FarmPolicy

April 17, 2014

(Corrected)- Budget- Farm Bill; Trade; Regulations; and, Dep. Sec. Merrigan

Categories: Budget /Farm Bill /Trade

Budget: House Proposal, Senate Proposal- Farm Bill Implications

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) were guests on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where both lawmakers discussed budget and policy issues.

Chairman Lucas indicated (FarmPolicy.com transcript) that, “Now, if you look at the ag side of the House [Budget Committee] proposal—and I’m more familiar with that than the Senate side—basically they propose somewhere in the range of about $30 billion in savings in what I would define as the non-nutrition programs. They actually have substantially higher savings proposed on the nutrition side.

“What I’m telling people is, because we need to write, as you well know, Mike, as many times as we’ve discussed it, a new comprehensive five-year farm bill, the House budget I view as guidance, and we’ll take what they propose very thoughtfully in place, but we’ll have to craft a comprehensive balanced bill that provides a safety net that will work that a majority of the membership in both bodies will pass.”

Chairman Lucas explained that, “There will be areas where we will achieve more savings than anyone can imagine possible, and there will be areas where it’s not possible to do some of the things discussed. But here, too, the Budget Committee gave us a number, not a long list of instructions. That’s the key, Mike. Let the Ag Committee, that understands agriculture and rural America, write the language. They gave us a number, and we’re going to do our best to meet it. But they didn’t give us instructions. My heartbeat was a little bit more consistent after I saw that.”

On the Farm Bill, Chairman Lucas noted that, “I believe we get a farm bill. As soon as all these money issues settle down, I think you see some action start to happen.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Peterson pointed out yesterday on AgriTalk (FarmPolicy.com transcript) that, “From what we can tell, there’s $32 billion of reductions in the Ryan budget in the commodity title. Now, we had 35 billion altogether, including everything. He apparently has an $18 billion reduction in conservation in the budget. We can’t really tell, but we think that’s what it is. And then $130 to $150 billion reduction in food stamps, SNAP. Well, there’s no way.

“I mean, the Senate had a $4 billion reduction last year in food stamps, and I had, you know, during this process where we were trying to get things together, I couldn’t get them to get to ten billion. Now, we can identify—we had 16 billion in the House bill, and we could probably go above that, at least I could. But you’ve got to work this out between the two bodies.”

Rep. Peterson added that, “Well, I met with John Boehner a couple weeks ago, and he said he wants us to get this done. He doesn’t want to do another extension. So that’s a good signAnd what I told John would help us the most is if he and Harry Reid, the two leaders, could make a deal and give us a number. And whatever the number is, if it’s 30 billion, 35 billion, 25 billion, we can do it. But give us a number that’s agreed to so we don’t get caught up in this war between the two chambers.

And the other place they could really help us is give us a number on SNAP, whatever it is—10 billion, 15 billion—we’ll do it.”

Mr. Adams asked Rep. Peterson about dairy reform, “Will that be part of this?”

Rep Peterson: “Well, it will be or I don’t think there will be a bill.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The federal budget proposal in the House of Representatives would cut $49 billion out of commodity and conservation programs, which is a larger figure than numbers released earlier this week and unacceptably high for House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson.”

The House Budget Committee approved the GOP budget proposal earlier this week, and the Senate Budget Committee passed its proposal yesterday.

An update posted yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog provided a closer look at the respective budget provisions and noted that, “As expected, the House Budget Resolution for FY 2014 makes astronomically deep cuts – $209 184 billion [corrected on 3.15] – to farm bill spending.  Of that total, $135 billion would come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.  Some $31 billion in cuts would be split between commodity program and crop insurance subsidies.  According to multiple Hill sources, though not specified in the text of the bill, another $18 billion would come from cuts to farm bill conservation title spending.”

The NSAC update added that, “The House Budget Resolution is starkly different from the Senate’s FY 2014 Budget Resolution, which cuts total farm bill spending by roughly $23 billion.”

With respect to the Senate budget debate, a news release yesterday from Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) noted that, “During work today in the Senate Budget Committee on a budget resolution for fiscal 2014, [Sen. Grassley] affirmed that his initiative to reform farm program payments will be part of the Agriculture Committee’s effort to achieve $23 billion in agricultural savings sought by the Budget Committee and that, contrary to what the Budget Committee Chairwoman’s proposed budget says, all farm-bill spending will be on the table for spending reductions, including nutrition programs” (related video on this issue from yesterday’s Budget Committee hearing is available here).

