January 29, 2020

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Regulations; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he would vote for the House’s farm bill, despite reservations.”

At a news conference yesterday, Speaker Boehner had this exchange with a reporter, which was the last question at the briefing: “Would you vote for the farm bill (as it stands) today?

“Speaker Boehner: I’ve got concerns about the farm bills, I told our members. But doing nothing means that we get no changes in the farm program, no changes in the nutrition program.  And as a result, I’m going to vote for the farm bill to make sure that the good work of the agriculture committee and whatever the floor might to do improve this bill, that it gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs.”

Mr. Sherman pointed out in his Politico article that, “Passing the farm bill, which will come to the House floor this month, will be one of the toughest tasks for the Ohio Republican’s leadership team. Members of leadership are already working to assuage concerns about several of the bill’s provisions.”

Molly K. Hooper and Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Rural Republicans want to see the five-year farm subsidy measure enacted and would be angered with leadership if they pulled the bill. GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) is pushing to get a farm bill done, while Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has not said how he will vote.”

The article indicated that, “Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were working furiously on Wednesday to gin up support.

“A formal Republican whip count of the bill on Wednesday after Boehner’s statement ‘was better than anticipated,’ according to a deputy GOP whip. Peterson, meanwhile, estimated he could get somewhere around 50 Democrats in support, though other sources said the number could be lower.”

Hooper and Wasson noted that, “Lucas said Boehner’s remarks were a shot in the arm for his vote-gathering efforts.

“‘Anytime the Speaker of the United States House announces that he supports something, that always makes the author of the bill very happy,’ he said. ‘But can you say that means anything is a lock? No.’

“Later, while waiving his whip list in the air, Lucas said the bill had new momentum.

“‘We’re moving forward,’ he said. We have the wind at our backs.’”

The Hill article stated that, “Peterson said that Boehner’s remarks might turn off some Democrats but were likely a net positive for supporters of the bill.

“‘It probably helps us,’ he said.”

In addition, the Hill writers pointed out that, “Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also supports farm payments, has not said how she plans to vote but on Thursday said Democrats ‘see the value of a bill coming to the floor and the value of a bill going to conference.’

“Conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who supports the farm bill despite a desire for deeper cuts to food stamps, said he has more members moving from ‘no’ to ‘lean no’ on his whip list…[K]ing said a Wednesday presentation from Lucas at the conservative Republican Study Committee was also helpful. Following that meeting, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) predicted that the leadership could pass the bill — but only with help from Democrats.”

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman was also quoted in The Hill article: “With his statement of support for the farm bill today, Speaker Boehner is giving all Americans, including the farmers who feed them and those concerned with nutrition programs, real optimism that Washington can get important work done in 2013.”

Emma Dumain indicated yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “A day after House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., questioned whether GOP leadership would bring a controversial farm bill to the House floor following the Senate’s Monday night passage, Speaker John A. Boehner signaled he would support his chamber’s version.”

Ms. Dumain observed: “But perhaps more than anything, his pledge to vote for this year’s farm bill suggests his recognition that his vote could be pivotal, as the legislation emerging from the House Agriculture Committee is likely to draw rancor from nearly all Democrats and likely a large portion of the Republican rank and file.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “The speaker signaled support for the House bill’s level of food stamp cuts, saying they are changes that ‘both parties know are necessary.’”

And David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Mindful of Democratic resistance, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that ‘it is important for us to move forward’ with the House farm bill, and a controversial $20 billion cut in food stamps is certain to be reduced in final talks with the Senate and White House…[V]ilsack’s comments came as angry liberals are pressing for a special Democratic caucus on the farm bill. And if Democrats were to bolt in large numbers, it would make it easier for House Republicans to pull down the measure and shift blame from their own divisions that have stalled action for the past year.

“Those stakes were raised Wednesday when Speaker John Boehner told reporters that he now is prepared to put aside his own reservations and back the bill. The speaker’s comments reflect a growing consensus inside the GOP that the time is ripe to act — better to make some progress than drift along with no progress at all.”

Yesterday’s article stated: “Democrats have a stake, too, in these savings — and implicit in Boehner’s new stance is a challenge to the minority to engage him in the floor debate next week.

“Indeed, having mocked the speaker’s stall for the past year, House Democrats are coming to their own moment of truth: The farm bill tolls for them, too.

“Inside the caucus, there is a real fury over the level of food-stamp cuts — five times what the Senate proposed. But the fight also highlights what has been a slow, persistent erosion in the old ties between agriculture and an ever more urbanized Democratic Caucus.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “In 1982, the Democratic roster of the House Agriculture Committee included a future House speaker (Tom Foley) and Senate majority leader (Tom Daschle) as well as that famous jack-of-all-trades in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Leon Panetta, a congressman from California. Also serving were future Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and two of the most wily, even notorious Democratic movers and shakers of that period: Charlie Rose of North Carolina and Tony Coelho of California.

