FarmPolicy

October 1, 2014

Farm Bill; and the Ag Economy

Farm Bill: “Permanent Law” Issues, and a Path Forward Remains Murky

Financial Times writer Stephanie Kirchgaessner reported last week that, “Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill along party lines on Thursday that for the first time in decades stripped the legislation of food stamps in order to win over conservatives.”

The FT article noted that, “The House bill also ended a long held provision known as ‘permanent law’ that for years had served as an incentive for lawmakers to update the farm bill every five years or risk huge hikes in commodity prices.

“‘It may have a lot of unintended consequences,’ said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs at McDermott Will & Emery who deals with agriculture policy.”

David Grant reported last week at the Christian Science Monitor Online that, “The House farm bill makes the 2013 law the permanent rule. As such, the subsidies and support programs in place today would continue indefinitely without future farm authorizations…[D]emocrats like Representative [Collin Peterson (D., Minn.)] believe taking away pressure on Congress will allow future farm bills to lapse even longer than the nearly two years that the current measure took to pass the House of Representatives.”

And Billings Gazette (Mont.) writer Tom Lutey reported on Friday that, “Additionally, [Montana Farmers Union] and other groups were disappointed Republicans did way with the long-standing ‘permanent law’ requiring federal farm policy to revert back to the original farm bill language of the 1938 and 1949. The threat of reverting to 60-year-old farm policy, has nudged Congress into updating federal farm policy every five years.”

Speaking on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams on Friday, Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, indicated that, “You know, the fact is that without the threat of that [permanent 1949] law, which most people believe is considerably more expensive than what we have now—it’s certainly an administrative nightmare for USDA—and it’s also very inequitable because you have commodities like sugar and soybeans that don’t have a program in 1949.  It’s really the sledgehammer that’s there to make sure we don’t just let the farm bill expire and do nothing about itAnd so to remove that, even to replace it with the 2013 law for Title I is just that sledgehammer isn’t going to be there.”

Ms. Thatcher added that, “I think this will be a very, very high priority for virtually all of agriculture once we do get to a conference committee.”

Also on Friday’s AgriTalk program, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated that, “The notion that you would make the 2013 effort permanent and that you would eliminate permanent law I think also raises some serious questions about whether or not we’ll ever have a comprehensive food, farm and jobs bill in the futureI think we need that leverage in order to compel people to get the work done, in order to compel them to tweak or make modifications or changes based on conditions.

“So I’m going to be really focused on whether or not the House gets conferees appointed quickly.  If they do then everything’s on the table and reasonable people can work out differences.  If they don’t then I think we have some very serious days ahead in terms of a lack of clarity and lack of certainty about what the programs are going to be.”

O. Kay Henderson reported on Saturday at Radio Iowa Online that, “Some speculate congress would never again pass a Farm Bill if the 1949 legislation is repealed.”

Ted Booker reported yesterday at The Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) Online that, “Another item of controversy included in approved House bill, which [Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.)] opposes, is language that would repeal the so-called ‘1949 statute,’ in which laws from the 1930s and ’40s take effect when the farm bill expires.

“‘That’s a long-term cause for concern, because the legislation motivated each of the bills that passed, because they would revert back to the bill from 1949,’ he said. If the statute is repealed, ‘likely there will be no motivation to produce another farm bill going forward. That means specialty crop and conservation groups will be potentially cut out in 2018.’”

More specifically on a way forward in the legislative process for the Farm Bill, Mr. Booker indicated that, “The House is expected to vote on a separate nutrition bill next week, which will include even deeper cuts than before to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps. Passage of that legislation, Mr. Owens said, is needed for a final bill to be negotiated by conference and put on the floor for a final vote in the House and Senate.”

And Christopher Doering reported in Friday’s Des Moines Register that, “[Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.)] told reporters that House leaders said they expect to vote on the food-stamp portion of the billin the next week or two.’”

