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Farm Bill; Smithfield Hearing; GMO Wheat; and, Immigration

Farm Bill:  House to Consider Farm-Only Farm Bill Today

Last night, on a 9-4 vote, the Rules Committee approved a closed rule for considering a “farm-only” Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) that does not include the nutrition title (Title IV).

At the Rules Committee meeting, both Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), the Committee’s Ranking Member (audio clip – one minute), and Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) (audio clip– one minute), who also serves on the Agriculture Committee, argued for an open rule that would have allowed for amendments to the measure on the House floor.

The House floor schedule for today, released by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), indicated that, “On Thursday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. First votes expected: 10:30- 11:00 a.m. Last votes expected: 12:30- 1:30 p.m.”  H.R. 2642 was the only legislative item listed on the schedule for today.

Farm Bill news developments and background from yesterday, which preceded the Rules Committee announcement that it would consider the new Farm Bill measure, was posted yesterday evening at at FarmPolicy.com Online.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “House Republicans will bring a new farm bill to the floor on Thursday that breaks the four-decade farm-and-food coalition by dropping nutrition spending from the legislation.

“House leaders became convinced Wednesday they have enough votes to pass a farm-only version of the legislation that avoids dealing with 80% of the spending that is now dedicated to nutrition programs.

“The bill would keep the same commodity, conservation, crop insurance and rural development provisions that were developed by the House Agriculture Committee and amended on the floor before the full farm bill failed to pass June 20. A key difference, however, is that the legislation also would repeal the 1938 and 1949 permanent farm law. The new Title I would become permanent law moving forward.”

At the Rules Committee meeting last night, Rep. McGovern and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) discussed some of the specifics of the new Farm Bill, including the portion relating to permanent law.  To listen to part of this exchange from last night, just click here (MP3- 2:00).

In his DTN update, Mr. Clayton explained that, “Still, SNAP spending will continue on auto-pilot without the $20.5 billion in projected cuts that the House Agriculture Committee initially adopted. The issue moving forward, assuming the farm-only bill passes on Thursday, is how it would be conferenced with the Senate farm bill that does include nutrition programs.”

At last night’s Rules meeting, Chairman Lucas noted that the Farm Bill is now no longer the Ag Committee’s product, but has become the product of the House.  He also stated that he took “a bop on the chin” when the House didn’t pass the Farm Bill in June, and he added that, “We have been on a roller coaster in the days since that floor vote, its taken some twists and turns.  I would simply suggest from my perspective to the Committee that I view this first of inevitably two bills that will be brought before this Committee, as the best possible alternative we have to crafting comprehensive policy”- audio clip here (MP3- 2:00).

Matt Fuller reported this morning at Roll Call Online that, “Lucas appealed to Democrats on the Rules panel by noting that, if passed, the bill will be be sent to conference with the Senate measure, which would cut less from SNAP than the House bill. He said he saw two options: Either conferees adopt the Senate SNAP provisions, which would cut $4 billion from current spending — compared with the House bill which advocated for roughly $20 billion in cuts — or the Senate would not advance their nutrition title, effectively continuing current spending.

“While that argument is appealing to Democrats, it is also a major concern among Republicans.

“Asked before the emergency Rules meeting whether Republicans have 218 votes for an agriculture-only farm bill, Lucas said, ‘Uhh,’ pausing to choose his words carefully, ‘I have faith in my leadership.’”

Mr. Fuller noted that, “The Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, released a statement Wednesday night saying he would not be supporting the measure.

“‘I still believe splitting the farm bill is a mistake in the long run,’ Peterson’s statement said. ‘They are ignoring the advice of most of the groups affected by the bill, and I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President.’”

The Roll Call article added that, “Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said on Wednesday he hoped no Democrats would vote for the GOP proposal. ‘It’s a terrible, misguided approach,’ he said. ‘They’re obviously a deeply divided party.’”

A statement yesterday by Rep. Hoyer indicated that, “To move forward with a bill that does not include this funding is a shameful abandonment of the most vulnerable in our country, including the 76% of SNAP-participating households that include a child, senior citizen, or person with a disability.  Republicans know this is a bill to nowhere – even if they succeed in passing it through the House, the Senate will not consider a Farm Bill without nutrition assistance.  This dead-on-arrival messaging bill only seeks to accomplish one objective: to make it appear that Republicans are moving forward with important legislation even while they continue to struggle at governing.”

