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Farm Bill

Farm Bill- House Methodically Tackles Amendments; Still Possible to Finish Work on the Bill Today

After the Rules Committee determined late Tuesday night that 103 amendments were in order for the Farm Bill, the full House moved yesterday to debate and pass the rule to provide for the consideration of the legislation.

Lawmakers passed that measure by a vote of 239-177.

However, Erik Wasson pointed out yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that some groups were not happy about the Rules Committee decision to limit some amendments for consideration: “Deficit hawks at Taxpayers for Common Sense are enraged Wednesday by limits imposed by the House Rules Committee on farm bill amendments.

“The committee allowed votes on 103 out of 229 amendments, but the group says some of the best cost-cutting reforms were ruled out of order. They said the Rules Committee did not abide by Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) call for an open farm bill debate.”

During the debate on the rule for consideration of the Farm Bill, discussion among Members returned to the controversial issue of nutrition cuts that were contained in the legislation.

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R., Tex.) noted during the debate that, “We are not trying to take advantage of those who are on it [SNAP].  They are on it because they cannot find work.  They cannot find an opportunity because of public policies that make work harder to find because of rules and regulations out of this body and the federal government that are creating circumstances on employers, where they don’t go and employ people.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) the sponsor of an amendment to eliminate the nutrition cuts to the Farm Bill noted that, “This is not about reform.  When you come up with reform we deliberate.  In the Agriculture Committee, in the Subcommittee on Nutrition, you know how many hearings there were on SNAP?  Zero.  None.  In the full Committee do you know how many hearings there were on SNAP? Zero.  None.  None.”

He added that, “If you really want reform, you have to listen to people, you have to deliberate.  That is what hearings are for.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House voted Wednesday afternoon to start work on more than 100 amendments to the farm bill, after another debate over the issue that has come to dominate consideration of the bill — cuts to the federal food stamp program.

Mr. Kasperowicz noted that, “McGovern said during the rule debate that the farm bill has plenty of programs for farmers, but fails poor and hungry Americans on food assistance.”

The Hill update added that: “‘The SNAP program does not take one calorie off the plate of those who qualify for the program,’ Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) added. ‘We simply close the loopholes that allow states to sign people up into programs without the proper qualifications.’”

When Members turned to consider the Farm Bill, the first amendment that was brought up for a vote was Rep. McGovern’s nutrition amendment.

(FarmPolicy Note: All of the Farm Bill amendments, along with the updated status of each measure, has been posted at this House webpage.  Throughout the afternoon and into last night, a vast majority of the amendments were debated.  After consideration, amendments were withdrawn, adopted by voice vote, rejected by voice vote, or the sponsor requested a roll call vote.  Just five amendments remain to be debated).

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “The House voted on Wednesday to cut food stamps by $2 billion a year as part of a wide-ranging farm bill.

“The chamber rejected 234-188 a Democratic amendment to the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm legislation that would have maintained current spending on food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The overall bill cuts the $80 billion-a-year program by about 3 percent and makes it harder for some people to qualify.”

Ms. Jalonick noted that, “Other amendments chipped away at the program. The House adopted by voice vote an amendment to require drug tests for SNAP recipients, angering Democrats who said the tests would be demeaning to people who apply for the food aid. Lawmakers also adopted by voice vote an amendment that would end a 2004 U.S.-Mexico agreement to educate Mexican-Americans about food stamps. More amendments are expected to try and scale back the program.”

Meanwhile, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that “Congressmen spent most of the afternoon and early evening debating several major amendments. A few that would have changed commodity programs were withdrawn by their sponsors. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, had wanted to get rid of the high target prices in the bill, but withdrew his amendment after it became clear he wasn’t getting the backing to win a vote.

“Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., proposed tying conservation compliance to eligibility for crop-insurance subsidies. He withdrew his amendment on the floor, but noted the language is in the Senate bill.”