 

Additional Policy Issues: Nutrition, Crop Insurance, Antibiotics, Sugar, GMO Labels, and, Transportation

In prepared testimony yesterday at a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee oversight hearing of the Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe pointed out that, “In the past decade, we have successfully reduced the payment error rate [in the SNAP program] from 8.9 percent in 2000 to 3.8 percent in 2011 – the lowest-ever payment error rate in the history of the program. This translates to a savings of $3.67 billion.”

AP writer Clarke Canfield reported yesterday that, “U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that it’s vitally important for America’s youth to have healthy eating habits, calling it an issue of national security as well as educational accomplishment and health care.”

And Jacob Gershman reported yesterday at The Law Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture last month released draft rules, spelling out what kinds of foods may or may not be purchased on school grounds under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

“Some snack foods are spared, including baked chips, low-fat granola bars, and reduced-fat cheeses. But the proposed rules would banish a panoply of snack and breakfast staples from school cafeterias, stores, and vending machines across the country.”

Meanwhile, Dan Piller reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “The National Crop Insurance Services, the organization representing crop insurers, put the bill for crop insurance payments for last year at $14.2 billion this week. Because more than $18 billion in claims have been filed, that number will continue to climb as insurers process the remaining claims.”

And, a news release yesterday from Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) stated that, “[Rep. Slaughter], the only microbiologist in Congress, today introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).  The legislation is designed to stop the overuse of antibiotics on the farm.”

A news release yesterday from Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) stated that, “Taxpayer subsidies for sugar producers increase the price of most groceries for all Americans, hurt Pennsylvania’s confectioners, and increase the deficit.  [Sen. Toomey] is raising alarms about this outrageous corporate welfare as the U.S. Department of Agriculture weighs whether or not to buy 400,000 tons of sugar to boost the earnings of sugar processors across the country.

“Sen. Toomey joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in signing a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking which entities received loans under the sugar program, has the program exceeded cost projections, and has the administration considered the effects of higher prices for products made with sugar?”

In other news, The New York Times editorial board indicated today (“Why Label Genetically Engineered Food?”) that, “But there is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumersFor now, there seems little reason to make labeling compulsory.”

Also, Ed Tibbetts reported yesterday at the Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) Online that, “A bipartisan group of Illinois lawmakers, led by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, is proposing a pilot project to fund infrastructure improvements along the country’s waterways, including lock and dam expansions along the Mississippi River.

“The idea is to loosen up some of the $60 billion worth of backlogged projects at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

A separate news release yesterday from Sen. Durbin’s office noted that, “Responding to the recent record low water levels along the Mississippi River that threatened navigation and Southern Illinois commerce, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Representative Bill Enyart (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (R-IL) today introduced bipartisan legislation that would bolster efforts to maintain commercial river traffic during droughts and floods while minimizing the economic toll on Southern Illinois.”

 

Budget: Sequester Issues

Kyle Arnold reported yesterday at the Tulsa World Online that, “A standoff over federal budget cuts could shut down meat production plants for more than two weeks this summer and halt the pipeline to grocery stores and restaurants, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the Tulsa World on Wednesday…‘Right now I have no other option,’ Vilsack said in a phone interview. ‘I find it ironic and interesting that people in Congress have complained about this, when they wrote the law.’”

In remarks on the sequester during his interview yesterday on AgriTalk, Rep. Peterson stated that, “Well, you know, whether the Secretary…who would he seek flexibility from? It was the Congress that passed the law that didn’t allow for flexibility. It was us that did it, not him – you know, so I think the outcome here is going to be with the CR that’s being worked on, that there’s going to be flexibility given to the military and to the Ag Department. And once that flexibility is given to them, the meat inspector issue is going to go away.”

From a political perspective on the sequester, this exchange also occurred on AgriTalk- Mr. Adams: “You don’t think there’s a ‘make it hurt’ agenda being put in place?

Rep. Peterson: “Oh, I think there is.”

Mr. Adams: “Oh, there is?”

Rep. Peterson: “Yeah. But it’s not being done by Tom Vilsack.”

 

Budget: Senate Continuing Resolution (CR)

Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave up on his goal of completing a bill to fund the government through the fiscal year by the end of this week.

