Farm Bill- Policy Issues
The House Rules Committee convened yesterday and began a discussion relating to the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947).
At yesterday’s meeting, Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) fielded several general questions about the legislation and provided an overview of some key variables of the law.
In an exchange with Rep. Rob Woodall (R., Ga.), Chairman Lucas noted changes contained in the Bill that impact the commodity title, as well as the SNAP program, and indicated that the Ag Committee sought “to achieve a balance.”
“What I think Collin and I and the committee attempted to do on the commodity side was to say that certain policies such as the old direct payment program from 1996, while it might still be the most WTO trade compliant law, was unsustainable in the eyes of the membership and eyes of the popular press, which sometimes doesn’t always get into the details,” Chairman Lucas said.
With respect to the nuances of the changes in SNAP, Chairman Lucas explained that: “Now in some things like ‘Cat El’ that the ranking member alluded to, categorical eligibility, there are a number of states, 40 something, approximately, that use some law from the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 to say that if you qualify for certain federal welfare benefits, you automatically get food stamps. We simply say in the bill you’ve got to apply—demonstrate your income, demonstrate your assets and we’ll help you, but you’ve just got to apply.”
Chairman Lucas added that, “LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] is a program where a handful of states have used the flexibility of the ’96 law to say that if we are helping you with your home heating costs, then you can automatically qualify for a full month’s worth of food stamps. In the bill we simply say, not to take away a state’s ability to decide how they should use their own resources, we simply say instead of sending out one dollar to get a full month’s worth of food stamps, you have to send out $20. That saves about $8 billion.”
Ranking Member Peterson indicated yesterday that, “You know, these changes were made for administrative efficiency. The LIHEAP thing happened in the ‘80s, the ‘Cat El’ happened in ’96 when we block granted welfare. You know, we haven’t updated the income and asset requirements in the food stamp program for probably 30 years. So it’s at 130% of poverty, the income, and there’s a $2,000 asset limit individual, 3,500 for a family, and a car limitation. You can’t have a car that’s worth more than $4,500.
“Well, you know, those things need to be updated. In this day and age, if you want people to work, they’ve got to have a car, so most of the states have eliminated that. So the ‘Cat El,’ you’ve got nine states that are using the federal requirements, so the people in those states, if they’re above 130, they don’t get food stamps. But there’s like, I don’t know, probably 14 states that have 200% of poverty, so in those states you can have a lot more income and get food stamps.
“Well, I don’t think that’s right. So the states are deciding who gets food stamps, and then we’re paying for it. That’s not a very smart system. So I’d like to see us update, raise the income levels, raise the asset levels, and treat everybody in the country the same. That’s what I’d like to see us do. We couldn’t get that done.”
Jerry Hagstrom, writing yesterday at National Journal Online about the Rules Committee hearing, reported that, “But Peterson also noted that many Democrats have problems with the size of the cut to SNAP. He said that it would have been his choice to update the eligibility standards and asset tests for SNAP, but that the committee had been unable to do that. Instead, the bill would limit the tie between low-income energy assistance and SNAP qualification and limit the use of what is known as categorical eligibility—a provision from the 1996 welfare-reform law that gives states flexibility to set the income levels and asset tests used to qualify for SNAP. Peterson said he believes it’s not fair that qualification standards vary by state, but he added that the national standard for the value of a car that a SNAP beneficiary can own is only $4,500.”
House Rules Committee Member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), who also serves on the Ag Committee, tweeted yesterday that, “While on the #SNAPChallenge, I’m in Rules Committee fighting for a full & fair debate over #SNAPCuts on the House Floor. #farmbill”
A tweet yesterday from the House Agriculture Committee, which included a brief slide, stated that: “House to vote this week on #farmbill. Here’s a quick guide to what’s at stake w/ #SNAP reforms. #voteforFARRM pic.twitter.com/ZDUQn7xJYC”
The Rules Committee also announced yesterday that an additional meeting will be held today, Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 2:00 PM; and stated that, “This hearing is a continuation of the Committee’s consideration of H.R. 1947; it will address amendments submitted to the bill.”
The Rules Committee posted all of the amendments that were filed to the Farm Bill at this webpage, which also includes the sponsor of each amendment, along with a brief explanation. There are over 220 amendments listed on the Rules Committee webpage.
Chris Clayton explained yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “The number of amendments forced the House Rules Committee to hold a Monday meeting to discuss the underlying bill while scheduling a separate meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss how the debate on amendments will be handled.
“That effectively means debate on amendments would not begin until Wednesday afternoon. Given that the House is scheduled for its final vote of the week on Thursday afternoon, it looks like the House could go into a marathon session Wednesday evening to get the House Agriculture Committee’s bill done.”
