December 14, 2019

Farm Bill; Budget; Trade; Wheat; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Tuesday said he’s skeptical that House Republican leaders will proceed this summer with two major pieces of legislation — a farm bill and a firearms background check bill.

He said the farm bill remains too controversial within the Republican Conference to be cleared for floor action, despite the fact that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Monday pledged his support — along with that of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. — for bringing up the measure later this month under an open rule.”

In the press briefing yesterday, Rep. Hoyer stated that: “As you know, the speaker has never voted for a Farm Bill. So it’s — and obviously he’s not too enthusiastic about the farm program.

Democrats, on the other hand, are concerned about the nutritional program, as you know, that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program which has been cut very substantially in the Farm Bill…[F]armers making over 750,000 still aren’t getting — are eligible to get some assistance. And if you’re a husband and wife and you each make $749,000, you’re eligible for assistance. But if you’re a poor person relying on food stamps as we traditionally called them or — you’re going to get a cut. I think that’s — Democrats [are] going to feel that’s a perverse priority…[S]o I don’t know yet. We have to see what the bill, see what form it is.”

Rep. Hoyer added that, “But you — but you’re guess, at this point in time, is as good as mine as to whether it’s going to come to the floor as it’s very controversial in the Republican conference as well.

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from Rep. Paul Broun (R., Ga.) indicated that, “[Broun] today sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor urging them to take steps to remove the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition programs from the upcoming Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act. The letter, signed by 25 Republican members of Congress and supported by Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity, focused on the fact that over 80 percent of legislation ostensibly meant to authorize federal farm programs is instead devoted to SNAP, pushing the total cost of the bill close to $1 trillion.

“‘Combining the reauthorization of federal agriculture programs and nutrition programs into one bill has resulted in a battle of competing interests, and it represents a major reason why reauthorization – and much-needed reform – of these programs have been unsuccessful thus far. It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor will work to divide these unrelated programs into two distinct bills so that the House may engage in an open and transparent debate on both issues.’”

This topic also came up on Monday’s AgriTalk radio programMike Adams indicated that, “[T]he irony here is conventional thinking still is that you need food stamps as part of the farm bill to get a farm bill passed, but once again food stamps may be what keeps the farm bill from getting passed.”

Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, pointed out that, “It very well could be.  And I’m sure that will add to the people who want to split the two and have commodity programs in one and food stamps in anotherAnd of course that would absolutely be the death knell for a farm bill in the future if we split those two up.”

Meanwhile, ECM (Minn.) Capitol Reporter T.W. Budig reported yesterday that, “Democratic 4th Congressional District Congresswoman Betty McCollum heard a string of officials, faith leaders and members of the public testify against a proposal in the Republican-led U.S. House to cut about $21 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a food stamp program nicknamed SNAP.

“McCollum, at the listening session Monday, June 10, at the State Capitol and in a statement on the U.S. House floor, called the proposal, contained in the House farm bill, ‘immoral’ and ‘cruel and harmful.’ No one at the supportive State Capitol listening session faulted the congresswoman’s language.”

James Aldridge reported yesterday at the San Antonio Business Journal Online that, “Texas Food Bank Network officials say if the proposed cuts in the federal farm bill passes Congress, some 171,000 Texans could be dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

Texas could face $1 billion in lost federal benefits and result in 481.7 million meals being eliminated.”

Also yesterday, a letter signed by 194 195 [corrected] organizations, was sent to all House Members, as well as House Agriculture Committee staff and leadership staff.

In part, the letter pointed out that, “The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947) achieves spending cuts that reduce the Federal budget deficit, saving taxpayers $40 billion, including $6 billion through sequestration. It also repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including Direct Payments to crop producers. Without passage of FARRM, no budget savings will be achieved beyond sequestration.”

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) indicated yesterday that, “I’m hopeful that we can keep this process moving, reconcile the differences between the House and Senate, and get a bill signed into law by August.”

DTN Editor Emeritus Urban C. Lehner indicated yesterday in a blog update that, “For conservative Republicans, the choice is trickier. They shudder at the 40%-plus expansion of the food stamp program in recent years. They fear the deepening of a ‘culture of dependency’ on government handouts. By voting for the bill the ag committee reported they’d get a $20 billion cut in food-stamp spending over 10 years. That’s a paltry cut in their view — less than 3% — but the alternative if the farm bill fails is no cut.