“‘We’re going to move forward with this bill on Monday,’ Reid announced on the Senate floor Thursday evening. ‘That’s it for tonight.’

“Reid said leaders could not reach an agreement on the remaining 99 amendments to the $984 billion spending resolution that was negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).”

The article added that, “Earlier Thursday, the Senate approved an amendment from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would delay enforcement of an Environmental Protection Agency rule against farms on oil spill regulations from the end of May to the end of September by prohibiting use of funding for the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule” (related video of Sen. Inhofe discussing this issue on the floor Wednesday is available here.)

Also, Zack Colman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) filed two amendments to a $984 billion government funding bill on Thursday that would gut the military’s alternative fuels program.”

And a news release Wednesday Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) noted that, “[Sen. Tester] today called out the House of Representatives for slipping ‘corporate giveaways’ into a must-pass government funding bill designed to keep the government running past March 27.

Tester slammed the inclusion of two provisions that will hurt family farmers and ranchers while benefitting large meatpacking corporations and companies that develop genetically-modified crops… Tester introduced two amendments to remove the controversial measures from the bill. The first provision gives large meatpacking corporations more power over the livestock market, while the second tells the U.S. Agriculture Department to ignore any judicial rulings that block the planting of crops that the court determines to be illegal” (related video of Sen. Tester discussing this issue on the floor Wednesday is available here.)

 

Trade

Howard Schneider reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Japan’s possible entry into trade negotiations with the United States sparked a backlash on Thursday from lawmakers concerned that the one-sided vehicle trade between the two countries will remain a drag on American industry.

“House and Senate members in a letter to President Obama said they feared that if Japan joined the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, it would do little to boost exports of U.S. cars to that country.”

The Post article noted that, “Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may announce as early as Friday Japan’s participation in the TPP negotiations, according to Japanese media reports this week.”

Bloomberg writers Aya Takada & Yasumasa Song reported today that, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may sacrifice barriers protecting Japan’s beef and wheat farmers as he joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, said a former government adviser on farm policy.

Japan will fight to maintain tariffs on rice, sugar and dairy products, said Shinichi Shogenji, an agricultural science professor at Nagoya University who was chairman of the food security advisory panel for the Cabinet in 2007 during Abe’s first term as leader. The prime minister will announce Japan’s entry to the TPP negotiations today, according to a government official who asked not to be named ahead of the statement.”

“‘While we must maintain domestic production of rice and milk to ensure food security, beef may be an easier sector to concede,’ Shogenji said.”

And USDA’s Economic Research Service indicated in a report yesterday (“Japan Announces New Rules for Imports of U.S. Beef”) that, “In a decision that removes much of the import restriction on U.S. beef imposed at the end of 2003, Japan has allowed imports of beef from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age, effective February 1, 2013. The latest action is expected to increase the volume of U.S. beef and byproducts exported to Japan; allow somewhat lower prices in Japan for U.S. beef; and raise the value of U.S. beef carcass.”

 

Regulations, EPA Issues

Mark Peters and David Kesmodel reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal regulators are pushing the nation’s largest pork-producing state to start inspecting thousands of livestock and poultry operations in response to concerns over water pollution caused by runoff and spills from ever-larger farms.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that Iowa officials inspect about 8,000 livestock operations in the state to determine if they should be subject to stepped-up regulation after the agency found the state wasn’t meeting minimum federal requirements. The EPA says the two sides are nearing an agreement, but the state isn’t ready to sign off.”

A news release yesterday from Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) noted that, “[Rep. Crawford] is leading a group of 40 House members in writing a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe expressing concern over the agency releasing livestock producers’ private information to extreme environmental groups and asking the Acting Director to ensure the released information is not improperly used.”

And Megan R. Wilson reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) chided President Obama on Wednesday for failing to live up to his promises to run a transparent administration.

“Vitter criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) use of personal emails for official business and called the agency’s Freedom of Information (FOIA) process a ‘joke.’”

 

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan

A news bulletin from USDA yesterday evening stated in part that, “Agriculture Secretary Vilsack today made the following statement on the departure of Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan:

“‘USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has helped USDA achieve record results over the past four years. She has played a vital role in the Department-wide focus on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, as well as our efforts to achieve budget efficiencies and savings during an uncertain budget time… I deeply appreciate her service…”

Keith Good

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