Nothing like that is true today. Left in the middle is Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who muscled through the last farm bill in 2007 and 2008 as speaker and owes a debt to rural lawmakers who helped her own rise in the leadership.”

After more detailed analysis, yesterday’s article pointed out that, “For Democrats, the challenge will be where to draw the line for income eligibility for food stamps. While still relatively small, the share of food-stamp benefits going to households with gross incomes over 130 percent of poverty has more than doubled in recent years and some rollback makes sense to protect the core program.

“At the same time, it is difficult for Republicans to defend an outdated asset test that punishes the same ‘working poor’ the GOP championed during welfare reform. Peterson and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) have explored a compromise closer to the eligibility rules adopted by Texas, but thus far, that has gotten little support from the GOP leadership.”

Writing on Wednesday morning, prior to Speaker Boehner’s commitment of support, Hill writer Erik Wasson reported that, “‘Boehner pledged to be a different kind of speaker, and that is to deal with these big issues in the right way, out in the open, with everyone participating,’ a GOP leadership aide said. ‘That’s the way Congress should work. It’s how Boehner leads.  And it’s what is best for this institution and for the country.’”

Wednesday’s update added that, “‘I have been talking to Chairman [Frank] Lucas [(R-Okla.)], and I argue that we need to push forward, and if it fails, it fails. At least we know how everybody stands,’ [House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)] said.”

Julie Harker reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “[Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.)] says the attitude of the House, though, is hard to figure out.

“‘The parts of my state that really care about this are all represented by Republicans, who are in the majority in the House. And, for the life of me I can’t figure out why they are unwilling to pass a farm bill.’”

And Meghan Grebner reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “[Rep. Cheri Bustos (D., Il)] tells Brownfield that [Speaker Boehner’s support is] a good sign.  ‘I think it’s encouraging,’ she says.  ‘Because if you look at the history of the Farm Bill and Congress- Democrats and Republicans have been able to work together and have been able to pass a five-year Farm Bill until this last session of Congress.’”

Meanwhile, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Georgia Democrat is taking the food stamp challenge, living on just $31.50 worth of food for a week.

“Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) on Wednesday night unpacked a few bags of groceries on the House floor to demonstrate the paltry diet he’ll live by for the next week.”

In other developments, a letter earlier this week to Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, which was signed by 50 organizations, indicated that, “Crop insurance is different than traditional farm policy and any amendments should be cautiously considered. As with other lines of insurance, crop insurance requires a broad pool of participants to function properly. Amendments to arbitrarily cap premium support or assign a means test for support will impact the pool of participants nationwide, both in the near term and longer term.”

“Imposing a means test, cutting premium support by size, crop or type of coverage, and cutting private sector delivery all have the unintended consequence of creating barriers to participation and increasing calls for 100% taxpayer-funded ad hoc disaster assistance,” the letter said.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing yesterday titled, “Modernizing U.S. International Food Aid: Reaching More for Less.”

A related Fact Sheet on U.S. Food Aid is available here.

Andrew Natsios, a former Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development testified at the hearing.

Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) pointed to the current situation in Syria as an example of the difficulties associated with physically transferring food aid to needed regions of the world.

The first shipment, U.S. food shipment, just arrived in the region in Syria. Just arrived two weeks ago. That’s two years after the crisis began. But even with this shipment, it is now the case that trucking it into the population in need, because of the difficulties of doing that, it’s not conceivable to move major portions of food by truck into those regions on a daily basis because there’s a daily assault by the Syrian military units, so that isn’t likely to happen,” Chairman Royce said.

So this old structure, you know, frankly, comes two years late and now the food aid is in country, but how do you get it to the region most in need, to those most in need? So with a more flexible program, it seems to me, we’ve been able to respond quickly, we’ve been able to maintain access and help keep local markets running, and reduce the probability of aid dependency over the long-term.”

Mr. Natsios stated that, “Well, this goes back, Mr. Chairman, to this comment of [Amartya Sen] that when you have a 7,000 mile supply chain, a lot of things can happen along the way.”

Mr. Natsios went on to elaborate with a past example of getting food to troubled region in the 1990s, “Most famines are also an offshoot of civil wars. The two things are a toxic mix with each other. And what usually happens is one side sees the food coming in, because it’s very visible. You can’t hide 100,000 tons of food. You can’t ship it electronically through a banking system, which you can do with cash, to an NGO doing local vouchers, for example. It’s a giant red flag. And if the enemy—if a particular side in the civil war wants to starve their opponents to death, the way you do is you blow up the food shipments.”

An unofficial transcript of a portion of this exchange from yesterday’s hearing is available here.