By voting against this bill, on the other hand, they make a powerful statement of strict fidelity to conservative principle. Their opponents in the 2014 primary in their districts won’t be able to say they sold out on food stamps by voting for a token cut.

Texas Republican Michael Conaway has a nice phrase summarizing this dilemma. For House Republicans, is this is a ‘legislative moment’ or a ‘theatre moment?’”

After additional analysis, Mr. Lehner noted that, “That’s why it’s a delicate matter whether the farm bill can pass the House at all. And if it does, the food-stamp cut will shrink in the ensuing House-Senate conference, which will require House Republicans to vote again, and for a less appealing compromise.

“Last year the House leadership didn’t bring the bill up for a floor vote, so for supporters the prospect of a floor debate represents progress. Further progress will depend on whether the House is a legislative body or a stage.”

In addition to nutrition, policy observers have noted that dairy and crop insurance issues could also surface as flash points in the House Farm Bill process.

Beyond those variables, former Ag. Comm Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) tweeted yesterday that, “Approx. 600,000 U.S. jobs in food industries use sugar. I support reform of the sugar program ‪#4jobs.”

Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “‘The House will need to pass a bill by the end of this month if there is any hope of working on the differences between the House and the Senate before our August summer break,’ said [Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley].

“‘If we saw anything last year it was that letting the farm bill expire creates even greater uncertainty and anxiety for those who care about farm legislation,’ he said. ‘It’s touch and go’ whether the farm bill will get out of the House, he added.”

The Register item noted that, “‘The House of Representatives once again has an important opportunity to continue toward passage of a food, farm and jobs bill, and I am encouraged by indications that the House will follow regular order and consider a bill,’ said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“‘However, I remain deeply concerned that the House version contains dramatic reductions in support of nutrition programs that are critical for the well-being of millions of working families, while also benefitting farm and rural economies,’ he said.”

Meanwhile, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Farm Program Payments under Alternative Proposals”) that, “Commodity program payments under alternative House and Senate proposals are estimated for corn produced in McLean County, Illinois. Payments are estimated for 2013 through 2016 given average yields for three price scenarios: 1) a $4.50 Market Year Average (MYA) price for each year from 2013 through 2016, 2) a $4.00 MYA price, and 3) a $3.50 MYA price. Under all price scenarios, the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program has higher payments than commodity programs proposed by the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.”



Peter Schroeder reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Congress will have until October or even November before the nation is in danger of defaulting on its debt, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

“The CBO provided an update to its debt limit projections Tuesday, determining that the ‘extraordinary measures’ available to the Treasury Department should buy enough time under the nation’s borrowing cap that the nation will be well into the fall before that borrowing limit becomes an issue.”



Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of White House chief international economic affairs adviser Mike Froman to be U.S. trade representative, setting the stage for full Senate approval.

“‘I am glad he got such strong support in the committee,’ Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said in a statement after the voice vote. ‘He now deserves that same support in the full Senate. We need to quickly approve this nomination so Mr. Froman can hit the ground running and get to work.’”

Julian Pecque reported yesterday at The Hill’s Global Affairs Blog that, “Two-thirds of the Democratic freshmen in the House warned that they’re against giving President Obama special powers to unilaterally negotiate trade deals.

“The comments come as the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a major trade deal with Pacific rim countries and is about to start trade talks with the European Union. In a letter to the top Democrat on the trade panel, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the 36 Democrats led by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) shared their ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘extreme secrecy’ surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.”

And Peter Spiegel reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The US government has warned Brussels that EU efforts to placate French demands to exempt its film industry from high-profile transatlantic trade talks could unleash a torrent of demands in Washington for similar reciprocal carve-outs that would imperil a comprehensive deal.”

The FT article noted that, “‘If they take issues off the table, it will increase the pressure on our side to start carving out issues,’ [William Kennard, the US ambassador to the EU] said. ‘I’m not sitting here telling you we don’t have our own sensitivities. We do. It’s just that we’re not putting constraints on our negotiators on those issues.’”

Meanwhile, Jude Webber and John Paul Rathbone reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Argentine farmers halted grains sales on Tuesday, in a protest against government ‘mismanagement’ which has led to high taxes, inflation and exchange rate problems.