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Midwest corn and soybean interests were suddenly without a sponsor as Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) pulled down his amendment challenging a new price-loss program important to Southern crops. Across the aisle, environmental groups felt the same twinge as Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) faded in a fight over toughening conservation requirements for farmers benefiting from crop insurance.

In both cases, Gibbs and Thompson’s offices said the lawmakers were looking forward to making their cases in conference with the Senate. But the National Corn Growers Association didn’t hide its disappointment at Gibbs change of heart. Thompson’s co-sponsor, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) found himself alone on the floor, explaining a decision that didn’t seem his own.

“‘I had to accept an unfortunate but strategic retreat in order to fight for this, another day,’ he said later.”

Also, Mr. Rogers noted his Politico article that, “And there is real concern among farm-state Democrats that Republicans are going too far with a proposal by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) that would cut food stamps by 10 percent in the future if Congress fails to pass a farm bill extending the program.”

With respect to the Gibbs amendment, a statement yesterday from the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Sunflower Association and U.S. Canola Association indicated that, “Our collective groups believe the Gibbs amendment would have received strong support on the House floor, and would have made the 2013 farm bill a better piece of legislation overall. As proponents of market-oriented farm policy, we are disappointed to see the amendment withdrawn and we thank Rep. Gibbs for his continued advocacy. We expect Chairman Lucas to respond to the farm policy concerns raised by the amendment during Conference on the farm bill, as he committed to do during his colloquy today with Rep. Gibbs. The final farm bill must be more equitable and market-oriented than the current Price Loss Coverage program in the House bill.”

Also, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Global Affairs Blog that, “Members of the House on Wednesday voted down a proposal to radically reform U.S. food aid by allowing aid recipients to buy non-U.S. farm commodities.

“The idea of allowing needy countries to buy food that is not grown in the U.S. has long been championed by those who see it as a faster way to deliver food aid. But a majority of the House rejected the proposal from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in a 203-220 vote.

“Both parties were dramatically divided on the proposal. The issue split Republicans 105-126, and it split Democrats 98-94.”

And an amendment by Steve Chabot (R., Ohio) and Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) that sought to repeal Section 3102, which reauthorizes the Market Access Program (MAP) until 2018, was defeated by a vote of 322-98.

At the DTN Ag Policy Blog yesterday, Chris Clayton indicated that, “One of the amendments that sort of flew over my head when it was being debated on the floor Wednesday was from Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., that caps spending on the proposed House commodity programs at 110% of projected budget scores by the Congressional Budget Office from 2016 to 2020.

“Foxx argues the Farm Risk Management Election Program — which is combination of the Revenue Loss Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs — is scored to cost $23.4 billion over 10 years. Foxx argues the commodity provisions could cost much more. She noted the 2008 farm bill — the full bill — cost 51% more than the Congressional Budget Office projected.”

The DTN update explained that, “[Ag Comm. Ranking Member Collin Peterson], in an interview off the House floor, said the risk of the Foxx amendment would put the entire target-price program at risk if farmers go from high prices without using the program into a price spiral.

“‘Say this year is good and all the prices are above target prices, but next year we have a price collapse,’ Peterson said. ‘You couldn’t move the target prices if they exceeded more than 10% of what you spent this year. It could end up making it completely ineffective.’

“The Foxx amendment, if it survives through the final bill, would not go into effect until the 2016 crop year.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported today that, “The House voted late Wednesday to delay sweeping food safety rules that would require farmers and food companies to be more vigilant about guarding against contamination.

“Lawmakers adopted an amendment by voice vote to a wide-ranging farm bill just before midnight that would delay the rules signed into law in 2011 until the Food and Drug Administration conducts a study on their economic impacts.”

The AP article noted that, “The amendment was offered by Republican Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan, who said the regulations would be burdensome to farmers in his district.”

And Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture.com that, “Even though Agriculture Committee Chairman opposed it, the House approved an amendment backed by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to improve federal coordination of efforts to reduce the decline in honey bees and other pollinators. That passed by a vote of 273 to 149.  Lucas said the amendment gave too much authority to the Secretary of Agriculture. Kaptur said that ‘since 2006 we have lost 10 million beehives costing beekeepers more than $2 billion.’ Experts say we’re only one bad winter away from a loss of pollinators that’s severe enough to affect production of many crops.”

Also last night, Members debated an amendment sponsored by Reps. Ron Kind (D., Wis.), Tom Petri (R., Wis.) and others that, “Limits premium subsidies to those producers with an AGI under $250,000 and limits per person premium subsidies to $50,000 and caps crop insurance providers’ reimbursement of administrative and operating at $900 million and reduces their rate of return to 12%. Introduces transparency into the crop insurance program.”

A video replay of that debate is available here, a roll call vote was requested for this measure.

Also on this amendment, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) proposed an amendment that would only allow farm subsidies to producers with an average gross income of less than $250,000, and limit those subsidies to $50,000 per person.

“Kind said those changes would help prevent million-dollar payments to farmers, and save $11 billion. But Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said that would be a ‘slap in the face’ to farmers — he and other opponents said cutting farm payments would penalize U.S. producers compared to their overseas competitors.

“Conaway also said that only radical environmental groups would support these kinds of cuts, although Kind argued that many taxpayer groups support his proposal.”

The Hill update indicated that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) closed out the debate by urging members to oppose the change.”

In a related article, Marcia Zarley Taylor reported yesterday at the DTN Minding Ag’s Business Blog that, “I don’t necessarily buy all the crop insurance industry’s arguments, but losing the largest farms from crop insurance coverage will only hike rates on remaining insureds, the crop insurance industry says. It’s not unlike the argument that rates for everyone should be lower when you insure the largest pool of people. Disqualifying operators with incomes over $250,000 from subsidies would be like barring the automobile drivers with the best driving records. They’ll invent other products to protect themselves, but small and mid-size farmers will pay more.”

Ms. Taylor added that, “Like I said, this sounds like an unintended consequence. If Congress wants to save money, raise everyone’s rates a bit. Don’t try to social engineer insurance.”

And with respect to the prospects of completing the Farm Bill today, Vicki Needham and Bernie Becker reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told reporters late Wednesday afternoon that there was still a shot — if just an outside one —that the farm bill could get wrapped up this week.

“‘While the odds are still we’ll finish on Thursday, if my friends can stay focused and be a little frugal in their words and accept yes votes when they get them, maybe we’ll wind this up tomorrow,’ Lucas said. ‘That’s my goal.’

“As Lucas was talking to reporters, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — a frequent farm bill skeptic who has said he plans to vote for this one — walked by and complimented the chairman’s handling of the bill.”

More specifically, Pete Kasperowicz reported last night at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said late Wednesday that he believes it is now possible to finish work on the farm bill Thursday, after the House passed 40 amendments to the bill in a matter of minutes.

“‘I think we now… it’s possible to meet our departure deadline tomorrow,’ Lucas said.

Mr. Kasperowicz explained that, “Passage of the en bloc amendment package was done after little debate. Amendments included en bloc were numbers 53, 59, 60, 62-97, and 103. Details on these amendments can be seen here (use the bolded numbers on the far left side).

“In the hours before that vote, the House had considered roughly 50 amendments out of the 103 made in order. To finish by Thursday, the House will have to hold at least 17 votes on amendments, based on debate that took place Wednesday.”

The House floor schedule for today indicated that, “On Thursday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business.

First votes expected: 9:30 – 11:15 a.m. Last votes expected: 12:30 – 2:30 p.m.”


The floor update added that, “The Rule provides for no further general debate and makes in order the following remaining amendments:

– Reps. Pitts / Davis (IL) / Goodlatte / Blumenauer Amendment [Sugar].

