Daniel Strauss reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “House Republicans will return to farm bill legislation this month, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
“In a memo outlining the conference’s legislative agenda for July, Cantor said Republicans would revisit the farm bill — an issue that divided them last month and led to a rare failure of legislation on the House floor.
“‘Members should be prepared to act on a revised farm bill,’ Cantor said in the memo.”
The Hill update noted that, “Conservatives have pressed Cantor and other GOP leaders to break the farm bill in two by splitting the spending on agriculture from food stamps. It’s unclear from Cantor’s memo what form the ‘revised’ bill might take.”
O. Kay Henderson reported today at Radio Iowa Online that, “‘The speaker has committed to get the bill done in July,’ [Iowa GOP Rep. Tom Latham] told Radio Iowa. ‘Now hopefully it does not go into September. I think time, then, gets much shorter as far as getting into the end of the year, so I’m very optimistic leadership has committed to doing it in July, before we leave for the August recess.’”
Matt Fuller reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “[C]antor has privately been pushing to separate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, from the farm provisions, in a bid to pick up votes from conservatives. According to the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP accounts for $743.9 billion of the estimated $972.3 billion cost of the House bill over the next 10 years.
“‘Cantor believes the best path now is to move forward with a bill that has 218 Republican votes since Democrats proved they cannot be trusted to work in good faith, and that path may be splitting up the bill,’ a GOP aide told CQ Roll Call last week.”
Meanwhile, AP writer Donna Cassata reported yesterday that, “In the Republican-controlled House, courteous behavior, even within the GOP ranks, has barely been perceptible with the ignominious failure of the farm bill.”
The AP article added that, “[Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)] has made it clear that an extension of the current farm law, passed in 2008, is unlikely as he presses the House to pass the Senate version of the bill. That leaves [House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio)] to figure out the next step before the current policy expires Sept. 30.”
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) faces a crucial choice in the coming days: what to do with the $939 billion farm bill.”
The Hill update explained that, “Behind the scenes, the fight over the bill is pitting House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) against Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). While Cantor wants to divide the bill and cut more spending, Lucas wants to keep it intact with only modest changes.
“Boehner is under pressure from all sides.
“The Speaker received a letter this week from 532 farm groups demanding he bring the farm bill back to the floor without changes.”
Mr. Wasson pointed out that, “Conservative Tea Party activists, meanwhile, are pushing him to strip out the more than $800 billion in food stamp spending in the farm bill and put it in a separate measure with deeper cuts.
“Splitting the bill would risk breaking apart the urban-rural coalition that has ensured passage of farm spending for more than four decades. Conservative activists believe breaking the alliance would allow them to slash two sources of wasteful government spending.”
The in-depth Hill article also noted that, “Democrats might have some advantage in the food stamp fight because failing to pass a farm bill would not end SNAP. As an entitlement, it would continue after Sept. 30 on autopilot.”
And David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Embarrassed by last month’s collapse, House Republican leaders have raised the stakes greatly with their proposal to split the five-year package and require separate votes on the nutrition title and food stamps. Commodity and conservation groups are almost uniformly opposed. But as lawmakers return this week, agriculture is under pressure to stretch itself and embrace new ideas.
“Nothing illustrates this better, perhaps, than the on-again, off-again debate over updating the $2,000 asset test for food stamps, set first in the 1985 farm bill.”
The article noted that, “Yet, when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) attempted to address this issue last year, he was pushed back by fellow Republicans. The House Rules Committee blocked the only real attempt to go there again on the floor: an amendment by freshman Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), which included a provision to double the allowed assets from $2,000 to $4,000 and exempt family cars needed to get to work, for example.
“The same leadership rule did make in order a far-reaching Republican food stamp amendment that helped to bring down the larger farm bill.”
The Politico article stated that, “Finding some compromise through the food stamp asset test poses its own challenges: An update could require as much as $5 billion in new offsets to keep faith with the House’s 10-year goal of $40 billion in new deficit reduction.
“But the House only narrowly rejected far bigger cuts from crop insurance subsidies last month. And there is the potential that a reform amendment could draw back support from both parties for passage.
“Republicans would still have $15 billion in SNAP savings — far more than they can expect to get through the Senate. Democrats would have moved the needle back toward the center and opened up the door to some discussion of crop insurance costs.”
Continuing, Mr. Rogers explained that, “No modern safety-net program has proved more important to agriculture than crop insurance. But success is double-edged: As commodity prices have improved for the farmer, premium costs have steadily increased because of the greater liability to be insured.
“At one level, it is a shared commitment by producers and taxpayers to protect food production. But the government now shoulders 62 percent of the premium costs on average — or about $7 billion in 2012.
“Moreover, 62 percent is just that: an average. It belies a far more complex subsidy structure than is outwardly apparent.”
After additional analysis, yesterday’s article indicated that, “South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Southern black Democrat and a member of his party leadership, has been a go-to person for agriculture in the past for farm bill support. But Clyburn is vehement now in his opposition to a two-bill strategy.