Erik Wasson reported last night at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “In one of the toughest spots of his political life, Lucas urged Democrats as well as Republicans to support the new approach.

“‘As someone who was 6 foot 3 and 165 lbs as a high school sophomore, I would dance with anyone,’ he noted.

“He argued that the farm subsidy-only part of the farm bill could be conferenced with the Senate-passed measure if the Senate decided to offer its nutrition provisions. The Senate farm bill cuts food stamps by $16 billion less than the original House measure.”

To listen to the exchange from last night’s Rules Committee hearing between Rep. McGovern and Chairman Lucas, in which he made some of these remarks, just click here (MP3- 3:11).  In particular, Rep. McGovern pressed Chairman Lucas about the 62 GOP Members who voted against the Farm Bill on June 20 , and wondered, “What’s persuading these people to all of a sudden vote for a bill tomorrow, that they couldn’t vote for last week.  I don’t believe they are cheap dates.  I believe they get something, and I’m trying to figure out what they got.”

Meanwhile, David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Driving the legislative train Wednesday was Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who had a major role in the collapse of the farm bill last month and hopes to recover now by dividing the package into two parts to appease conservatives.

“Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also stepped up his involvement, meeting with wavering members. And in a conference call with more than two-dozen farm groups, Boehner’s chief-of-staff Mike Sommers bluntly warned that this could be their last chance at getting a farm bill this year.”

Mr. Rogers added that, “In fact, Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, has said he could provide 45 Democratic votes if only the GOP would strip out a far-reaching food stamp amendment that had been a personal cause for Cantor—and one factor in the collapse of the bill in June.

“Privately, some Republicans themselves say the two-bill strategy is a way for Cantor to avoid having to make that concession. ‘Eric messed up,’ said one farm-state Republican. ‘This is face saving.’

“The biggest question mark is the long term impact on the nutrition title and food stamps, left behind for the moment.”

The Politico article added that, “Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told the Rules panel that he is committed to moving a nutrition title this summer or early fall. But Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said the process was ‘perfectly dreadful’ and ‘an earthquake’ to break up the farm bill in this manner.”

An audio replay of a portion of Rep. Slaughter’s remarks from last night can be heard here (MP3- 2:14).

Also, Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) tweeted yesterday that, “House GOP just posted a partisan 600-page ‪#FarmBill with no time to read, no chance to amend. Shameful state of affairs.”

And AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported last night that, “The White House swiftly issued a veto threat of the legislation, saying food stamps should not be left out of the bill. The White House had also threatened to veto the original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions to farm subsidies and that the food stamp cuts were too high.

“Republicans have been counting votes for the bill containing only the farm programs over the last two days, with a food stamp bill to come at a later date. Farm groups, anti-hunger groups and conservative groups have all opposed the idea, for different reasons.

“The split bill is an attempt to gather support from conservatives who voted against the $100 billion-a-year farm bill. The House rejected the farm bill in June by a vote of 234-195, with 62 Republicans voting against it, many of them saying the bill’s 3 percent cut in food stamps was not enough.”

Ms. Jalonick added  that, “Passing a food stamp-only bill would not be easy as Republicans have disagreed on how much should be cut. The House Agriculture Committee bill would cut about $2 billion a year from the almost $80 billion-a-year program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. But some on the right would like to see much bigger cuts and to change the structure of the program.

“Lucas said he hopes a food stamp bill would come to the floor quickly, so the House and Senate can begin negotiations and get a farm bill passed.

“‘The quicker that second bill is passed the easier it is to complete the whole process,’ he said.”

Also yesterday, Burleigh C.W. Leonard, a former senior staff member for the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted at Roll Call Online that, “However, it cannot be said that the [Farm Bill defeat in June] was a result of a wholesale revolt by the tea party. Some 171 members of the GOP voted for the farm bill, a clear majority of the majority. Of the 104 first- or second-term Republicans — collectively referred to as tea partyers — who voted on final passage, 78 voted for the bill. Only 11 percent of the votes against the farm bill came from this supposedly unmanageable group of right-wing extremists.

“On the other side of the aisle, 24 Democrats voted ‘aye’ on the farm bill while 172 Democrats voted ‘nay,’ with the result that 74 percent of the votes opposing the farm bill were cast by Democrats. No one can claim that Democrats did not do their fair share to sink the legislation.”

