonstrates the increasing political trouble that inaction on the farm bill has caused for members from farm states, like the Dakotas and Iowa, and divisions within both parties over how to move forward.”
For a more detailed look at the impact the Farm Bill process is having in some U.S. Senate and House elections, see this update at FarmPolicy.com- “Snapshot: An Election Year Farm Bill- Campaign Impacts.”
In addition, Humberto Sanchez reported today at Roll Call Online that, “With agriculture programs headed for expiration at the end of the month, Democrats are hoping farm state Republicans will be put at a political disadvantage.”
Also posted recently at FarmPolicy.com is an update that briefly takes a closer look at the way Rep. Collin Peterson worked with then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) as he shepherded the 2008 Farm Bill through the House. Current GOP leadership appears to have a different style of working with current Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.). The FarmPolicy.com update includes remarks from journalist Jerry Hagstrom, who publishes The Hagstrom Report and recently presented a farm policy seminar at The Big Iron Farm Show in North Dakota.
“The House is scheduled to adjourn for the election recess Friday, and a farm bill was not on the list of bills the body would take up this week. The farm bill expires at the end of this month.”
And Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) penned a column regarding the Farm Bill yesterday at Politico, “Farmers at risk as House fails to act.”
In part, that column stated that, “The House Republican leadership is playing a dangerous game that threatens 16 million jobs and the safety and stability of our food supply. We cannot afford to go back to Depression-era planting controls and price supports.
“There is no reason it has to happen. The Senate came together in a rare show of bipartisanship to pass the new farm bill months ago. The House Agriculture Committee then also came together in a bipartisan way to pass its own version of the farm bill.
“But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to let that bipartisan bill come up for a vote.”
Chairwoman Stabenow, who is up for re-election this year, also noted that, “The full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee both showed the speaker that bipartisanship could work, and that a farm bill is possible even in this difficult political climate.
“In fact, our Senate farm bill is the only bipartisan bill to pass the Senate that cuts spending — reducing the deficit by more than $23 billion, more than double the amount recommended by the Simpson-Bowles Commission. The farm bill cuts direct payment subsidies to farmers, consolidates programs and cracks down on fraud and abuse in food assistance programs.
“The Republican House leadership likes to talk about deficit reduction, and this is a chance for Congress to do something about it.”
Meanwhile, Chris Clayton pointed out yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned last week to members of the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture that if Congress didn’t pass a farm bill before adjourning at the end of this week that lawmakers would push for steeper cuts in commodity programs, conservation and crop insurance in the lame-duck session specifically to offset tax cuts or avoid spending reductions in the military.
“The Wall Street Journal editorial on Tuesday, ‘Farm Bill Foolishness,’ seems to validate Vilsack’s argument. The Journal editorial defends House inaction on the farm bill, stating ‘Taxpayers should hope that Republicans keep this boondoggle buried.’”
In other budget related matters, Vicki Needham and Bernie Becker reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The Senate returns on Wednesday with a veterans jobs bill and a fiscal 2013 continuing resolution squarely on the agenda.
“The House passed the six-month stopgap government funding bill on Thursday, tossing it into the Senate’s court to complete this week. There will be a procedural vote to end debate in the afternoon with the expectation that the upper chamber should finish the bill by Thursday, before heading back to their states for the November elections.”
Retiring Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) spoke more extensively about the federal budget, sequestration and the “fiscal cliff” in an interview yesterday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” video replay here.
And Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics said Tuesday he believes there is a 15 percent chance Congress will let the country go over the ‘fiscal cliff’ after the November election, leading to a new recession.”
In other news, Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “It is said that the internet allows anyone to be a member of the media. This apparently also applies to Cargill, the world’s biggest agricultural trading house.
“The company has urged the US Department of Agriculture to end the practice of giving news wire services such as Bloomberg and Reuters privileged advance access to market-moving crop reports. The so-called ‘lock-up’, in which reporters are sequestered in a room to prepare detailed stories for publication as soon as crop reports are released, dates back decades.
“Cargill, whose employees give farmers market information as well as grain bids, has problems with this tradition and in a filing to the USDA has proposed a radical change.”
An update yesterday by Judy Keen at USA Today Online included a closer look at the impacts of the 2012 drought. The interactive piece, titled, “The Drought of 2012: Misery in the Midwest,” can be viewed here.
Yesterday’s update, “Portraits of drought: Corn growers hit hardest,” reported that, “Across the Midwest, corn growers have been hit hardest by the drought of 2012.
“‘We knew in June that we were going to be in trouble,’ says [Illinois farmer Dennis Green], 59, who has farmed here with his wife, Debbie, since 1974. They grow corn and soybeans on 800 acres.
“Things turned out even worse than he feared in June. In normal years, he harvests an average of 135 bushels of corn per acre. This year’s yield, he says, ‘goes from 70 (bushels an acre) down to zero.’”
A news release yesterday from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization stated that, “Better international coordination and increased information exchange are helping to ease tight markets, French President François Hollande and FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva agreed during discussions in Paris yesterday.
“‘France shares FAO’s and the UN’s position that we are not in a food price crisis, but we need to remain vigilant,’ said Graziano da Silva.
“During the meeting, Graziano da Silva recognized the role played by France in placing food security and food price volatility on the international agenda.”
In a related article, Michael Haddon reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A French-led campaign to tame volatile food prices through the creation of strategic stockpiles is facing a mixed response from major exporters and industry experts, who worry the ramifications and practical challenges could outweigh any humanitarian benefits.
“Severe summer droughts in the bread baskets of the U.S., Russia and Ukraine have led to sharp spikes in the prices of staples like corn, soybeans and wheat, raising fears of a third world food crisis in four years and to proposals for emergency grains reserves to be set up to prevent further price spikes.
“Not for the first time, France is at the forefront of these efforts. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy made food security a priority of his G-20 leadership and now his successor, François Hollande, has called an emergency meeting of the Group of 20 agriculture ministers for next month.”
The Journal article added that, “The meeting will be held in Rome on Oct. 16, designated by the United Nations as World Food Day, with ministers set to discuss grain supply problems and ways to temper volatile prices. The move came after Mr. Hollande met with Jose Graziano da Silva, chief of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, who believes maintaining food reserves is a good strategy that would help stabilize prices.
“Mr. Hollande, in a speech to farmers in Rennes, northwestern France, last week, revealed he was already pushing heads of state and governments to implement emergency food stockpiles to protect against volatility.
“But it remains unclear if the U.S. or European Union could be persuaded to rebuild public grain stocks they abandoned years ago, or if China would consider using their existing domestic resources to address global issues.”
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Many members of Congress have expressed their frustration about the stalemate that is holding up legislation to give Russia permanent normal trading status (PNTR) now that it has joined the World Trade Organization. This is another issue where Republican leaders in the House say the votes in are not there for passage, although earlier whip counts said bill could pass.
“Administration officials and farm and business groups have been busy voicing their support for extending PRTR relations which are necessary for the United States to gain equal footing with its competitors in the Russian market.
“Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., is one lawmaker who believes broad bipartisan support can pass the legislation and urges both houses to take up their respective bills. If Congress can’t finish the bill this year now or in the lame-duck session, Cardin said it does hurt and ‘there’s damage done to our businesses.’”