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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Regulations; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

Matt Fuller reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The House moved its farm bill one step closer to conference with the Senate Tuesday, when it made a procedural move that formally sent the legislation without food stamp provisions over to the Senate.

“Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Monday she was ‘pretty stunned’ House leaders had not yet sent the bill over to the Senate. ‘This is a very positive step,’ Stabenow said upon hearing the news Tuesday that the bill had be sent to the Senate.”

Mr. Fuller noted that, “House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., had theorized that dropping food stamps from the bill would mean the Senate’s far slimmer cuts to the program would be adopted in the end. He said either conferees will accept the Senate’s $4 billion SNAP cut — the House bill advocated for roughly $20 billion in cuts — or the Senate would not advance its nutrition title, effectively continuing current spending.

“Lucas has said he has a commitment from leadership to bring a SNAP bill to the floor as soon as he finds 218 votes. Finding that many votes, however, could be elusive.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton pointed out yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Stabenow said the House will either have to pass a separate bill for nutrition programs or go along with the $3.9 billion in cuts to nutrition programs over 10 years in the Senate bill. Stabenow said she won’t support passing a bill that only deals with farm policy and not nutrition policy as well.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, Chairwoman Stabenow stated that, “I just wanted to indicated as it relates to moving forward on the Farm Bill, I want to congratulate the House for sending their version of the Farm Bill to us this morning, so we have it.

“And tomorrow it would be our intent, Sen. Cochran and I, to go through the motions that it takes to be able to send back our Farm Bill and as for a conference committee.”

A video replay of Chairwoman Stabenow’s complete remarks on this issue can be viewed here, at FarmPolicy.com Online.

And Erik Wasson reported yesterday morning at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “House leaders are expected to meet this week to determine the path forward on food stamps. The original House bill cut food stamps by $20.5 billion, but it failed spectacularly on the House floor.

“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) vowed to move a food stamp bill quickly and GOP sources say the most likely next step would be to add that title to the eventual House-Senate farm bill conference.

The shape of the food stamps bill is still being worked out, but it could include the House-passed budget resolution plan to block grant the program and cut $135 billion over 10 years.”

The Hill article added that, “Senate Democrats reacted to the sending of the House farm bill by saying there is now no reason to delay conference.

“‘Unlike what Leader Cantor said on the floor last week, the Senate’s position has been that conference should begin as soon as possible rather than waiting for the House to pass a separate nutrition bill,’ a Senate aide said. ‘We are glad that the House has now decided it agrees and has sent over a bill so we can get to work.’”

Meanwhile, David Rogers reported yesterday evening at Politico that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said Tuesday that ‘conversations can and will begin immediately’ with the Senate on the Farm Bill and nothing the House has done so far precludes including food stamp reforms in the final conference report.

“The Oklahoma Republican made his remarks in a two-page memo circulated among his Republican committee members late Tuesday. The action came as Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told her colleagues that she expected Wednesday to initiate the process for the two chambers to begin a formal conference.

Lucas said he will also pursue separate meetings with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and ‘interested members’ on and off his committee, regarding food stamps, formally titled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”

Erik Wasson reported yesterday evening at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Tuesday evening that a formal farm bill conference with the Senate will have to wait until the House decides what to do with a standalone food stamp measure.

Lucas said that he cannot ‘in good faith’ press GOP leaders to appoint conferees until he works to craft a bill cutting food stamp funding.

“‘It would be difficult for me to move for a formal conference unless we address the nutrition issue,’ Lucas said.”

Mr. Wasson explained that, “Earlier on Tuesday, Lucas updated his committee on the farm bill process. The memo, obtained by The Hill, noted the formalities of the farm bill conference going forward. Lucas clarified to The Hill that the memo was not meant to suggest that the House would agree to a farm bill conference before dealing with the food stamps provisions.

“‘I think in good faith I have to try to achieve some kind of consensus bill on nutrition,’ Lucas said. ‘It may not take long to determine whether that’s possible and whether the divisions are too hard.’

“Some rural Republicans appear to be advocating for food stamp cuts similar to that in the original bill in the interest of aiding the House-Senate compromise, while fiscal conservatives want something closer to the $135 billion in cuts in the House-passed budget.”

