November 12, 2019

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; and, Immigration

Farm Bill- A Farm Only Farm Bill, Without A Nutrition Title

Matt Fuller reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “House Republican leaders have decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill and are whipping the farm-only portion of the bill for a vote that will likely come this week, according to a GOP leadership aide.

“The nutrition portion of the bill would be dealt with later.

The Rules Committee is expected to post the text Tuesday night and meet Wednesday, the aide said.”

Mr. Fuller explained that, “The ‘new’ farm bill would be the bill as it finished on the floor before the break, with the addition of a repeal of the 1949 law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill.

Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said leadership has not yet decided to schedule a vote.

“‘There has been no decision made to schedule a vote on a farm bill, in any form,’ he said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.”

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Still, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told The Hill Tuesday he is open to the idea if it would help get a farm bill done…‘[I] am open to thinking outside the box. Splitting the farm bill would certainly be thinking outside the box,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to get a farm bill done.’

“Cantor has been pushing the idea of splitting the bill, which Lucas previously has been reluctant to embrace.

“At a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Lucas said Cantor and other leaders are taking the right approach, and this could provide a boost to bringing a split farm bill to the floor soon, an aide said.”

Mr. Wasson noted that, “Another aide said Lucas still prefers to keep the farm bill in one piece but noted he has previously told local Oklahoma media he would support splitting the idea if leaders decided that is the way to go.

“Lucas on Tuesday said splitting the bill would be ‘contrary to tradition.’”

The Hill update indicated that, “[Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the Agriculture committee] predicted though that the move in the end would kill the farm bill in conference. Sending just a farm subsidy bill to the Senate would result in the House-Senate conference sending back just $5 billion in food stamp cuts, he said. Such a bill would not have enough House GOP support to pass.”

Yesterday’s Hill update added that, “‘I just don’t see how this gets it done,’ [Peterson] added. ‘All this does is allow the House to blame the Senate.

“‘When 532 groups send you a letter saying don’t do this, it’s pretty stupid to do this I think,’ Peterson said.”

Bloomberg writer James Rowley reported yesterday that, “Removing food stamps and other nutrition programs for low-income Americans from the farm bill may enable Republican leaders to gain support within their own ranks to pass the agricultural subsidies without the support of Democrats, who had objected to the legislation’s $20.5 billion in cuts to the food programs over a decade.

House Republican leaders hope to pass the agriculture portion before the August recess, said the aide, who wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the plans and spoke on condition of anonymity.”

The Bloomberg article pointed out that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has said that a farm bill without food stamps is a non-starter.”

Mr. Rowley added that, “The plan to separate food stamps from farm programs has the support of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential nominee last year, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, a former Agriculture Committee chairman.”

However, the Bloomberg article indicated that, “Today, Peterson called the two-bill proposal a ‘crazy strategy’ and said it would backfire.”

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Farm Bill’s future remained in serious doubt in the House Tuesday even after a reluctant Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said he would support splitting the measure to allow separate votes on the nutrition title — a strategy promoted by Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

“In a members-only meeting of Republicans, senior lawmakers on the Agriculture panel continued to express reservations to the Oklahoman. Early soundings by the House whip organization Tuesday afternoon indicated that the leadership still had an uphill climb to get to 218 Republican votes.

“Lucas may have anticipated this when he told POLITICO after his committee meeting: ‘If there are not 218 votes, if there is no assurance of success, why try the effort.’”

The Politico article quoted Chairman Lucas as saying, “This is not just a committee bill anymore.  It has become a process involving the whole House.  I’m trying, I’m trying.”

And AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Republicans were assessing support for the idea, and a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said no decisions had been made on how to revive the bill.”

Ms. Jalonick pointed out that, “Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said that splitting the bill is ‘stupid’ and he doesn’t believe any Democrats would vote for it.

“‘Even if they got this through the House, I don’t see how you are successful in getting a bill out of conference and signed by the president, because you have alienated so many people in the process,’ he said.”

A separate Roll Call update yesterday by Matt Fuller stated that, “House GOP leaders’ plan to strip food stamps from the farm bill ran into trouble Tuesday when it failed to win over conservative groups who helped tank the measure three weeks ago.”

Mr. Fuller explained that, “The new bill would include a repeal of the 1949 law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill as a carrot to conservatives. The nutrition portion of the bill, the aide said, would be dealt with later. But GOP leaders have yet to announce an official way forward as they struggle to line up the votes.”

The Roll Call item noted that, “Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., came up with the plan to split the bill more than a year ago. But Needham released a statement Tuesday criticizing the latest effort as a ploy.

“‘This is nothing more than a naked attempt to get to a conference committee with the Senate,’ Needham said.”

