Farm Bill Issues
“GOP leaders have refused to allow a vote on bipartisan legislation that cleared the House Agriculture Committee, 35-11, in July. Officials in leadership say the bill lacks the support to pass the House, noting conservative members who have balked at its $900- billion price tag.
“But lawmakers from farm-heavy districts are furious that the bill has stalled, and are calling for action before the November election. They have joined forces to apply pressure to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants.”
Yesterday’s article noted that, “Should the petition attract 218 signatures, the farm bill would come to the floor later this year. While that is highly unlikely, it is clear that GOP leaders view the possibility of mounting support for action on the farm measure as a political problem.”
The article noted that GOP Members Kristi Noem (S.D.), Denny Rehberg (Mont.) and Rick Berg (N.D.) have all signed the discharge petition, and added that, “Rehberg and Berg are in tough election battles for the Senate.”
Iowa GOP Rep. Tom Latham, who is running against Democrat House Agriculture Committee Member Leonard Boswell, signed the petition yesterday. The New York Times currently calls this Iowa Congressional race a “tossup.”
For a more detailed look at the some of the election implications of the stalled Farm Bill process see this FarmPolicy.com post that was updated yesterday, “Snapshot: An Election Year Farm Bill- Campaign Impacts.”
Meanwhile, Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “Iowa Rep. Tom Latham says Speaker John Boehner wants to bring the farm bill to the floor, but is being stifled by his leadership colleagues.
“Latham, a close ally of Boehner’s (R-Ohio), said on Simon Conway’s radio show in Iowa Tuesday that ‘Eric Cantor is the one who controls floor activity’ and the Virginia Republican ‘honestly believe(s) that they cannot pass it.’
“‘John Boehner is not the problem,’ Latham said.”
The article noted that, “Conway asked Latham if people should be blaming Cantor for the bill being stalled.
“‘Well, he controls the floor schedule and I will tell you I have had several conversations with the speaker and he is all for bringing it to the floor,’ Latham said.”
(Note: To listen to the portion of Tuesday’s interview with Rep. Latham that covers the Farm Bill, just click here (MP3- 2:13)).
Mr. Sherman added that, “Cantor’s office says it’s more complicated than that.
“‘House leadership is in agreement. Moving a reauthorization or extension before there is consensus – and there is currently none – would not be wise,’ Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said. ‘In the meantime, the House has acted on important livestock disaster aid. The Senate has not.’”
A news release on Tuesday from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) who is running against GOP Rep. Todd Akin, in a race that is currently classified as a “tossup,” indicated that, “While the U.S. House of Representatives continues to delay any action on the bipartisan Farm Bill passed by the Senate, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is calling for the renewal of a key support system for Missouri’s dairy farmers.
“In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner, McCaskill-along with twenty other members of Congress-is asking the leaders to find the necessary resources to restore the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), which provides a safety net to dairy farmers during times of low milk prices and high input costs.”
Sen. McCaskill’s office also indicated in a tweet yesterday that, “#MO farmers & ranchers dealing w/ a once in a generation drought & they need certainty of a #FarmBill ‘now—not after Nov—now.’”
Also yesterday, Rep. Mike McInyre (D., N.C.), who survived the GOP election wave in 2010 to win an eighth term, tweeted yesterday that, “Farm Bill helps rural communities with infrastructure, jobs, and law enforcement – North Carolina needs #FarmBillNOW! #NC07 #NCpol.”
In a press briefing yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) was asked about the Farm Bill and stated that, “Well, we have a Farm bill that we were very proud of. It was one of the few bipartisan things we were able to get done. Passed here by a nice margin. It saves $23 billion off the debt. It does some — reforms that have been overdue for decades. And it has a — one — really a good disaster relief package in it. So we’re waiting to get something in the House.”
Sen. Reid added that, “Can’t have a conference until they pass something. They haven’t passed anything.”
Julie Rovner reported yesterday at National Public Radio (NPR) Online (“So What Happens If The Farm Bill Expires? Not Much, Right Away”) that, “Congress is set to make a brief appearance in Washington this week, then recess until after Election Day. That means a farm bill is likely to be left undone, just one of the many items on lawmakers’ ‘to-do’ lists that won’t happen anytime soon.”