Roll Call writer Matthew Fuller tweeted yesterday that, “House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas says House will try ‘in earnest’ to get a SNAP bill before going to conference.”

Also yesterday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) noted in a press briefing that, “The irony is they [Republicans] had a Farm Bill. They lost 62 votes on it. They adopted three amendments, which made it virtually assured that Democrats would vote against it in overwhelming fashion. Twenty-four voted it, but the remaining 170-plus voted against it.

They had an option. They had an option to come to Mr. Peterson or to me or to Leader Pelosi and say, OK; we need to have a more bipartisan bill. It’s always been bipartisan; what do we need to get there?”

Rep. Hoyer added that, “Obviously, the starting place would have been drop those three amendments, which were not in the bill when it came to the floor, which were designed specifically to penalize poor people and to require poor people things that we don’t require of other people that get government money, including farmers. If a farmer got a subsidy, should the farmer be drug-tested? There’s nothing in that bill that says that’s the case. But if you get Supplemental Nutritional Program, apparently they think yes.

“So they could have gone one of two ways…[t]hey could have gone the way of saying, OK; let’s make this a more bipartisan bill. However, what — the route they took was to mollify and get onboard their radical right by saying to the poor, you’re extraneous. That’s a quote, as you remember, from Mr. Sessions; that this was extraneous. It had been in there 50 years, but it was extraneous. It didn’t matter. It was beside the point.

“I thought that was an unfortunate observation and I thought it was an unfortunate way that they went. They went — and ironically, they left in the subsidies that their right wing didn’t like either. But their right wing so liked dropping poor people from this bill that they voted for it anyway. It’s a shame.”

Rep. Hoyer noted that, “I don’t know what they’re going to do on SNAP. Mr. Cantor responded, as you know, that they wanted to move ahead.  Mr. Lucas said they were going to move ahead. We will see and we will see how many Republicans vote for a SNAP bill standing alone.”

In a closer look at nutrition issues, an update yesterday at the Chart Gallery webpage from USDA’s Economic Research Service indicated that, “The increase in SNAP participation during 2008-10—a period of rising unemployment—was the largest participation increase since the current program began in the early 1960s, but the unemployment rate hike was the largest since that time as well. At a time when the unemployment rate increased from 4.5 percent in 2007 to 9.8 percent in 2010, the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits grew from an average of 26.3 million in 2007 to 40.3 million in 2010. However, when the increase in SNAP participants is adjusted for the increase in the unemployment rate, the caseload increased by 2.7 million participants per 1-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate, which is similar to the previous two economic declines” [see related chart here].

On a separate issue regarding food safety, Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “Efforts to implement the largest overhaul of food safety regulations in 70 years could be imperiled by a provision included in the House-passed farm bill headed to the Senate on Tuesday.

“The House legislation, approved last week, contains an amendment requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct a ‘scientific and economic analysis’ of regulations drafted under the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), further delaying the enactment of new food safety rules.”

And in a closer look at crop insurance issues, a news release Monday from Sen. John Hoeven (R. N.D.) indicated that, “[Sen. Hoeven] this week met with U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary nominee Krysta Harden and spoke with USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) Acting Administrator Brandon Willis. The senator contacted both of them to secure help for North Dakota growers with crop insurance, particularly prevented plant insurance, because of a very wet growing season.”

A news update yesterday from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) stated in part that, “[Sen. Heitkamp] today met with senior officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to discuss the impact of abnormally high moisture on the growing season in North Dakota. Senator Heitkamp pressed USDA Deputy Secretary nominee Krysta Harden to improve prevented plant policies at the Risk Management Agency (RMA) so that crop insurance providers will have clarity to process eligible claims.”

And a press release  yesterday from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) stated that, “Today [Rep. Cramer] issued the following statement in response to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announcing its estimate of prevented plant acres in North Dakota to be 4.4 million for 2013:

“‘Our capable farmers and insurance professionals are dealing effectively with problems stemming from this unusually wet year, but the federal government should be a better partner when it comes to establishing fair and understandable policy on prevented plant insurance coverage. We need to resolve any uncertainty for our producers as they plan their operations this fall. I appreciate Senator Hoeven’s insistence to the USDA Risk Management Agency for a clarification of the 1 in 4 year planting rule in light of serious questions about its interpretation.’”