“Farmers see hanging on to their crop as a way to hedge against stubbornly high inflation and the weakening domestic currency; but the sales stoppage, after months of strike talk, comes just as the market was beginning to see signs of Argentine grains sales picking up.”


GMO Wheat Issue

Sameer C. Mohindru reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Japan Tuesday restricted imports of feed wheat from the U.S., suspending shipments from the Pacific Northwest and allowing only Soft Red Winter grade to be offered in the next tender due to concerns over the recent discovery of an unapproved genetically modified strain at an Oregon farm.”

Terry Wanzek noted in a column posted yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The biotechnology in question—herbicide resistance that helps crops fight weeds—is well understood and commonly used in corn and soybeans. We eat safe and nutritious food derived from it every day. This trait wasn’t commercialized in wheat for the simple economic reason that foreign buyers would refuse it because they have not yet embraced farming’s biotech revolution.

So the biggest question is not whether the GM wheat found in Oregon is safe—we know with confidence that it is—but rather how it got there in the first place. Authorities must launch a thorough investigation that examines every possibility, from the misplacement of seeds during field tests years ago to the survival of a few stray plants in the wild.”

Wanzek added that, “And let’s not discount the possibility of mischief: The enemies of biotech crops are thrilled by this discovery. Last week, Monsanto Co., which developed the GM wheat, refused to rule out the possibility of sabotage.”



Sara Murray and Corey Boles reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The push to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws easily advanced in the Senate Tuesday, lending the effort a burst of momentum as lawmakers prepare to spend the rest of the month debating the issue.

“The Senate voted 82-15 on a motion that lets lawmakers formally debate the bill and begin offering amendments. All 15 ‘no’ votes came from Republicans.

The measure, which required 60 votes to pass, won support from 28 Republicans. While they may not ultimately support the bill, many GOP lawmakers don’t want to be seen as blocking debate on a sweeping immigration overhaul.”

The Journal writers noted that, “House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) predicted Congress would have a bill by the end of the year that could be signed into law, but he expressed reservations about the Senate’s approach.

“‘I’ve got real concerns about the Senate bill, especially in the area of border security and internal enforcement of this system,’ Mr. Boehner told ABC News. ‘I’m concerned that it doesn’t go far enough.’”

Today’s article added that, “Senate Democratic leaders are confident they have 60 votes to win approval of the bill already, a senior Democratic leadership aide said. The aide said that Democrats expected to lose at most three Democratic votes and to gain as many as 14 Republicans when a final vote is taken on the bill. Democrats now have a 54-46 majority, including two independents who caucus with them.”

Lisa Mascaro reported today at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Trying to bridge the divide in the Republican Party is Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, perhaps the most crucial member of the bipartisan group that wrote the bill. He has been working on his own border security measure to offer as an amendment.

“‘I understand many in the Democratic Party and the advocate community for immigrants are asking for certainty in the green card process, but I also think we need to have certainty on the border process,’ Rubio said Tuesday in the Senate halls. ‘And so we need to find both.’”

And Mark Landler and Ashley Parker reported in today’s New York Times that, “As the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to begin debating an overhaul of the nation’s immigrations laws, President Obama offered a wholehearted endorsement of the bipartisan proposal, which presents him with a chance to reach the kind of landmark accord with Republicans that has eluded him on the budget and gun violence.

“For Mr. Obama, who has picked his shots in the immigration debate to avoid stirring partisan anger on Capitol Hill, it was a moment of promise and peril. While he threw his weight behind the bill, he conceded that it would not satisfy all sides and said he anticipated a bruising fight over issues like border security and the path to citizenship.

“The president, however, may have more leverage than in previous battles, not least because many Republicans believe rewriting the immigration laws is critical for the long-term viability of their party given the nation’s demographic shifts, even if doing so risks alienating parts of their base.”

The Times article stated that, “Mr. Obama, in an attempt to allay fears about immigration changes, said the bill before the Senate included the tightest border control provisions in American history. He said twice that illegal crossings were ‘near their lowest levels in decades.’

“But the president also insisted on a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally — a provision that has continued to be a sticking point between the senators who drafted the legislation and conservative Republicans, especially in the House, who believe that approach represents amnesty for those who broke the law to enter or stay in the country.”

Keith Good

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