February 29, 2020

Farm Bill; RFS; Ag Economy; Immigration; and, Political Notes

Farm Bill Issues

In an interview yesterday morning with J. Doug Williams (K-101-FM radio, Woodward, Okla.), House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) addressed issues associated with the Farm Bill.

With respect to nutrition issues and the SNAP program (foods stamps), Chairman Lucas noted that, “On the floor of the House, language was added that said explicitly states can drug test food stamp recipients as a requirement if they want to.  You can imagine what the liberals thought of that.  There’s language dealing with convicted felons in really heinous crimes, a ban on using food stamps.

And the thing that really blew up the other side was a workfare requirement.  If you’re able bodied and you don’t have any dependents, you need to work, I think it’s like 20 hours a month to qualify for your food stamps in some work program.  How much of that the President can stand, how much of it Harry Reid can stand, I don’t know.  But the House is on the line that we’re going to spend less money and we’re going to make changes in all parts of the farm bill, so it may be a loud, wild conference committee meeting.”

He added that, “But if we cannot pass the food stamp language, we’re going to conference on the ‘Farm Bill Farm Bill’ in September.”

More specifically on Title I, Chairman Lucas explained yesterday that, “The big difference in what you and I would define as the ‘Farm Bill Farm Bill’ is in the commodity title.  The Senate has more of a corn, Midwest approach.  They do something called shallow loss crop revenue as the main safety net, since we both get rid of direct payments.  In the House we have their version.  We make them put a little more skin in the game, so to speak.  But we also have a second option because shallow loss crop revenue won’t really work outside of corn country.  If you’ve got enough rain and you’ve got enough soil, it’s a great program, but the rest of us don’t necessarily fit that bill, so we’ve got a choice.  We’ve got to work that out.”

Chairman Lucas also addressed Title I issues in an interview on Wednesday with Sam Knipp of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, related audio here (MP3- 0:38).

Meanwhile, in an interview on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) commented on nutrition issues associated with the Farm Bill and explained that, “And they don’t need to pass a nutrition bill because the Senate has it in their bill.  The bill that was sent over there, the farm only bill, was accepted by the Senate and sent to conference, so at this point all we have to do is appoint conferees, and we have nutrition on the table, and we can do whatever we’re going to do whether the House passes a bill or not.  So this is, really, this is all about just giving these guys a chance to vote for something that they want to vote for that is not going anyplace.

“This isn’t just with the farm bill.  They’re doing this with all kinds of things, with the appropriation bills and so forth, and that’s why nothing is getting done.  I understand where they’re at in the House, but you’ve got a Democratic Senate, you’ve got a Democratic President, and if you want to legislate and if you want to get something done, you’ve got to realize the reality of that.  You’re not going to get your way 100%, and that’s just how things work.”

He added that, “And we have a bunch of Republicans that aren’t going to vote for any farm bill, I don’t care what.  You put 130 billion in cuts in food stamps in it, which is what was in the Ryan budget, and they still wouldn’t vote for it because it’s not just food stamps that these folks are against, they’re against the actual farm part of the bill.  If they had their way, there wouldn’t be any farm program.  And there’s a lot of folks in the House and the Republican caucus that believe that.”

And on the dairy issue, Rep. Peterson noted yesterday on AgriTalk that, “So at the end of the day, the Dairy Security Act, I believe, will be in the final bill.  That’s what I think.  We’ll see.”

Rep. Peterson also noted during his discussion with Mike Adams that, “The problem is that if they pass the 40—as I said earlier—if they pass the 40 billion, we go to conference, we come back with a bill that’s substantially less, it’s going to take a majority of Democrats to pass that bill.  And I think we can get the Democrats to do that.  But you also have Republicans that are saying we’re not going to bring a bill up if it’s a majority of Democrats voting for it, we’re against that.  So who knows what they’re going to do?

If we get into that stalemate, we’ll definitely have an extension because we’ll get to December, there will be all these new stories about milk going to 39 bucks a hundredweight, and there will be an extension.  And the Senate has said we’re not going to have an extension, and other people have said we’re not going to have an extension.  Well, when you’re facing $39 milk, I think we’re probably going to have an extension.  That’s what happened last year.

“And given what we’ve been through here, and given the behavior of some of these people, I think I agree with Lucas, that if we get to that point, we should do a two year extension and just let everybody calm down.”

Rep. Peterson added that, “If we got to January 1st, when the permanent law kicks in on dairy, the Secretary tells me it would probably be April or May before we can get anything in place to get the thing, so it probably wouldn’t get that high a milk level until April or May, so maybe there’s something wiggle room there.  But I just would be surprised.  If we get to that point, I think we’re going to have an extension.  I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

In a more general look at policy issues regarding social programs, including SNAP, David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “When welfare reform was enacted in August 1996, the economy was growing at an annual rate of 2.8 percent and had added more than 1.67 million new jobs in the first seven months of that year.

