Farm Bill Issues
Molly K. Hooper reported on Saturday morning at The Hill Online that, “Lawmakers supportive of a stalled House farm bill say they have the votes to pass the measure.
“Those assertions, made Friday by Republicans and Democrats, directly contradict recent claims by GOP leaders. Before recessing the House on Friday, Republican leaders said the reason why they weren’t moving the five-year bill was because it lacked the votes.”
The Hill article explained that, “A group of GOP and Democratic lawmakers from agriculture districts launched an eleventh-hour whip count earlier this week aimed at proving Republican leaders wrong. They polled their House colleagues with a simple question: Would you vote for the farm bill that passed the Agriculture Committee? The panel approved its measure, 35-11, in July.
“Many legislators, including House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were livid that leaders had not conducted an official whip effort on the five-year farm bill.
“‘Nobody has ever whipped the bill. [GOP leaders] keep saying that there’s not enough votes so I want to know where we’re at,’ Peterson said in an interview with The Hill Friday morning.”
Ms. Hooper stated that, “As lawmakers left the Capitol on Friday, Arkansas freshman GOP Rep. Rick Crawford said there are at least 218 votes in favor of sending the House-committee approved bill to conference with the Senate. The Senate approved their version of the authorization bill in June.
“‘I feel like [Republicans] have anywhere from 125 to 150 on our side; and anywhere from 85 to 115 on the [Democratic] side,’ Crawford told The Hill.
“One GOP lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak freely on the matter, said that Peterson counted at least 100 Democrats who would support the legislation.”
Gannett writer Brian Tumulty reported on Friday that, “Both the farm bill the House Agriculture Committee approved in July and the farm bill the Senate passed in a bipartisan 64-35 vote in June were kept off the House floor by House Republican leaders.
“Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of Fairport tried to break the impasse earlier this week by proposing that the farm bill be added to Thursday’s floor schedule. Her proposal failed in the Rules Committee in an 8-2 vote.
“‘They had an absolute opportunity to put it on the floor,’ Slaughter said in an interview Friday.” (House floor remarks on Thursday from Rep. Slaughter on this issue can be viewed here).
Despite the potential for sufficient votes, Kate Nocera reported on Friday at Politico that, “[At his weekly press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio)], said he did not feel there were enough votes in the House to pass the farm bill, but Republicans would work on it when they returned from recess.”
The Politico article indicated that, “Democrats took to the front steps of the House to call on Republicans to stay in town and pass a number of bills, including the Senate-passed farm bill… Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ticked off the Democrats’ to-do list: the farm bill, Obama’s jobs bill, a middle class tax cut extension and a plan to deal with the fiscal cliff.”
Related video clips of remarks on Friday from Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi have been posted at FarmPolicy.com Online.
Also on Friday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Ag Committee Member Jim Costa (D., Calif.) lamented the lack of progress on the Farm Bill on the House Floor, related video. And Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (Il.) also spoke about the stalled Farm Bill on the Senate floor on Friday- video here.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) tweeted on Friday that, “Don’t Leave For Home Without It? Shamefully that’s just what House leaders have done w. the #FarmBill, hurting farmers from coast to coast.”
Nebraska GOP Rep. Adrian Smith noted on Friday that, “Like many others, I am frustrated and disappointed by the failure to come to an agreement, and I believe both parties bear some responsibility for not getting a bill passed.”
Also on Friday, Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.) indicated that, “I am absolutely appalled by how the extreme Tea Party wing of the House Republicans has gummed up the workings of the legislative process yet again and prevented compromise and progress.”
Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.) stated in a column at The Hill Congress Blog that, “After many months of bipartisan work in the House and Senate, the failure of House leadership to allow a vote on the farm bill before its September 30 expiration is yet another disappointing example of politicians putting politics over people.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Weisman reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The Senate gave final passage early Saturday morning to a stopgap spending measure that will ensure the government’s lights stay on through March, and then closed the doors of one of the least productive Congresses in generations until after the November elections.”