Likewise, Denise Ross reported on Friday at The Daily Republic (Mitchell, South Dakota) Online that,  “Noem said House leaders assured her they would bring the so-called nutrition title, which includes the controversial food stamp program, to the floor for a vote within a week or two.”

Also with respect to a way forward, Ed O’Keefe reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “[Sen. Ag. Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow’s (D., Mich.)] counterpart on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.), said after Thursday’s vote that he hoped to begin work on a new food stamp bill in the coming days. But when pressed for details, Lucas said he didn’t yet know what such a bill would say or when he would introduce it.

Aides to House Republican leaders said Friday that the topic of how to proceed would be taken up next week.”

Erik Wasson reported on Saturday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “As of Friday, House leaders had not decided their next step. A decision could come as late as the last week of July.

“‘Conversations need to happen between the House and the Senate and among the members,’ an aide said.

Leaders appear most likely to try to pass a bill that cuts food stamps, and then try to add that to the farm bill conference with the Senate.”

What this food stamp bill will look like is also an open question,” the Hill article said.

Mr. Wasson pointed out that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had been prepared to accept $8 billion in cuts in the context of the failed supercommittee deficit effort of 2011.

It remains to be seen if splitting the farm bill in the end drives that number down or up.”

On Friday, AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported that, “It remained unclear what a food stamp bill would look like, how it would move through the House or how quickly lawmakers could craft a bill.”

 

Farm Bill: Additional Focus on Nutrition Issues

On Friday, a brief video of several House Democrats speaking on the floor during Thursday’s Farm Bill debate about nutrition issues was posted at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D., Calif.) YouTube page.

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Friday that, “One after another, angry Democrats took to the House floor to say Republicans would increase hunger in America by stripping food stamps from the farm bill.

“In reality, though, the bill passed by the House on Thursday didn’t deal with food stamps at all. And the lack of congressional action on food stamps could keep the $80 billion-a-year program untouched by any cuts.”

And Juana Summers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The split-bill strategy used to pass the farm bill in the House has ‘politicized the farm bill for the first time in a long, long time,’ Iowa Rep. Steve King said Sunday.

“But, the Republican congressman added, the pared-back version that passed 216-208 shouldn’t be seen as evidence that Republicans don’t care about food stamps and the poor.

“‘That was characterized by the Congressional Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus on Thursday in the wrong fashion,’ King said on ‘Fox News Sunday.’ ‘I opposed splitting them because it takes out of our hands the ability to reform the SNAP program, the food stamp program and goes into perpetual motion, mandatory spending sort of a situation. They characterized it wrong.’”

The Politico item added that, “‘I am opposed to doing this because I want to reform it. They want unlimited food stamps. I think the truth will emerge here,’ King said. ‘In the end, I wish we hadn’t separated them because it politicized the farm bill for the first time in a long, long time.’”

Bloomberg writer Kathleen Miller reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Congress will ‘absolutely’ fund the federal food stamp program even after passing a farm-policy bill this month without including money for food aid for the poor, a Republican lawmaker said today.

“‘I have never talked to one person that says ‘We don’t want to take care of the most vulnerable,’’ Representative Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ program. ‘But I have talked to people that said the system’s broken. And when they look at what’s going on, we’re wasting billions of dollars on a program that doesn’t seem to be lifting people out of poverty.’”

Nathan Hansen reported on Saturday at the Winona Daily News (Minn.) Online that, “Because food stamps, formerly known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are governed by a separate permanent law, they won’t end just because funding wasn’t included in the House bill. But, [Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.)] argued, not including nutrition programs in the bill reduces the government’s ability to react to the economy and work to cut waste and fraud in the program.

“‘My Tea Party friends, many of whom stated their goal is to remove these programs permanently, they are not going to be able to do that,’ Walz said. ‘They are probably going to make them more inefficient … It’s bad government, and a bad use of resources.’”