The update noted that, “So what does it mean if Congress just leaves it on the table? In theory, some fairly scary things. For example, in the absence of either a new bill or an extension of the 2008 law, federal price supports revert to their 1949 levels…‘At that point, we’ll have $38 milk,’ Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told a rally at the Capitol last week. ‘So what do you dairy farmers think about that?’ (That $38 refers to the price per 100 pound weight — the wholesale pricing unit. Basically, it works out to nearly four times what dairy farmers are guaranteed now.)
“But the reality is, almost none of the changes would happen right after Sept. 30.”
The NPR item pointed out that, “‘We actually have until about Jan. 1 before we run into a lot of administrative problems with this bill reverting to some very high prices,’ says Mary Kay Thatcher, director of congressional affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“That’s because while the date on the law matches the federal fiscal year, the 2008 measure covers all of 2012′s crops. So even if they haven’t been harvested yet, things growing now are covered by the 2008 legislation. The first crop that would be affected by the new price supports ‘would be next spring when we harvest winter wheat,’ Thatcher says.”
For a more detailed look at the implication of an expiring Farm Bill, see this Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from July 25 titled, “Possible Extension or Expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill.”
In part, the CRS report stated that, “Without a new farm bill or an extension, many discretionary programs would not appear to have statutory authority to receive appropriations in future years. However, the Government Accountability Office has said that there is no constitutional or statutory requirement that an appropriation must be preceded by an act that authorizes the appropriation.
“Programs relying on mandatory funding are perhaps more at risk for discontinuation, since both their authorization and their funding depend on farm bill action. The last year of support under the 2008 farm bill’s commodity programs is the 2012 crop year. This makes the effective deadline for enacting a new farm bill the time the first commodity is harvested in 2013, not the fiscal year. Exceptions include dairy programs that expire with the fiscal year or on December 31, 2012.
“Many of the farm bill’s nutrition programs rely on annual appropriations regardless of whether they use mandatory or discretionary funds. Thus, a regular appropriation could be sufficient to continue most of the major programs’ operations if the 2008 farm bill expires. Exceptions include a farmers’ market nutrition program for seniors, and a few pilot or other small nutrition programs.”
Also, on page 17, the CRS report includes a nice graphical illustration of the extensions of the
2008 2002 [Corrected 9.20] Farm Bill.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the discussion focused on Farm Bill issues. An audio replay of their discussion is available here (MP3- 10:00), while an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of yesterday’s interview can be found here.
Sec. Vilsack pointed out that, “A three month, six month, a year extension, frankly, provides no degree of certainty to the people that matter most, which are the farmers and ranchers and the people who live in rural America. They deserve a five-year bill. They deserve to know precisely what the rules are going to be for the safety net. Their banker is going to absolutely want to know what those rules are, and they’re not going to be put at ease by a three-month extension or a six-month extension or a year extension. They’re going to want to know what’s the program.
“And again, the longer you wait, the more complicated that decision becomes because it gets wrapped up into a much larger conversation about deficit reduction. And just so folks who are listening to this understand what we’re dealing with here, the Senate Ag Committee passed, through their committee process, a bill. It went to the floor of the Senate, got more than 60 votes, a strong bipartisan votes, $23 billion reduction to the overall cost of the program. Went to the House. The House Ag Committee, Chairman Lucas, Representative Peterson worked hard, bipartisan vote, got it out of committee, on the floor in plenty of time to get this done, with a $33, $34 billion reduction.”
Sec. Vilsack added that, “The Ryan budget basically would call for about $184 billion of reductions. That’s really what’s going on here, is where is that number? And it’s not 23, it’s not 33 in the minds of some folks, it’s as high as $184 billion. And it’s not just nutrition assistance, it’s also the farm programs.
“So this creates a lot of uncertainty, at a time when we had this great momentum. Even with the drought, the extraordinary resilience of American agriculture, that folks are going to get through this drought difficulty, especially if they have the assistance of a disaster assistance program or some kind of help for dairy, or some kind of mechanism to provide assistance to specialty crop producers, none of that can happen if Congress doesn’t act.”
The AgriTalk interview also included this exchange: “Mr. Adams: We have heard from some members of Congress that they are not hearing an urgency from the countryside on this issue. What do you make of that?
“Sec. Vilsack: Mike, I don’t know where they’re traveling. Everywhere I go I hear a deep concern on the part of producers about the failure of Congress to act, and deep concern about what this means if it extends into the latter part of this year as Congress, in theory, begins to deal with the sequester issue of across-the-board cuts, the fiscal cliff that we’ve talked a lot about.”
