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Farm Bill; Appropriations; Immigration; and, the Ag Economy

Farm Bill

On Friday, Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (R., Minn.) was a guest on The Mike McFeely Show (KFGO Radio, Fargo, N.D.) where he discussed Farm Bill issues.  An audio replay of the discussion is available here, while a FarmPolicy.com transcript of Friday’s interview can be found here.

Rep. Peterson noted that, “Well, there’s always hope. We have not come to a conclusion about what to do. There’s been some ideas thrown out. And some people were getting pretty excited yesterday and about ready to blow everything up. And I was on the phone and got most everybody calmed down, I think.

“So, you know, there was some talk about bringing the Senate bill up in the House. I have a problem with that. I’ve got problems with some of the Senate bill, and that’s what the conference committee is for, to deal with that.”

More specifically, Rep. Peterson indicated that, “I think the best solution that I can come up with is to take the House Agriculture Committee bill, which was bipartisan, which had over 50 votes from the Democrats—[Steny Hoyer] thought there were 70. I don’t think there were that many. But there were clearly enough votes, along with the Republicans, to pass what came out of the committee. Bring that bill to the Rules Committee and put it on the floor, it’ll pass and get to conference. I think that’s the best solution, if people are willing to do it.”

He added that, “And then, you know, we had made a deal on food stamps where I agreed to more cuts than we had considered last year, but I thought we had a deal that there weren’t going to be any other…that we were going to stand together to oppose any other changes in the food stamp area, but that’s not what happened. And three amendments got approved, that each one of them peeled off more support, so we got down to 24 votes, and that wasn’t enough…[S]o we’re going to go back to the drawing board. I talked to Lucas yesterday and tried to figure out some way we can bring this thing back, get it passed, get it into conference. We haven’t worked for four years to give up now, so we’re going to keep plugging.”

With respect to one of the amendments regarding SNAP, the “Southerland amendment,” Rep. Peterson stated: “On this Southerland amendment, which was the one that broke the camel’s back, this is a Cantor deal, and he actually got up and spoke on this right before they [handed] the deal, which really torqued everybody off. All of the people, the 61 people that voted against the bill voted for that amendment, and no Democrats.”

In the remainder of the interview, Rep. Peterson discussed more Farm Bill issues and other political variables.

A transcript of the House floor debate regarding the “Southerland amendment,” from the Congressional Record, is available here.

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Among the 62 House Republicans voting against the farm bill last week, all but one had voted minutes before for a controversial food stamp amendment that undercut Democratic support for passage.

“This is what passes for ‘growing the vote’ these days in Congress. Or in playground terms: taking your ball and going home.”

“Looking back, it was a remarkable moment not just for the tone-deaf judgment of the House GOP leadership but because the Republicans voting ‘no’ had gotten their way so often in the debate,” Mr. Rogers noted; and added that, “In another time, many of the 62 Republican nays might have taken their wins and moved ahead. But the opposite happened, and for the second time in two years, the House failed to pass a farm bill, after watching the Senate succeed, each time with bipartisan majorities.

“Lost in the process is the only real effort by Congress this summer to try to come together and find savings to ease the burden of sequestration that is bleeding the daily operations of government.”

Yesterday’s Politico article explained that, “After Thursday’s defeat, embarrassed Republicans quickly accused Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the Democratic floor manager, of backtracking on his promise to deliver 40 votes. Peterson fell 16 short and GOP aides said they had the Republican votes for passage if Peterson had met his target.

But this explanation ignores the real time dynamics on the House floor — and a long history of conflict between Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and the Agriculture Committee leadership.

“Beginning early this year, Cantor had pressed Lucas to draft a farm bill that not only cut food stamps but also toughened the work requirements for those receiving benefits. Time and again Lucas balked, warning that this would destroy his chances to win Democratic support. Cantor persisted and began championing in GOP leadership meetings a far-reaching amendment sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.).”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “Most simply, Southerland would require the Agriculture Department to work with willing states to experiment with applying welfare-reform like rules to food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

The article added that, “It’s not clear how committed Republicans were to the Southerland amendment. Aides would say it was the price of getting conservative farm bill votes and no one expected it to ever become law. But Cantor elevated its impact by speaking on the floor. Lucas felt pressure to go along. And Southerland asked for a recorded vote that split the House along party lines: 227-198.

“Cantor’s camp says he felt assured from Peterson that the Democratic votes would still be there for passage. But speaking on the amendment, Peterson bluntly warned it ‘breaks the deal that we had and is offensive.’”