– Reps. Goodlatte / Scott (GA) / Collins (NY) / Moran (VA) / Duffy / Polis / Coffman / Meeks / DeGette / Issa / Sessions / Lee (CA) Amendment [Dairy].

– Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Amendment [Payment Limits].

– Reps. Huelskamp / Goodlatte / Neugebauer /Jordan / DeSantis / Stewart (UT) / Bentivolio Amendment [SNAP Work Requirements].

– Reps. Southerland / Westmoreland / Kingston / Bentivolio / Schweikert Amendment [SNAP Requirements].

Meanwhile, Richard Simon reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A bipartisan group of lawmakers failed to kill a provision in the farm bill that blocks California from requiring that eggs imported into the state come from hens who have enough room to spread their wings.

“The measure in the farm bill now before the House would prohibit one state from imposing conditions on another state’s production of agricultural goods. The prohibition was sought by Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the biggest egg-producing state, who contends that California has exceeded its authority and interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.

“A group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from California’s agriculture-producing Central Valley, sought a vote by the full House to remove the prohibition and substitute national standards for hen housing.”

The LA Times article stated that, “But the Republican-led House Rules Committee late Tuesday rejected his request on a largely party-line 7-3 vote.  Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said the issue had been considered at length by the House Agriculture Committee.”

The King prohibition could run into trouble during House-Senate negotiations on a final farm bill.  Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) signed onto a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to establish national standards for the treatment of hens,” the article noted.

In other developments, in a radio interview yesterday (FarmPolicy.com transcript here) on KKBS 92.7 (Guymon, Okla.) Chairman Lucas responded to a question about separating the nutrition title from the Farm Bill by explaining: “My predecessors realized that it was coming to a point where there weren’t enough people who represented rural America anymore to pass a farm bill all by themselves, and the folks in the suburbs and the inner cities didn’t give a hoot, basically, is the short answer. So when Jack Kennedy started what Lyndon Johnson made into permanent law, the food stamp program, they reached out and grabbed it and tied raising food to making sure people had enough to eat food programs, and that created a political coalition that got us to this point.

“The problem now is, after the liberals running this place for most of the last 50 years—not all in the last 20, but most of the last 50 years—they turned up the spending on the welfare side and turned down the spending on the production side, and you’ve got this misbalance. My problem still is if you split the two bills apart, I can’t pass a commodity title, I can’t pass a rural development title, I can’t pass ag research in a standalone.”

Chairman Lucas added that, “And it’s like I try to tell some of my cohorts up here. If you so ignore producing your food, there will come a time when it doesn’t matter how big the food stamp checks are, it doesn’t matter how big the electronic benefit card balances are, if there’s nothing on the shelf to buy, it won’t matter. That’s why we have to continue to invest in production, so there will always be something to eat. And a certain amount of the folks I serve with just glaze over. They just cannot see the reality of that alternative.”

Chairman Lucas also noted that, “The fact that we’re spending less money should not disturb anybody because quite simply, when a $16 trillion national debt, every year, at least until now, the Obama Administration’s been an annual trillion dollar deficit, the House perspective is it doesn’t matter, we’re going to spend less money on everything. You cannot pass a bill out of this body that increases spending. I’m not sure you could pass a bill that just flatlines it. That’s why whether it’s the farm bill or anything else you’ve got to spend less. That’s just being responsible. But the President wants to take care of his political base, and he doesn’t give a hoot about the rest of the countryside because it’s not his political base.”

And Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) indicated yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Discard your preconceived notions about what you think a farm bill is or is not. Discard the talking points of extreme groups that will never be satisfied with a farm bill no matter what reforms and savings it entails because then their purpose is greatly diminished.

Consider the House farm bill for what it is: a solid start to solving Washington’s spending problem. It’s not the end of the effort, it’s just the beginning.”

Recall that on Tuesday, the House held a general debate on the Farm Bill.

A portion of the Congressional Record that contains most of this debate is available here, while additional remarks on the Farm Bill on the floor on Tuesday can be read here and here.

Keith Good