In his National Journal article from yesterday, Jerry Hagstrom pointed out that, “The House schedule calls for the last vote of the week to be held Thursday at 3 p.m., but after the Rules meeting both Lucas and Peterson expressed confidence that the bill will pass by then. ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ Lucas said of Thursday’s final passage.”
Mr. Hagstrom also noted that, “Peterson noted that he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, disagree over the dairy title, but each has agreed to support the bill regardless of how the title turns out on the House floor.”
In a brief look at a few of the amendments to the Farm Bill, a GOP amendment sponsored by Reps. Doug LaMalfa (CA), Lynn Westmoreland (GA), Richard Hudson (NC), and Ted Yoho (FL), “Severs the interaction between the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the SNAP standard utility allowance (SUA).”
Former Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) issued a news release yesterday titled, “Bipartisan Coalition Introduces Amendment to Remove Dairy Supply Management from the Farm Bill.”
Also, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) indicated in a news release yesterday that, “Stutzman, a fourth-generation farmer from Indiana, filed amendments with the House Committee on Rules today to divide the farm bill into a true, ‘farm-only’ farm bill and separate food stamp legislation.”
Reps. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) and Ron Kind (D., Wis.) filed an amendment that: “Sets the target price for all crops at 55 percent of the five year rolling Olympic average. The amendment also changes the acreage available for target price support to 85 percent of the farmer’s base acres.”
And a bipartisan amendment by Reps. Richard Hanna (R., NY), Chellie Pingree (D., ME), Ron Kind (D., WI), and Thomas Petri (R., WI) “Reduces by 15 percent the level of crop insurance premium subsidies for individual participants with an annual Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) over $750,000.”
A separate amendment by Mike Thompson (D., Calif.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) would, “Require a conservation compliance plan be filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and followed for all crops in wetlands and all annually tilled crops on highly erodible lands in order to qualify for crop insurance premium subsidy assistance.”
Also, an amendment with six bipartisan cosponsors, including Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D. Ore.), “Strikes section 12314 of the bill and replaces it with the text of H.R. 1731, a bill to create a uniform national standard for housing of egg-laying hens.”
With respect to this issue, Carla Hall noted yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The U.S. House of Representatives is gearing up for a big egg fight as early as Wednesday when it takes up the proposed farm bill and whether states can regulate how agricultural products outside its borders are manufactured or raised.
“This all stems from Proposition 2, the California initiative that outlawed tiny, cramped cages for egg-laying hens and was approved, overwhelmingly, by voters in 2008…[T]he measure applied only to California egg farmers — who argued it would be costly to retrofit and would force them to raise their egg prices — while out-of-state producers still using the old cages could sell their eggs across state lines to Californians at a cheaper price. So the state wisely passed a bill two years later that set standards for all eggs sold in California. All would have to come from farms that gave hens roomier quarters and met California’s standards for egg farming.”
Ms. Hall noted that, “Now, a farm bill amendment from Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa (where, you guessed it, they produce more eggs for sale than in any other state) would prohibit any state from putting conditions on any other state’s agricultural production methods beyond what the federal government already requires. Doing otherwise would interfere with interstate commerce, supporters say, which only the feds can regulate. [See related information on the King Amendment here].
“Meanwhile, the Denham-Schrader amendment to the farm bill would simply set a national standard for more space for egg-laying hens in all the states. It’s supported not only by the Humane Society of the U.S. — which was the prime force behind Prop. 2 — but by the United Egg Producers, a vast national cooperative of egg farmers.”
The column added that, “And now it is time for the federal government to raise its standards for egg-laying hens. And that will be the best way to insure adequate care of factory farm hens across the country — without raising the specter of states trying to regulate one another. This is not about commerce. This is about animal cruelty. The House should accept the Denham-Schrader amendment.”
Chris Clayton also reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy blog that, “Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wis., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Kind propose placing an annual cap at $50,000 for the total subsidy received by a farmer who participates in the Federal Crop Insurance Program and require the recipient to be ‘actively engaged’ in farming in order to qualify for the subsidy.
“Those same three congressmen were joined nine others to propose capping crop-insurance profitability at 12%, as well as put caps on administrative and operating expenses. They also propose a $50,000 premium-subsidy cap.”
Mr. Clayton noted that, “Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., wants to disclose crop-insurance subsidies for individuals. Specifically, Foxx would like disclosure of government officials and immediate family members receiving such subsidies, as well as majority shareholders in farms. Four other lawmakers also offered a similar amendment requiring name disclosure.
“Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., propose to eliminate the premium subsidy for harvest-price crop-insurance policies.”