“Needham, along with 20 other conservative group leaders, signed an open letter to Speaker John A. Boehner that applauded the Republican leader for splitting the bill but implored him to bring the legislation to the floor under an open rule.”

Mr. Fuller noted that, “Peterson said he thought the best way forward for farm bill passage was not to proceed with a partisan bill but to take away the Southerland amendment and give the farm bill another vote.  [See similar remarks from Rep. Peterson on a possible path forward from June 21].

“‘I want them to take the Southerland amendment out and put the bill back on the floor,’ Peterson said. ‘That’s what I told them … before they had the vote, I told them that.’

“‘They’re the ones that screwed this up, not me,’ Peterson added. ‘I had the votes until they put those amendments up.’”

Concluding, the Roll Call article stated that, “But Peterson predicts that Republicans will soon have to face the reality that they do not have enough Republican support for passage.

“‘They’re whipping right now, and my guess is in a few days they’ll figure out they don’t have the votes and then we might get back to reality,’ Peterson said.

“‘Hopefully,’ he added.”

David Grant reported yesterday at The Christian Science Monitor Online that, “Without robust support from fiscal hawks in the GOP, which still seems unlikely, agriculture advocates worry that pursuing a GOP-only bill risks a second failed vote on the farm bill.

“For most legislation, being brought back to the floor after losing once is a moonshot. But twice?

“‘You can come back from the dead once, but I don’t think you can do twice,’ says Representative Peterson, who worked hand-in-glove with Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R) of Oklahoma each of the last two years to try to get a bipartisan farm bill, including food stamps, to the floor. ‘We can’t bring this bill up again unless it will actually pass.’”

Mr. Grant added that, “But in the House, where [Dan Glickman, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Agriculture secretary under President Clinton] estimates only 60-some districts are predominantly agricultural, splitting the bill opens it up to criticism from all parts of the political spectrum in a way that could make it almost impossible to pass in the future.

“‘It’s a very bad idea because I think split farm and food stamp [bills] ultimately jeopardizes both,’ says Glickman. The farm program, particularly, represents ‘too narrow of a demographic to sustain itself in the House.’”

Joseph Morton reported today at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, called separating the sections of the bill a ‘terrible idea.’

“‘If they succeed in doing that, that’s the end of farm bills,’ he said.

“Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., served as secretary of agriculture under President George W. Bush and has not supported peeling off food stamps in the past. Johanns said Tuesday that it’s difficult to see the coalition that could get a farm bill passed without food stamps.”

And Dave Helling noted yesterday at the Kansas City Star Online that, “A farm-subsidy bill without food stamps has zero chance of passing the Senate. A stand-alone bill that dramatically cuts food stamps also has no chance of passing in the Senate.

So there will be votes, but Congress will be no closer to an actual farm bill at the end of the week than it is today.

“That’s the definition of dysfunction.”

At a Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing yesterday, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) made his case for splitting the nutrition title from the Farm Bill- video replay here.

In part, Rep. Stutzman stated that, “And as I said at the beginning, the farm bill is, it kind of is a reflection of how bad Washington works.  And so just to separate the bill really is a huge change to the way Washington operates.  And I think that’s why this is such a big deal.  People didn’t send me to Washington to continue the status quo…[A]nd I think this is a real game changer for us as conservatives in separating the food stamp bill from the farm bill.”

In responding to a question about potential SNAP reforms, Rep. Stutzman indicated that, “And just about every food pantry will tell you that if they got the amount of money that the food stamp program gets, they would turn that dollar into either $1.50 or $2.00 to help people that really, genuinely need help, compared to the probably $.75 to $.80 that actually get to people with the food stamp program because of overhead cost.

And so I think that’s the solution, that we should be working with our charities and food pantry infrastructure that’s already in place.”

Rep. Stutzman also acknowledged that under current political realities, his goals of reform will likely take time to achieve: “Well, I don’t…with this administration, I don’t think you’re going to get there.  We’re not going to get to the end game we want with this administration and with the Senate that only cuts $4 billion.  It’s just…that’s peanuts.  I mean, it’s not…I don’t even know if you can really say with a straight face to people back home that we’re cutting food stamp spending with $4 billion in cuts, because to me this program has always exceeded…well, the facts are that the program has always exceeded CBO scores in previous bills, so we might as well call this, even though it’s not a trillion dollar bill technically, it’s a trillion dollar bill because it’s going to surpass the score, I believe.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) noted in part yesterday that, “The decision by House Republican leaders to drop anti-hunger programs—most notably food stamps—from the farm bill puts the final nail in the coffin of the coalition that ensured farmers could make a living and struggling families could put food on their table. Far from the days of Bob Dole and Jacob Javits, the current extreme group has done nothing but cut programs that fight hunger here at home.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) tweeted yesterday that, “A divided #FarmBill is yet one more attempt to gut/eliminate #SNAP by a house GOP consistently focused on that as a goal.”