Also yesterday, the USDA indicated in a news release that, “[Sec. Vilsack] today announced $11.8 million in additional financial and technical assistance to help crop and livestock producers in 22 states apply conservation practices that reduce the impacts of drought and improve soil health and productivity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides this assistance through its Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “A six-month stopgap spending bill advanced in the Senate Wednesday, even as the House Republican leadership gave up the ghost of acting on any extension of the 2008 farm law, due to expire Sept. 30.
“In the case of the spending measure, 24 Senate Republicans joined Democrats on a 76-22 vote to limit debate and expedite passage by Congress — possibly as early as Thursday.”
Mr. Rogers explained that, “The quick action reflects the pressure to go home and avert any threat of a government shutdown when fiscal 2012 appropriations run out at the end of this month.
“But the House’s failure to make more progress on a new five-year farm bill remains a major embarrassment for Republicans and could come back to bite the party’s candidates in November.
“To save face, the leadership had raised the possibility of voting this week on a three-month extension of the current law. But this was quickly doomed by divisions in the GOP and resistance from farm and commodity organizations demanding a more comprehensive five year plan. And when lawmakers returned Wednesday after the Rosh Hashanah recess, no extension was on the legislative calendar and aides confirmed that none will be added before the elections.”
On a separate Farm Bill topic, an update this week at Oxfam Online by Gawain Kripke noted that products such as ketchup and shaving cream “could be targeted for retaliation by Brazil if Congress doesn’t reform the Farm Bill. US exporters of these products, and hundreds more, could pay higher tariffs or lose their patent rights if the Brazilian government imposes trade retaliation against the USA for violating WTO rules on farm subsidies. Brazil brought a legal case to the WTO complaining about US cotton subsidies in 2002. They won the case, proving that US cotton subsidies were huge and unfair. The USA never fully reformed the subsidies, so Brazil asked for, and was granted, the right to retaliate. Hence, the list of products (English version here).”
The update added that, “Brazil was days away from imposing this kind of retaliation in 2010 when officials from the US Trade Representative’s office flew down to hurriedly negotiate a compromise. The agreement was that Brazil would postpone retaliation and the US would pay Brazil $147.3 million annually until a new Farm Bill was enacted.
“So far, no new Farm Bill. Not even close. This week Congress will decide whether to extend the current Farm Bill by three months or by a year. Either way, Brazil will have to decide what the next step is. Brazil is once again preparing to retaliate. Brazil may alter the retaliation list and has convened a technical committee to review the list.”
Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that, “Government support to agriculture in OECD countries fell to 19% of total farm receipts in 2011, a record low driven by developments in international commodity markets, rather than by explicit policy changes, according to the latest version of an annual OECD report [see related graph].”
In other policy related news, Bob Stuart reported yesterday at The News Virginian Online that, “Sixth District Rep., Bob Goodlatte prefers that the renewable fuel standard that leans heavily on corn ethanol be eliminated.
“And if it is not eliminated, the congressman wants the standard at least suspended until corn production can recover from this summer’s disastrous national drought.”
A news release yesterday from USDA stated that, “The [USDA] today announced that the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB) will begin issuing several major USDA statistical reports at 12:00 p.m. EDT beginning in January 2013. The current USDA release time of 8:30 a.m. EDT will remain in effect until January 1, 2013. USDA statistical reports affected are: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, Acreage, Crop Production, Grain Stocks, Prospective Plantings, and Small Grains Summary. The time for livestock reports currently released at 3:00 p.m. will not change.”
The AP reported yesterday that, “The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for the levels of arsenic in rice as consumer groups are calling for federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food.
“So far, FDA officials say they have found no evidence that suggests rice is unsafe to eat. The agency has studied the issue for decades but is in the middle of conducting a new study of 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products — short and long-grain rice, adult and baby cereals, drinks and even rice cakes — to measure arsenic levels.
“Rice is thought to have arsenic in higher levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.”
A recent FDA update on this issue (“Arsenic in Rice”) is available here, while a related item from Consumer Reports can be found here. A response yesterday to the Consumer Reports update from the USA Rice Federation is available here.
Sen. Mark Pyror (D., Ark.) tweeted yesterday, “Eat more #rice! It’s safe, healthy, and nutritious. Arkansas rice is and will continue to be a staple in my diet.”