Meanwhile, Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Speaker John A. Boehner faces one of his first big leadership tests of the year as he brings a farm bill to the floor this week amid opposition from a host of powerful conservative advocacy groups that have frequently bedeviled his speakership.”
The article noted that, “‘[He] plans to vote for this one because it contains significant reforms,’ Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Monday in an email to CQ Roll Call. ‘He will also support an amendment to add further reforms to the bill by further overhauling the dairy program. If these reforms don’t pass the House, taxpayers end up with no spending cuts and another extension of current law, and current law is lousy.’”
Patrick O’Connor reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Republican leaders in the House will face a familiar foe when they bring a massive farm bill to the floor later this week: their own rank-and-file.
“Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are working to scuttle the latest rewrite of federal farm and nutrition policy, providing another glimpse of the fault lines that have roiled Republicans in the House all year.”
The Journal article stated that, “As many as 80 of 234 House Republicans could vote against the bill, GOP aides said, so the big question at this point is how many Democrats will support it in order to win a majority, which is 218 votes if all House members cast ballots.
“Farm-state Democrats, led by Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, are expected to back the measure, while more-liberal members are working to defeat the legislation because it would cut more than $20 billion from food-stamp programs over 10 years.”
In executive branch perspective on the Farm Bill, David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The White House warned Monday that it would veto the House farm bill as it now stands and signaled strongly that the fastest path to some compromise this summer would be by taking savings from crop insurance to offset Republican-backed cuts from food stamps.
“The most severe of the food-stamp savings would come from reimposing tighter income limits and an outdated asset test that could force more than 2 million beneficiaries off the rolls. The estimated savings are $11.5 billion over the next 10 years, and the administration made note that its own crop insurance reforms could save an almost equal sum, $11.7 billion.
“The release of the White House statement came as Democrats are slated to caucus Tuesday morning with the farm bill on the agenda. The House Agriculture Committee leadership hopes to win what could be a close vote on final passage, but this still relies on getting close to 50 Democratic votes, given the number of defections on the right in the GOP.”
Mr. Rogers stated that, “The White House release of the statement late Monday came even as the House Rules Committee was meeting to set the terms for general debate Tuesday. More than 220 amendments — filling more pages than the farm bill itself — had been filed with the panel, which will hold a second meeting Tuesday afternoon to begin to cull the list.
“Indeed, Wednesday and Thursday promise to be something of a brawl and the Agriculture leadership will have its hands full for those 48 hours.”
Meanwhile, Alexandra Wexler reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to buy sugar from domestic growers, the government’s first direct intervention in the nation’s sugar market in 13 years.
“The move is aimed at helping to whittle down a surplus that has driven prices to four-year lows and is threatening to spark a wave of defaults on almost $700 million of government loans.”
The Journal article added that, “The USDA plans to sell the sugar it buys to refiners, companies that take raw cane sugar and process it into the white table sugar found on supermarket shelves. But the USDA isn’t going to demand cash. Instead, it will ask refiners to hand over import credits.
“USDA officials hope that fewer available credits would help reduce the supply of the sweetener.”
In other news, The New York Times editorial board (“The U.S.D.A. Inspects Its Inspectors”), citing a recent USDA inspector general report, indicated today that, “The inspectors are not only overworked, but, in many cases, undertrained. Even in the presence of government investigators, some inspectors failed to condemn contaminated meat. Nor were the inspectors vigilant enough when it came to flagging violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which specifies a minimum standard for the treatment of animals being led to slaughter.
“The good news is that the Agriculture Department is inspecting its inspection system. The bad news is that the inspector general’s office merely urges inspectors to conform more fully to existing laws and directives, when what is needed is more and better-trained inspectors.”
Nicholas Winning and Paul Hannon reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The U.S. and the European Union said they would start talks to build a free-trade agreement to boost growth and create jobs across the Atlantic, a deal that officials hope will strengthen the world’s biggest two-way economic relationship.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) reacted positively to this development yesterday while American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman noted that, “The misuse of sanitary and phytosanitary standards, including the EU’s restrictions on genetically engineered crops, has long been a tactic to impede trade. We will look closely to these negotiations to move past this trade distorting tactic and fully embrace a rules-based trading system with standards based upon scientific assessment.”
James Politi reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The US would gain more than the EU from a transatlantic trade deal, according to a study to be released on Monday.
“Its report concludes that a transatlantic agreement would reduce trade flows within Europe and damage many developing countries.
“Economists at the Munich-based Ifo institute, a German economic think-tank, found that a trade deal would lead to a 13.4 per cent increase in US income per head in real terms over the ‘long term’ but only an average 5 per cent rise among the EU’s 27 member states.”