“‘They may have the votes over there to pass it, but I don’t think you’ll get much support out of Democrats,’ he told POLITICO. ‘It is their way to do a two-tier support system. I think we ought to treat low-income subsidies the same way as we treat high-income subsidies. That’s all this is.’”
Also, Joseph Morton reported yesterday at The Omaha World-Herald Online that, “The cost of food stamps has doubled since 2008, fueled by a deep and stubborn recession and efforts to get more people signed up.
“Those nutrition programs now cost about $80 billion a year, or roughly 80 percent of the spending in the Senate-approved farm bill.”
The World-Herald article indicated that, “Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., voted for the farm bill last month but said that the disagreements over food stamps are what’s keeping the farm bill from moving.
“‘There’s no doubt that the 80 percent of the bill which is nutrition programs is bringing down the farm bill, the 20 percent or 18 percent of it that’s actually farm,’ Terry said.
“Terry said he backs a proposal that’s been floated by other House members to separate food stamps from the crop subsidies and other agriculture-specific sections of the bill. He said taking that step would likely get the farm programs approved.”
Mr. Morton added that, “Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, would generally be considered ideologically similar to those looking for much deeper cuts to the food stamp program. But he also represents quite a few farmers and is a member of the Agriculture Committee.
“He voted in favor of the farm bill last month and he argued against splitting the two parts of the bill for a reason different from the Farm Bureau.
“Without any legislation addressing food stamps, their cost will only continue to grow, he said.”
And Urban C. Lehner, DTN Editor Emeritus, indicated on Friday at his blog (An Urban’s Rural View) that, “The constitution splits Congress into two houses. Democrats control the Senate. They’ll swallow arsenic before they join the House’s firing squad on food stamps. House Republicans can make a statement on the program but they can’t make law.
“Remember, food stamps are a ‘mandatory’ program, which can only be changed by new legislation or a change in appropriations. So if neither house wavers and no ‘food bill’ passes, food-stamp spending continues at current levels.
“Yes: By splitting the bill, the splittists will achieve even less food-stamp reform than if they’d voted for the $20 billion cut in the unified House farm bill, or even the $4 billion cut in the Senate’s unified farm bill, either of which could have become law after a conference with the Senate.”
In a related article on Friday, Deborah Barfield Berry and Christopher Doering noted that, “Rep. John Fleming, R-4th District [La.], who voted against the House bill, said SNAP spending is ‘over the top.’ He called SNAP a ‘greatly abused program.’
“‘It should be about nutrition,’’ Fleming said. ‘They would have to do a real reform of SNAP for me to vote for it.’”
Also, the Tulsa World editorial board noted on Friday that, “[Rep. Frank Lucas], who is chairman of the important House Agriculture Committee, was pounced upon by members of the tea party – some of whom were not residents of his Third District – at the meeting in Skiatook Monday.
“They were incensed that Lucas proposed that a mere $40 billion be cut from the Farm Bill, which eventually failed in the House.”
The opinion item added that, “Any voter can take issue with Lucas over his handling of the Farm Bill or any other political issue. Running him out of the House for someone more conservative, however, would be committing political suicide for the Third District.
“Lucas has been an excellent representative and hard worker for his Third District and for this state. Frank Lucas not conservative enough? They’ve got to be kidding.”
Also on the nutrition issue, Eli Saslow reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “Here, in the rural hills of Tennessee, is the latest fallout of a recession that officially ended in 2009 but remains without end for so many. More than 1 in 4 children now depend on government food assistance, a record level of need that has increased the federal budget and changed the nature of childhood for the nation’s poor.
“First, schools became the country’s biggest soup kitchens, as free and reduced-price lunch programs expanded to include free breakfast, then free snacks and then free backpacks of canned goods sent home for weekends. Now those programs are extending into summer, even though classes stop, in order for children to have a dependable source of food. Some elementary school buildings stay open year-round so cafeterias can serve low-income students. High schools begin summer programs earlier to offer free breakfast.
“And late last month came the newest iteration: a school bus retrofitted into a bread truck bouncing along a potholed road near the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
The Post article explained that, “Congress had tried to address it [childhood hunger] mostly by spending a record $15 billion each year to feed 21 million low-income children in their schools, but that left out the summer, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to spend $400 million more on that. Governors came together to form a task force. Michelle Obama suggested items for a menu. Food banks opened thousands of summer cafes, and still only about 15 percent of eligible children received regular summer meals.
“So, earlier this year, a food bank in Tennessee came up with a plan to reverse the model. Instead of relying on children to find their own transportation to summer meal sites, it would bring food to children. The food bank bought four used school buses for $4,000 each and designed routes that snake through some of the most destitute land in the country, where poverty rates have almost doubled since 2009 and two-thirds of children qualify for free meals.”
And Dalina Castellanos reported last week at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “More than 18 million low-income students nationwide who eat lunch through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program miss out on meals during the summer, according to a study released by the Food Research and Action Center, a childhood nutrition advocacy group.