Also, Rep. Betty McCollum (D., Minn.) stated yesterday that, “House Republicans embarrassed themselves when their Farm Bill was rejected by 62 of their own members. The new GOP desperate scheme to bring a micro-Farm Bill to the House floor without nutrition programs is a display of political arrogance that destroys House tradition and regular order.

“I completely reject this Republican move to play political games with the livelihoods of U.S. farmers and the lives of hungry Americans. It is time for the House to take up and pass the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill.”

Similarly, Sen. Pat Leahy (D., Vt.) tweeted yesterday that, “Split #FarmBill into pieces? That’s House GOP leaders’ latest (bad) idea. The real solution? Allow vote on Senate’s bipartisan bill

Also, Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) tweeted yesterday that, “#Farm Bill: If bill is split in 2 & Ag sections are a separate bill from nutrition, Food Stamps must be sunset after 5 yrs 2 force reform.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson noted in part yesterday that, “Splitting farm programs and nutrition assistance into two separate bills is a disservice to farmers, ranchers, rural residents and consumers.”

Meanwhile, Mark Peters and Corey Boles reported in today’s Wall Street Journal (“As Agriculture Booms, Farm Bill Gets Yawns”) that, “R.D. Wolheter has gotten a stream of mailers from farm groups urging him to help pressure Congress to pass a farm bill. But as the agricultural sector remains strong, the grower of corn and soybeans on 3,000 acres in northeast Indiana has let them stack up on his desk.

“For decades, the farm bill has served as the main vehicle for U.S. agriculture policy, getting renewed about every five years to keep billions of dollars flowing to farm subsidies and rural development programs. But lobbyists and lawmakers say the measure is drawing less grass-roots support from the Farm Belt this time around as the House struggles to pass the measure for a second straight year.”

The Journal article noted that, “‘There has not been the sense of crisis people might have expected,’ said Bill O’Conner, a former House Agriculture Committee staff member, who now lobbies Congress on farm issues.”

Peters and Boles added in today’s article that, “Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents a district in rural Minnesota and is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, has warned that if the farm bill is split, no House Democrats would vote for it, and it would die in negotiations with the Senate anyway. He says he fears that without a farm bill, growers would become more exposed to a sustained decline in prices.

Farmers ‘are very quick to forget the bad times,’ Mr. Peterson said. ‘Right now they’re not too worried about this.’”

Speaking earlier this week on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted that, “You know, nobody’s going to their House member and slamming their fist on the table and saying we’ve got to have this farm bill.”

Ms. Thatcher added that, “[I]t tells me prices are pretty good for most commodities and so people aren’t as focused on the need for a safety net.  And it also tells me, I’ve heard lots of feedback, Mike, in the last few weeks that members will say I don’t really need a farm bill, just give me crop insurance.  And they’re not really understanding that crop insurance is, in essence, part of the farm bill now.  They view it as something separate.  And it’s probably an education necessity that we haven’t done well enough yet.”

In other news, Bloomberg writers Phil Milford and Jen Skerritt reported yesterday that, “U.S. meat industry groups, joined by Canadian counterparts, sued the Agriculture Department seeking to block rules requiring meat producers to increase the amount of information about countries of origin on their products.

“Regulations adopted in May require producers to specify where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Retail packages can’t mix muscle cuts from different countries under a general label, the groups said yesterday in a federal court complaint in Washington.”


Agricultural Economy

Reuters writers Michael Hirtzer and Julie Ingwersen reported yesterday that, “Last year’s U.S. drought, the worst since the Dust Bowl, is delivering its final sting to major grains buyers like Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge Ltd and Cargill Inc, who are paying record-high premiums for dwindling supplies of last year’s crops.

“Premiums at the moment are as high as $1.75 a bushel above benchmark futures prices on the Chicago Board of Trade, which have been depressed by signs of a record harvest this coming autumn. The most active agriculture contract, December corn , hit a two-year low last week near $4.90 a bushel.

The residual effect of last year’s drought has triggered an unprecedented bidding war for immediate supplies. Ethanol plants, soy processors and livestock farmers, unwilling to pay the lofty premiums, are cutting operations instead.”



Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “Congressional Democrats are drawing a firm line in the immigration debate: No reform without a path to citizenship.

“The four Democratic members of the Senate Gang of Eight pressed that point to their House counterparts in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, and attendees made it clear that without a pathway to citizenship, immigration reform won’t happen.”

Keith Good

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