Indeed, before the vote on the amendment Rep. Peterson added that, “In short what this proposal does is it takes money from benefits and hands it over to the States, and they can do with it what they want, as was said earlier in the debate, with no strings attached, no accountability.

“This Republican Congress has been vocal in support of block grants, and I suppose that’s why they’re supporting this amendment. But I’d like to point out that it was block-granting that is the very reason that we got into the LIHEAP situation and the categorical eligibility situation that we’re trying to attempt in this bill.”

After approval on a voice vote, Rep. Southerland stated: “I demand a recorded vote.”

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “The food-stamp amendments seemed much more like insults to Democratic members and their constituents than attempts to save money.”

Meanwhile, Corey Boles reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “One thing is clear. The carefully constructed bill by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, and the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, fell apart after it was amended on the House floor this week.”

Chris Clayton noted on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “The more puzzling vote is the one Republican on the House Ag Committee who voted against it: Committee Vice Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Goodlatte voted against the final product after his dairy amendment won strong, bi-partisan support to overhaul the dairy safety net in the bill.”

Also, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported on Friday that, “As the [Farm Bill] debate rolls on, there will be no impact on food stamps, which account for about 75 percent of farm bill spending, and crop insurance, now the largest part of the safety net for farmers.

Both programs are permanently authorized and would stay in operation if the current law is allowed to lapse, funded via annual appropriations bills.”

And AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Friday that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said after the vote that the committee is assessing its options.

“But just before the vote, he signaled that he was not optimistic he would be able to get another bill to the floor.

“‘I can’t guarantee you’ll see in this Congress another attempt,’ he said.”

A picture of Chairman Lucas captured from a C-SPAN clip, as the vote on the Farm Bill was unfolding, can be viewed here.

Meanwhile, Mike Lillis and Russell Berman reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “GOP leaders say they’ve made no decisions about the next step, but the heads of the House Agriculture Committee – Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) – spoke Thursday afternoon in an early show that they’re still hoping to prevent the need for any short-term extensions of current farm policy.”

The Hill article added that, “‘We expected Democrats to produce the votes they promised on a long-negotiated bipartisan measure to get us to conference, rather than Nancy Pelosi using her opposition to common-sense work requirements as an excuse for playing politics,’ said Rory Cooper, spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), ‘so we haven’t decided the next step yet.’

“Both Pelosi and Peterson said many more in their party would have backed the final product, but two last-minute conservative amendments – one championed by Boehner, the other by Cantor – scared the Democrats away.”

Paul Kane reported on Friday at The Washington Post Online that, “When it came to the farm bill, there was no disappointment in [House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.)] vote tally afterward, according to aides to Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Democrats were the problem, they said. The whip team had informed the other leaders they had 180 GOP votes for the traditionally bipartisan legislation, and that Rep. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, had pledged to deliver about 40 Democrats who would support the measure.

That would have been just enough to clear the 218-vote threshold for passage.”

Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas stated on Friday at the WonkBlog (Washington Post) that, “The GOP protests that the bill failed because too few Democrats voted for it. In one of the day’s more amusing moments, Cantor aide Rory Cooper said the bill simply proved the Democrats can’t govern — this despite the fact that his boss is the majority leader.

But the fact that House Republicans were relying on Democratic votes to pass a bill that slashes food stamps and was certain to be vetoed by a Democratic president tells you about what you need to know about the desperation inside the Republican Conference on this one.”

David Hawkings indicated yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The farm bill’s defeat showed Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership in need of a course in remedial congressional math. Republicans bemoaned the fact that Democrats delivered only 24 votes after promising at least 40. But even if those extra 16 votes had ended up in the ‘yes’ column, the legislation still would have fallen short. GOP leaders would have had to switch four of their own from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ to eke out a no-votes-to-spare victory.

“Beyond that, Boehner and his frenemy deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, ought to have been able to figure out that engineering the adoption of not one but two conservative amendments in the final hour — in hopes of plumping up GOP support for the bill — was a gamble that would drive away a more-than-offsetting bloc of Democrats.

“And if they didn’t understand that, the genial former staffer, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, should have had reams of whip counts at the ready to tell them the risk vs. reward: How many new Republicans would be brought aboard by the ‘dairy reform’ language? How many Democrats would be lost? What about requiring more work from food stamp recipients: Would that add more Rs on final passage than the number of Ds who would peel away?”