Mr. Leonard pointed out that, “The old rural/urban alliance could not hold up under deficit stress. Fissures first appeared in 2012, resulting in the delay of consideration of the new farm bill. When the legislation finally made it to the House floor this summer, the only consensus that could be reached after open debate was no consensus. Those who thought the legislation cut too much from food stamps joined those who thought it cut too little to provide the margin of defeat.”

 

Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing: Smithfield

Edward Wyatt reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee raised questions on Wednesday about the economic and national security implications of a Chinese company’s proposed acquisition of Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer.

“While the chief executive of Smithfield, C. Larry Pope, said the $4.7 billion acquisition would have ‘no impact on the U.S. food supply and, therefore, no impact on food security,’ several senators said they feared that promises by the Chinese company, Shuanghui International, would not be honored over the long term.

“That could result, they said, in China eventually exporting pork to the United States that did not meet American safety standards or taking away sales by American companies in other overseas markets, like Japan.”

Related testimony from yesterday’s hearing is available here.

The Times article noted that, “The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, an interagency government panel, is reviewing the Smithfield acquisition, which would be the largest acquisition to date of a United States company by a Chinese company.

Still, it is far from clear that the concerns expressed by the senators will carry enough weight to affect that review. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, and 15 other committee members signed a letter asking the Treasury Department, which oversees the foreign investments committee, to include the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration on their review panel to consider food safety and security.

“While the Treasury Department responded to the letter, it did not address the request, but instead cited restrictions on the confidentiality of the review.”

Stephanie Kirchgaessner reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “‘Smithfield might be the first acquisition of a major food and agricultural company, but I doubt it will be the last,’ Debbie Stabenow, the Democratic senator from Michigan who heads the powerful agriculture committee, said before the hearing.

“‘Could this sale happen if it was the other way around? Based on what we’ve heard, it sounds like the answer is ‘No’’, she said.”

The FT article indicated that, “While the senators stopped short of calling for the deal to be blocked, the show of concern among senators from both parties about the transaction will put political pressure on the Obama administration, which has the final say on the deal, to handle the bid carefully.

“‘There is a fair amount of cynicism and concern about this transaction,’ said Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic senator from North Dakota.

“It echoed the sentiment of Mike Johanns, a Republican senator from Nebraska, who said the real problem with the bid was that there was no legal mechanism in place in the US, either through Congress or the administration, to address the lack of reciprocity in trade with China.”

Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “[Daniel Slane, commissioner of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce] and several members of the panel questioned the extent to which the Chinese government is involved with the blockbuster deal.

“‘It’s important to understand that the Chinese government is behind China’s global economic expansion,’ Slane said.

“The testimony prompted Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to ask, apparently to Pope in jest, ‘Were you aware that you were the victim of a Chinese communist plot?’”

Chairwoman Stabenow discussed the Smithfield issue in greater detail on Bloomberg television yesterday- related video here.

Also, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) also discussed this issue yesterday on CNBC- related video here.

 

GMO Wheat

The AP reported yesterday that, “An Oregon Wheat Commission spokesman says South Korean flour mills will resume buying soft white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and will not restrict purchases of wheat grown in Oregon.

“Japan, Korea and Taiwan suspended imports of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest after genetically modified wheat was discovered growing in an eastern Oregon field in May.”

 

Immigration

Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “Meeting for the first time as a group to hash out their approach to immigration, House Republicans on Wednesday came down overwhelmingly against a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, putting in jeopardy the future of sweeping legislation that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“Despite the resistance, Speaker John A. Boehner warned about the steep price of inaction, telling House Republicans that they would be in a weaker political position against a bipartisan Senate coalition and President Obama if they did nothing to answer the immigration measure passed by the Senate last month.”

The Times article noted that, “House Republicans huddled in a crucial two-and-a-half-hour session in the basement of the Capitol as their leaders tried to devise some response to the demand for immigration legislation, especially the Senate provision that would grant a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. The bill also mandates tough border security provisions that must be in place before the immigrants can gain legal status.

The bottom line was clear: The Republican-controlled House does not plan to take up anything resembling the Senate bill, which many believe is bad policy and smacks of an amnesty strongly opposed by the conservatives who hold sway over much of the rank and file. The House also does not intend to move very quickly, and some Republicans are wary of passing any measure at all that could lead to negotiations with the Senate, talks that could add pressure to the House to consider a broader plan.”

Keith Good