The Times article added that, “House Democrats marched to the House steps Friday, chanted, ‘work, work, work,’ and demanded lawmakers stay in town to finish unfinished business like a farm bill to take the place of agriculture laws that expire at the end of the month. They said no Congress since 1960 had recessed this early for the campaign season.
“Then they headed home.”
In executive branch perspective on the stalled Farm Bill, President Obama noted on Saturday that, “Right now, if Congress had gotten its act together, we would have a farm bill to help farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters like the drought we had this summer. And we’d have made necessary reforms to give our rural communities some long-term certainty. But so far, Republicans in Congress have dragged their feet. And now they’re gone.”
Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated in part on Saturday that, “U.S. agriculture is fighting to maintain the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years, but with natural disasters and other external forces threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever. Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens.”
Chad Nation reported on Friday at The Daily Nonpareil Online (Council Bluffs, Iowa) that, “Punting the [Farm] bill may also mean less money overall. While both chambers’ versions of the bill would save tens of billions of dollars from current spending, the agriculture committees may be asked to save even more as budgets tighten further next year.
American Soybean Association [ASA] President Steve Wellman noted in part on Friday that, “The [ASA] cannot overstate our disappointment in the House of Representatives for ignoring the voices of American farmers. In no uncertain terms, Congress has let farmers down by not taking action on a new five-year farm bill.”
Meanwhile, with respect to sugar issues, Michael Catalini reported on Friday at National Journal Online that, “The House didn’t get to the farm bill before members left town this week, but that did not stop sugar and candy lobbyists from stalking the halls of Capitol Hill.
“In one corner is the sugar industry, which wants the sugar program authorized in the current farm bill to continue. In the other is the candy and confectioners industry, which favors repealing or reforming the program that allows the government to place tariffs on foreign sugar, with the exception of Mexico (see NAFTA).
“Both sides are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress on the provision, but the sugar producers have the wind at their back. The Senate-passed farm bill includes the program–a longtime staple–as does the version passed by the House Agriculture Committee. Producers argue the program costs taxpayers nothing and that if U.S. sugar isn’t protected, like the candy and confectioners want, prices would not automatically drop.”
And on dairy issues, a news update Friday from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) stated that, “A new analysis issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) points out the advantages of the margin insurance and market stabilization-based approach to reforming dairy policy, according to [NMPF], which urged members of Congress to review the report and act on the Farm Bill yet in 2012.”
The Washington Post editorial board opined in today’s paper that, “But for those who think, reasonably, that agriculture needs a bigger haircut than the Senate farm bill’s $23 billion in savings over 10 years, the delay is not cause for concern at all. Operation of critical programs, including food stamps, won’t be affected for the time being.”
More specifically on nutrition issues, a news release Friday from Rep. Paul Broun (R., Ga.) stated in part that, “[Rep. Broun] and other members of the Republican Study Committee introduced legislation today to combine the six food welfare programs in the Farm Bill into a single block grant to states.
“The lead sponsors of the legislation – Rep. Broun, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), and RSC Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) – offered the following statement:
“‘Given the nation’s $16 trillion of debt, four years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits, and a 297-percent explosion over the last decade in SNAP (food stamp) spending alone, Washington has to get serious about unchecked entitlement growth. In block granting nutrition assistance, as this legislation does, states will not only be able to set the criteria as they see fit, but will be held accountable for the decisions they make. By putting control of the program in the hands of those closest to the taxpayers and the people utilizing the benefits, the American people will have greater opportunity to reward good leadership and punish bad decision-making.’”
Also on Friday, USDA’s Economic Research Service released a report titled, “How Economic Conditions Affect Participation in USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs.”
The AP reported on Friday that, “South Korea has suspended bidding for U.S. rice imports after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Consumer Reports magazine found elevated levels of arsenic in rice.”