And in other policy related developments, a news update yesterday from Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) stated that, “Today, [Rep. Conyers] and Representative Earl Bluemenauer (D-OR) introduced the ‘Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013,’ which requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of certain insecticide, known as neonicotinoids, to prevent future mass die-offs of honey bees.”

Rep. Conyers noted that, “One of every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by honey bees. These crops include apples, avocados, cranberries, cherries, broccoli, peaches, carrots, grapes, soybeans, sugar beets and onions.  Unfortunately, unless swift action is taken, these crops, and numerous others, will soon disappear due to the dramatic decline of honey bee populations throughout the country.

“For over a decade now, honey bees have been suffering rapid population losses as a result of a phenomenon known as ‘colony collapse disorder.’ Another decade of these mass die-offs will severely threaten our agricultural economy and food supply. Scientists have reported that common symptoms of this decline are attributed to the use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids. The ‘Saving America’s Pollinators Act’ will address this threat to honey bee populations by suspending the use of certain neonicotinoids and by requiring the EPA to conduct a full review of the scientific evidence before allowing the entry of other neonicotinoids into the market.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Perry Beeman reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “The same Iowa crop fields that were flooded and planted late now are getting thirsty, the U.S Department of Agriculture reported Monday.

“A general lack of rain quickly turned a good soil moisture situation statewide into a dicey one, the USDA reported.”

Owen Fletcher reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Analysts expect a record harvest this fall unless weather conditions take a sharp turn for the worse this summer. Although traders are concerned about dryness in the western Farm Belt, the nation’s corn crop is in good health overall. Last week, the USDA projected this fall’s corn crop would total 13.95 billion acres, which would break the previous record of 13.1 billion set in 2009.”

Also yesterday, Bloomberg writer Elizabeth Campbell reported that, “U.S. hog farmers are making money for the first time in a year after prices surged to a two-decade seasonal high and feed costs fell, spurring them to expand herds that will yield the most pork on record.

“About 5.882 million sows were withheld for breeding by June 1, the most in four years, with a record 10.31 pigs being born per litter, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. The cost of corn, the main feed grain, tumbled 32 percent in the past year. Hog futures for December, which rose as high as 83.7 cents last month, will drop 8.2 percent to 75 cents a pound in Chicago by the time they settle, according to the median of nine analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.”

The article added that, “‘Profits are going to lead to expansion, and that’s going to lead to more hogs and lower hog prices,’ said Ron Plain, a livestock economist at the University of Missouri in Columbia who has studied the industry for three decades. ‘We’re going to end up with more pigs being born in the second half of this year than anticipated. That’s going to be a drag on 2014.’”

 

Regulations

David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government. It began with six ominous words: ‘Dear Members of Our Regulated Community…’

“Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again.

“Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical.”

The Post article noted that, “To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.

“The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller ‘animal exhibitors,’ even the humble one-bunny magician.

“That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan.”

Mr. Fahrenthold indicated that, “Or maybe not. Late Tuesday, after a Washington Post article on Hahne was posted online, the Agriculture Department announced that the disaster-plan rule would be reexamined.

“‘Secretary [Tom] Vilsack asked that this be reviewed immediately and common sense be applied,’ department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said in an e-mail message.”

Clare Foran reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “In a bid to avert the ‘nuclear option,’ Senate leadership reached a deal this afternoon to move forward with consideration of five nominees to President Obama’s Cabinet, including Gina McCarthy, the president’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency…[M]cCarthy is also expected to be confirmed without issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that McCarthy has ‘enough votes to clear a 60-vote hurdle.’”

 

Immigration

AP writer Julie Pace reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama on Tuesday conceded that an immigration overhaul cannot be achieved by his August deadline. With House Republicans searching for a way forward on the issue, the president said he was hopeful a bill could be finalized this fall — though even that goal may be overly optimistic.”

Keith Good