And James Walsh reported on Saturday at the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, N.Y.) Online that, “After addressing two dozen local officials and others with agricultural interests, [Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.)] expressed confidence that the Senate and House will agree on a bill including food stamps, which make up 80 percent of farm bill costs, before the current bill expires Sept. 30.

“‘If they’re not included, it will be vetoed by the president,’ Gillibrand said.”

Also, Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Senate Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on [CBS's ‘Face the Nation’] that the House version of the bill isn’t going anywhere in the Senate. ‘We have had a partnership of those living in the cities who are interested in nutritional programs, whether it’s food stamps or school lunch, and those who represented rural areas, which I did in Congress, that came together in a farm bill. It was a winning formula. Now the House Republicans have given up on that. That’s a mistake,’ Durbin said.”

On Friday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kans.) stated that, “But at some point in time it’s going to have to be rejoined because the Democrat controlled Senate will not pass a farm bill in the absence of nutrition and food stamp programs, and I can’t foresee that President Obama would sign a farm bill in the absence of those provisions.”

However, in an interview on WGN radio (Chicago) Friday morning, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) indicated that, “And my hope is that the Senate will take up farm policy and will separate them as well.  If we can’t come to some sort of agreement on reforms and changes to the food stamp program, at least move forward on a farm bill so that farmers can plan to provide that food that we depend on and folks on food stamp depend on to provide that food for their diets.”

Rep. Stutzman also noted in Friday’s WGN radio interview that, “I had some really good meetings with our northern Indiana food pantries, and even they are telling me how this program is being abused.  We’re creating a commodity here where people buy and sell food stamps, or they maybe buy product and exchange it for cash.  And it’s a system that’s not working for those who really do have hunger challenges, and it’s a program that’s being abused.

And I’d like us to take a step back and look at what our food pantries do for our communities and partner with them.  I mean, they can make a dollar go so much farther than what the government can when they just throw money at a problem in food stamps.”

 

Farm Bill- Animal Production Issue

Richard Simon reported in Friday’s Los Angeles Times that, “The House on Thursday approved a bill that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards ensuring that hens can spread their wings.”

Mr. Simon noted that, “The ‘prohibition against interference by state and local governments with production or manufacture of items in other states’ was sought by Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the No. 1 egg-producing state.

“King contends that California exceeded its authority and interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce in imposing conditions on farmers who want to sell eggs in the nation’s most populous state.”

The article noted that, “Critics of King’s measure have warned that it could nullify more than 150 state laws around the country, many of them dealing with animal welfare. They also contend that it would harm California by forcing its egg farmers, but not their out-of-state competitors, to comply with voter-approved rules.”

For more background on this issue, see the debate (including a transcript) on this amendment that took place during the House Ag. Committee Farm Bill markup in May.

 

Farm Bill- Opinion

On Saturday the editorial boards at The New York Times (“Missing: The Food Stamp Program”), The Washington Post  (“The House’s farm bill is a perfect disgrace”), The Wall Street Journal (“A Healthy Farm Rebellion”), and The Des Moines Register (“Rather than reduce food aid, [Rep. Steve King] should focus on fraud”) all remarked on Farm Bill issues.

And Andrea Drusch reported yesterday at Politico that, “CBS ‘Face the Nation’ host Bob Schieffer on Sunday took a swipe at the farm bill passed by the House earlier this month for giving money to large corporations while failing to include nutrition assistance.”

 

Agricultural Economy

James Politi reported on Friday at The Financial Times Online that, “Top US and EU negotiators dubbed the first round of transatlantic trade talks a success, shrugging off tensions over issues such as US surveillance programmes that had escalated in the past few weeks.

“‘The work this week has been very productive,’ said Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU official responsible for the negotiations, at a closing press conference in Washington. ‘The first round has confirmed that both sides are committed to a high level of ambition,’ Mr Garcia Bercero added. The second round of talks will take place in Brussels in October.”

Keith Good

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