Ron Nixon reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “Many farm programs, including direct payments and crop insurance, will remain in place through Sept. 30, thanks to an extension measure passed by Congress to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ this year. But several farmers, ranchers and dairy producers said that the failure of the farm bill had left them unable to plan as the planting season approached and that some programs, like disaster assistance for livestock producers, remained unfinanced.”

The Des Moines Register editorial board indicated on Friday that, “Maybe it will be a good thing if the food stamp program is removed from the debate, because that will focus the discussion on a farm program that leads to sustainable agriculture that taxpayers in both rural and urban America can support.”

The Washington Post editorial board also opined on the Farm Bill developments on Friday (“Farm bill’s death provokes few tears”).

With respect to executive branch perspective, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday he’s angry, not just about the failure of the House to pass a farm bill, but about the lack of appreciation about the significance of the House boondoggle.

“As Washington now argues about the political gamesmanship and who is a loser politically, Vilsack said the real losers are farmers, ranchers and small businesses in rural America.

“‘I’m angry because the focus of the political writers and reporters has been on the gamesmanship and which political leaders won and lost yesterday (Thursday),’ Vilsack said in an exclusive interview with DTN. ‘The focus has to be on the losers in the countryside.’”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Just last December, Vilsack made waves nationally by declaring rural America ‘is becoming less and less relevant.’ With a shrinking population, people were paying less attention to the value rural America brings in food, energy and recreation. While some people took the secretary’s statement out of context, at the time, Vilsack was talking specifically about the inability to get a farm bill passed. Thursday’s vote seems to validate Vilsack’s initial analysis.

“‘It’s incredible. It’s incredible,’ Vilsack said. ‘There has never been a problem — a Democrat-Republican issue on the farm bill. It’s always been regional and commodity differences, but eventually people found consensus. So this is a historic failure. There is just no other way to describe it.’

“One problem, Vilsack said, is so much attention about program changes in the farm bill focuses on the cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the failed push to scale back crop insurance. Vilsack said few people grasp that the farm bill and its effects go way beyond those major programs.”

The DTN update stated that, “The Obama administration, earlier in the week, announced the president could veto the House farm bill because of the potential cuts. Yet, the administration expected that once the House passed a bill, some of the problems would be fixed in conference talks with the Senate. Vilsack said House members can point fingers at the administration, but at the end of the day, Congress is responsible for moving essential legislation. ‘They didn’t get the job done.’”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, in a press briefing on Friday, was asked specifically about the negative impacts on farmers resulting from the House not passing a Farm Bill, but did not appear to express the same level of passion as Sec. Vilsack on the subject:

“QUESTION: Back to the farm bill for a minute. Does the president believe there are any consequences for farmers and the agriculture sector for the House’s failure to pass the bill? Like, what does he think those are? And what does he want Congress to do now?

“CARNEY: You know, as I said earlier, I haven’t — I don’t have a lot of detail for you on steps forward now on the farm bill. The president obviously believes that Congress needs to act to pass legislation and we’ve made that clear in the past. We’ll have to get back to you on — on next steps now that the House has failed to pass the farm bill.”

 

Appropriations

Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “House GOP leaders on Friday released a schedule for next week that does not include consideration of the 2014 agriculture spending bill, even though it was thought this bill would come up.”

 

Immigration

Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Cindy Carcamo reported on Friday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The Senate appears ready to approve immigration legislation next week providing a $30-billion boost in security along the U.S.-Mexico border, doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, but some experts and border residents like [George Joyal, 67, a retired U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer] are skeptical that the buildup would pay off — even those who supported similar surges in the past.

“The Border Patrol already has more than 20,000 agents. Last fiscal year, border-related agencies received about $18 billion in funding — more than the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined.”

In his weekly address on Saturday, President Obama, President “discussed the bipartisan legislation being debated in the United States Senate that would take important steps towards fixing our broken immigration system, while growing our economy and reducing the deficit.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Georgina Gustin reported yesterday at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online that, “The boom in farmland values, which triggered frenzied auctions and record sale prices, is over. That’s the bad news for Midwestern farmers. The good news is there’s no bust on the horizon, economists believe.”

The article noted that, “‘We’re talking about the first slowing in the rate of increase,’ said Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist with Purdue University. ‘There’s a leveling off in farmland values, and with anything that’s had a strong upward slope, you’d expect this. The primary driving forces of this period of rapid increase are beginning to come to a close.’”

And, the AP reported on Saturday that, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Europe will defend its restrictions on genetically modified food in talks on a new free trade agreement with the United States.”

Keith Good