While Tiffany Hsu reported in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “In response to a recent investigation that found ‘substantial’ levels of arsenic in rice and many rice-based products, a group of Democrats proposed legislation that would impose federal limits on the dangerous element.
“Reps. Rosa De Lauro of Connecticut, Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Nita Lowey of New York said in a joint statement that their bill would require the Food and Drug Administration to set a maximum amount of arsenic permissible in foods containing rice.”
Emiko Terazono, Courtney Weaver and Roman Olearchyk reported on Friday at The Financial Times Online that, “Russia, one of the world’s leading wheat exporters, put agricultural commodities markets on alert by signalling a policy U-turn that could see the introduction of grain export restrictions if domestic prices rose further.
“Andrei Belousov, Russia’s economic development minister, told reporters on Friday that a grain export ban was still possible.
“The comments were the first indication from a senior government official that Moscow could reintroduce the kind of restrictions imposed in 2010-11 after a drought triggered a crop failure.”
However, Reuters news reported on Saturday that, “Deputy Agriculture Minister Ilya Shestakov said he was surprised by a sudden statement by Economic Development Minister Andrei Belousov that the government could limit grain exports, and said neither a ban nor protective tariffs were under discussion.
“‘To be honest, Andrei Removich’s statement was a surprise for me too,’ Shestakov told reporters in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi at an economic forum.
“‘We have not even discussed limiting exports, and it sounded very strange,’ he added. ‘In all the meetings that have happened, the issue of a ban has never been raised and the Economic Development Ministry has not promoted that idea this year.’”
Emiko Terazono reported today at The Financial Times Online that, “Traders are keeping a close watch on comments coming out of Russia, the world’s third-largest wheat exporter. At the same time, they are pondering what method Moscow will choose if they opt to limit exports.
“The Russian government’s tool box includes an outright embargo, export tariffs or quotas, or more informal methods such as increasing red tape or limiting access to transport to reduce the flow of grains leaving the country.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg writer Elizabeth Campbell reported on Friday that, “Pork inventories in the U.S. rose 31 percent to a record at the end of August from a year earlier, the government said, as farmers culled herds because of high feed costs, pushing meat production to a record.
“Warehouses held 580.8 million pounds of pork, up from 442.9 million on Aug. 31, 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. The figure was the highest ever for the date, the USDA said. Inventories rose 5.7 percent from the end of July.
“U.S. commercial pork output in the first eight months of 2012 totaled 15.1 billion pounds (6.85 million metric tons), up 3.3 percent from the same period a year earlier, government data show. Pork production last month rose to a record 2 billion pounds, up 16 percent from July and 5.6 percent higher than August 2011, USDA data show. The price of corn, the main ingredient in livestock feed, is up 48 percent since June 15 as the worst U.S. drought since 1956 erodes yields.”
And in a separate article Friday, Ms. Cambell noted that, “U.S. feedlots bought 11 percent fewer cattle in August than a year earlier, a bigger than expected decline, on signs that the number available for sale shrank and higher corn costs curbed profitability.
“Feedlots bought 2.002 million head of cattle last month, down from 2.246 million in August 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a report. Thirteen analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a 5.6 percent drop, on average. The figure was the lowest for the month since the USDA began tracking the statistic in 1996. The feedlot herd totaled 10.637 million as of Sept. 1, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier. Analysts expected the inventory on feed to be little changed.”
Vicki Needham reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Business groups are urging lawmakers and the White House to work together to normalize trade relations with Russia by the end of the year.
“In a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders on Friday, nine business groups teamed up to call for passage of a measure that would extend permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Moscow they argue will bolster exports, jobs and the economy.”
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “The House is expected adjourn at the close of business today with a large amount of unfinished business awaiting it, if and when it returns to Washington after the November elections.
“This week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk sought to add another agenda item when he called on Congress to move legislation as soon as it returns that would allow the United States to grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status to Russia so U.S. companies will enjoy all the benefits of the Russia’s World Trade Organization accession commitments.”