“Seventeen Augusts later, the landscape is very different even as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pursues his version of welfare reform 2.0 — this time for food stamps.

“Economic growth in the second quarter was only 1.7 percent. The pace of job creation is already lagging behind 1996 by over 300,000 jobs. Most striking, more than half the 11.5 million unemployed today are estimated to be no longer getting jobless benefits — making food stamps a last lifeline for many.”

The Politico article pointed to the “intellectual rivalry that’s grown between Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Cantor,” and referenced specific votes and actions in March as a platform for the discussion.

Later in the article, Mr. Rogers stated that, “To give Cantor his due, he is trying mightily to put some policy behind the vague savings claimed by Ryan in his budget. But food stamps — officially titled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP — is also Cantor’s chosen canvas on which to paint his vision. The success of the farm bill often seems secondary to this mission.

“Indeed, the first farm bill collapsed in June after Cantor insisted on new SNAP work requirements for the mothers of young children — an amendment that helped to drive off Democrats even as 62 Republicans, including Ryan, voted ‘no’ on final passage.

“That embarrassment came on the heels of an earlier floor vote in which Cantor surprisingly opposed a bipartisan amendment to save billions from crop insurance subsidies — an amendment Ryan favored.”

Yesterday’s article indicated that, “Cantor bounced back in July behind a strategy of passing the farm bill after jettisoning the nutrition title. He had Ryan’s vote this time even though the revised bill made permanent the very same crop subsidies that Ryan had complained of weeks before. Most important, Cantor got the opportunity to write his own nutrition title, which is to come to the floor in September as a separate bill.

“At this stage, the goal is to save as much as $40 billion over 10 years or twice what the initial House Agriculture Committee bill had proposed.

“The biggest single change is a proposal to permanently do away with waivers that have allowed millions of able-bodied adults without dependents to get food stamps for more than three months — even if they are working less than 20 hours a week.”

The lengthy, and interesting Politico article went on to provide additional details and analysis regarding SNAP related issues.

And in other Farm Bill news, Niels Lesniewski reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Sen. Claire McCaskill is reaching out to her campaign mailing list to push for food stamp funding.

“The Missouri Democrat’s asking campaign supporters to contact their local House members in support of a bipartisan farm bill without substantial cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“‘The fumbling of House Republican leadership is hurting our farmers and ranchers, Missouri’s economic health, and those throughout the country who depend on food stamps for basic nutrition,’ McCaskill said in an email sent Thursday.”

An item posted yesterday (with video) at WNDU-TV (South Bend, Ind.) Online indicated that, “‘I believe we will not have a [Farm Bill] extension, but we’ll actually get it resolved,’ [Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.)] says.

“He expects bipartisan agreement, though he says it might not come until early October.”

In executive branch perspective, Reuters writer Steve Holland reported on Wednesday that, “The economic policy speeches President Barack Obama has been delivering in recent weeks are turning out to be blunt attacks on Republicans, with an eye toward coming fiscal battles and the 2014 congressional elections…[F]rom Galesburg, Illinois, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Phoenix, Arizona, Obama has been unrelenting in tone, attacking ‘slash-and-burn partisanship,’ ‘phony scandals,’ and the ‘gutted’ farm bill – all the work of Republicans now spoiling for a fight that ‘could plunge us back in financial crisis.’”

In other developments, an update yesterday from National Crop Insurance Services stated that, “[M]ore than 959,000 policies have been processed through participating companies and RMA as of August 5, 2013…[F]armers have spent more than $30 billion out of their own pockets to purchase crop insurance since 2000.”

A news release yesterday from National Farmers Union (NFU) indicated that, “[NFU] President Roger Johnson sent a letter today to leadership of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Agriculture emphasizing the importance of signing a five-year, comprehensive farm bill into law prior to the Sept. 30, expiration of the current law.”

And in other policy related news, Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced the latest in a series of delays in its implementation of the largest food safety update in 70 years.

“The agency said it was again extending the public comment period for sweeping draft regulations for farmers and food producers, giving them more time to assess them together with related rules issued last month for food imports.”

Julian Hattem, also writing yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog, noted that, “A liberal advocacy group is making a push to get states and the federal government to require special labels on food containing ingredients that has been genetically modified.

MoveOn is planning events in at least 35 cities on Friday to urge lawmakers to require the disclaimers on food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).”


RFS- Renewable Fuel Standard

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel indicated today that, “For a glimpse at the secret, special-favors factory that Washington has become under President Obama, check out this week’s big news out of the Environmental Protection Agency. Or rather, look beyond the headlines to the corporate handout hidden within.

“The big news was that the EPA issued—finally—its infamous annual quota for renewable fuels.”