Also, in response to a question from Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) about food aid reform, former Sec. of Agriculture Dan Glickman stated: “And I think a lot of people are either fearful of what might happen if we don’t have a statutory requirement that the overwhelming majority of the food aid that’s sent is in commodities, because I think they fear that maybe with budget issues or other things it won’t get the same priority here in the Congress or the administration.  But I think there’s the growing recognition that we need a heck of a lot more flexibility.  It’s not all or nothing.”

Rep. Engel asked: “Do you think this would have much of an impact on American farm income?

Former Sec. Glickman replied: “No.  In fact, my judgment is over the long-term this is a big plus for American agriculture because it will create the opportunity for countries to become more self-sufficient and buy more things from us, and there are examples around the world in Southeast Asia, and I mentioned Korea and others.  It’s tough in Sub Saharan Africa and other places to do this in the short-term, but they desperately need us to help them become more food self-sufficient.”


Agricultural Economy

AP writer David Pitt reported yesterday that, “Corn farmers are feeling the impact of a cool, wet spring but are still expected to bring in a record crop this year.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in its monthly report released Wednesday that farmers are expected to bring in 14 billion bushels of corn this year. That’s 135 million bushels less than last month’s estimate, reflecting the impact of the cooler spring.

“But that would still beat the 13.1 billion bushel record, set in 2009. Last year, farmers harvested only about 11 billion bushels because of the drought.”

Mr. Pitt added that, “The USDA said the amount of corn expected to be harvested per acre — the yield — will be reduced to 156.5 bushels per acre down from 158 bushels estimated a month ago. Last year’s drought-withered corn yielded 123 bushels per acre.”

A summary of U.S. corn related variables from yesterday’s report is available here, while a similar overview for U.S. soybeans can be found here.

John Eligon reported in today’s New York Times that, “‘The projections are still highly tentative,’ Joseph W. Glauber, the U.S.D.A.’s chief economist, wrote in an e-mail.

As of Monday, about 4.5 million acres of corn and 22 million acres of soybeans remained unplanted, according to Christopher A. Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University. By this time last year, all of the nation’s corn crop had already been planted.”

Meanwhile, in other news, a recent update from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City indicated that, “Young and beginning farmers represent the next generation of farm operators, but entering the profession can be challenging.  In the latest issue of the Main Street Economist, Nathan Kauffman, economist, explores the obstacles young and beginning farmers face in securing financing for capital-intensive operations.”

Also, AP writer Hannah Dreier reported today that, “Long weighed down by dwindling populations in farming and coal communities and the movement of young people to cities, rural counties are being hit by sputtering growth in retirement and recreation areas, once residential hot spots for baby boomers.”

With respect to trade, Steven Erlanger reported in today’s New York Times that, “The leaders of the European Union, mired in recession and battered by increasing opposition from voters, are desperate for political success to promote economic growth. They are pushing for a rapid negotiation of a trade agreement with the United States aimed at expanding commerce and creating jobs.

“But many experts say any such deal faces long odds.”

The Times article stated that, “France has already raised objections about its ‘cultural exception’ — limiting the number of Hollywood movies shown there to protect subsidized, domestic movies and television programs — and continued to press the issue ahead of a meeting on Friday of the European Union’s trade ministers [See also, “Planned EU-U.S. Trade Deal Hits Snag on Cultural Issues,” in today’s Wall Street Journal].

“At the same time, there is a range of other, probably more serious problems, including agricultural disputes over things like genetically modified food and chlorinated chicken and regulatory questions about car safety, pharmaceuticals and financial derivatives.”



Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “President Obama’s nominee to head an obscure but powerful regulatory office on Wednesday promised to make scrapping burdensome rules a priority.

Howard Shelanski’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs were his first public remarks since he was tapped in April to serve as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).”

The Hill article added that, “He vowed to ‘institutionalize’ the president’s initiative directing agencies to review all rules on the books and get rid of the ones that don’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, AP writer Alanna Durkin reported yesterday that, “Maine food retailers would have to put special labels on products that contain genetically modified ingredients, under a measure advanced by the House on Tuesday.”

The AP article pointed out that, “An amendment added Tuesday requires that five contiguous states, including Maine, pass similar laws before the state’s law goes into effect.

“Lawmakers say that requirement will give the law a better chance of success by allowing multiple states to share the costs of a possible legal challenge from the biotech industry while also sending a message to the U.S. government to enact a federal law.”

And AP writer Rebecca Boone reported yesterday that, “Farmers in Idaho have filed a potentially class action lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto after genetically engineered wheat was found in an eastern Oregon field.”



Julia Preston and Ashley Parker reported in today’s New York Times that, “As debate started on Wednesday on amendments to the Senate immigration bill, border security emerged as a focal point, with supporters and doubters agreeing that those provisions would have to be strengthened to attract more votes, especially from Republicans.”

The Times article added that, “The debate got off to a rocky start with a dispute between Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and several Republicans, including Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, over how many votes would be required to pass an amendment.”

Keith Good

Comments are closed.