“In California, one in six students who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals during the school year will eat a free breakfast or lunch on campus during the month of July, when many schools aren’t in session, the study said.
“During the recession, the number of students qualifying for school lunch programs increased to more than 3.3 million in 2012; 200,000 more students than in 2008. But summer programs have not caught up to the trend, said Crystal FitzSimons, director of feeding programs for FRAC.”
And more broadly on the Farm Bill debate, Chris Clayton noted yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog (“Critical Week for Farm Bill, Direction of Congress”) that, “In reality, the challenges with the farm bill reflect the division of the broad array of special-interest groups focusing more heavily on just trying to stem budget cuts to their own area of legislation.”
“Another problem becoming more obvious with Congress in recent years is that there is little or no ability for House leaders to horse trade for votes like in the past. The elimination of earmarks in legislation such as the farm bill takes away some of the effectiveness of working the floor for a few extra votes,” the DTN item noted.
Mr. Clayton added that, “With floor debates on immigration and the debt ceiling coming up in the fall, it will be critical to see what congressmen learned on their holiday break about the farm bill. Will enough of lawmakers from either party going to want to come home for their August break and say they got a farm bill passed?”
Congress- Functionality, Productivity Waning
Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “Despite finger-pointing news conferences and radio addresses by both parties on Capitol Hill, Congress let interest rates double last week on federally subsidized student loans. Eleven days earlier, a coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans in the House scuttled the latest attempt at a farm bill, dooming for now disaster assistance for livestock producers still affected by last year’s drought.
“Congress returns on Monday with a major overhaul of immigration pending in the House, the farm bill lying in a heap and new fiscal deadlines looming when the government runs out of spending authority on Sept. 30 and reaches its borrowing limit shortly thereafter. The Postal Service, meanwhile, continues to lose millions of dollars every day as a measure to rescue the agency founders in the House.
“There is no guarantee that any of these issues will be dealt with.”
The article noted that, “Even in some of the worst years of partisan gridlock, a deadline has meant something to Congress — until 2013… [A]t this time in 2011, Congress had passed 23 laws on the way toward the lowest total since those numbers began being tracked in 1948. This year, 15 have been passed so far.”
“Legislation that has reached President Obama’s desk this year has often been small bore and ceremonial, like the authorization of a commemorative coin bill,” the Times article said.
Today’s article added that, “After last month’s unexpected collapse of the farm bill in the House, lawmakers were left with a new deadline, Sept. 30, to reach a deal before a series of farm programs go out of business, dairy prices skyrocket and direct payments to commodity farmers disappear.
“But [Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack] said the consequences of Congress’s failure to pass a farm bill last year and this year were already real. A disaster-assistance program for livestock producers expired in October 2011. Since then, livestock producers hit by drought and rising feed costs have been liquidating and reducing herds to the point where American cattle stocks are at their lowest level since 1952.”
Mr. Weisman noted that, “In addition, dairy production is diminishing in the face of price and policy volatility. And in August, Brazil will get the green light to impose retaliatory tariffs on an array of American goods and services because Congress has not made the United States cotton program compliant with international trade law.
“‘The key here is for rural folks to say we’ve had enough of this,’ Mr. Vilsack said. ‘Rural America deserves better than this.’”
David Hawkings stated yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The small number of new laws projected for this year, in other words, is another good indication of the brokenness of the legislative branch.”
And Bloomberg writer Laura Litvan noted yesterday that, “With few signs of ending the gridlock crushing public approval of Congress, U.S. lawmakers return this week to confront a budgetary deficit, a loophole-riddled tax code and a Senate revamping of immigration law given little chance in the House.
“Their conflicts don’t stop there. Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Senate may block President Barack Obama’s nominees to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and Labor Department. The Republican-run House may try to revive farm legislation while seeking a piecemeal approach to immigration instead of the broad plan the Senate passed on June 27.
“They will approach all this with a 15-percent public approval rating.”
Meanwhile, The GOP Leader’s Weekly Schedule for the House for the week of July 8, does not include information on the Agriculture appropriations bill.
Julian Hattem reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “National farming groups are suing the Obama administration over concerns that thousands of farmers and ranchers will have their personal information compromised.
“The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council filed a lawsuit on Friday to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from responding to information requests from environmental groups that they worry could include personal details about farmers and their families.”
The Hill update noted that, “In April, the EPA released information about approximately 80,000 farmers and ranchers in 29 states in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about animal feeding operations from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Among the released information were farmers’ names, home addresses and personal contact information.
“The farm groups sued the agency to prevent it from releasing information about farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma and Washington state.”
And Julian Hattem reported yesterday at the Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The Obama administration is looking forward to a host of new environmental regulations that go far beyond the president’s plans to issue new standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants.
“The new regulations, previewed in the administration’s spring regulatory roadmap released this week, cover everything from pollution runoff from military ships to landfill methane emissions, and in some cases will be issued long after called for under the law.”