Ms. Strassel noted that, “The 89-page rule is dull reading, until you get to page 11. Tucked on that page is one short sentence, which reads: ‘EPA has approved a single small refinery/small refiner exemption for 2013, so an adjustment has been made to the standards to account for this exemption.’ In English: Of the nation’s 143 refineries, one (and only one) lucky player somehow had the pull to win itself a free pass from this government burden. Not only that, the rest of the industry gets to pick up its slack.”

Today’s column indicated that, “So who is the lucky dog? Who could make this happen? That’s the best part. The EPA won’t say. The agency not only refused to name the refinery in its rule, but also obscured certain numbers in the document to hide the beneficiary’s identity. An EPA press officer would not give me the name, citing ‘confidentiality restrictions.’…[W]ashington is rife with secret deals that reward select corporate players, and the numbers have only accelerated under this ‘most transparent’ of administrations. If the process by which the EPA issued this exemption was aboveboard, it should have no problem divulging details. Until that time, the public might fairly assume funny business.”


Agricultural Economy

Neena Rai reported yesterday at the Money Beat Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “World food prices fell for the third consecutive month in July, driven by falling international prices for grains, white sugar and palm oil, according to data from the United Nations on Thursday.

Prices now stand nearly 13% below their all-time peak of February 2011.”

An update yesterday from the National Drought Mitigation Center stated that, “Drought continued to recede in many areas that have been plagued by long-term drought, but expanded in the far west during the week that ended August 6, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

A recent update from Purdue University pointed out that, “High net farm income combined with favorable interest rates, strong farmland demand, and a limited supply of farmland for sale pushed farmland values and cash rents higher. The June 2013 Purdue Farmland Value Survey indicates the statewide [Indiana] increase in farmland values ranged from 14.7% to 19.1% depending on the productivity of the farmland. Statewide cash rents increases ranged from 9.4% to 10.9%.”

And Bradley L. Zwilling indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Illinois Farm Real Estate Increase 16.4% for 2013”) that, “The average Illinois farm real estate values from 1970 through 2013 are listed in Table 1 and graphically in Figure 1.  The average farm real estate value for Illinois in 2013 was $7,800 per acre, the highest on record. This includes the value of all land and buildings. The figure was 16.4 percent higher than the 2012 average of $6,700 per acre. The 2013 increase continues the upward trend of Illinois farm real estate values. It is the third year in a row of at least 16 percent increases. Illinois farm real estate values have increased 72 percent in five years and 221 percent in 10 years.”

Meanwhile, Kelsey Gee reported yesterday at the Corporate Intelligence blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Cattle prices rose sharply on Thursday after America’s largest meat producer, Tyson Foods, said it would stop using cattle feed containing Zilmax, an additive that speeds weight gain in animals. Dropping the additive will reduce the amount of beef produced by each animal, tightening overall supplies.”

Also yesterday, Bloomberg writers Shruti Date Singh and Beth Jinks reported that, “Starboard Value LP, an investor in Smithfield Foods Inc., approached buyout firms and meat processors to encourage them to form a bidding group to derail a Chinese takeover, said two people familiar with the process.

“The activist investor is challenging Hong Kong’s Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., which agreed in May to buy Smithfield for $4.7 billion. Under Starboard’s plan, the group would bid together and break up Smithfield after the takeover, said the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are private.

“Starboard, led by Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Smith, has argued for the past two months that the world’s biggest hog producer could obtain a much higher price through a split. The firm approached meat processors including Tyson Foods Inc. about a possible group transaction, said one of the people. Starboard may present a proposal to Smithfield’s board within a month, that person said.”

And with respect to trade issues, James Politi reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Legislation to grant President Barack Obamafast-track’ authority to negotiate trade deals and ease their passage through Congress has been delayed until the autumn – dashing hopes that an agreement could be struck quickly and without a fight.”

The FT article noted that, “The Obama administration has described ‘fast track’ – officially dubbed Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – as a ‘critical tool’ to ensure passage of its ambitious second-term trade agenda. It is now negotiating separate trade agreements with the EU and 11 Pacific rim nations, known as the TransPacific Partnership. These TPP talks could be concluded by the end of this year, while an EU accord is slated to be sealed by the end of 2014, US officials have said.

“The Senate finance committee was originally due to take up a bill in June. But congressional aides said the committee was still struggling to reach a consensus and talks were now expected to drag into the autumn. Top trade staffers from the House ways and means committee are also participating in the negotiations.

Congressional aides close to the talks on TPA say the delay has been a function of the complicated nature of the legislation, which sets negotiating objectives for the president on trade.”



Lara Seligman reported earlier this week at The Hill Online that, “Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the lead players in the push to reform the nation’s immigration system, expressed optimism on Wednesday that the House can pass a deal.

“‘I actually am optimistic that we will get this done,’ Schumer said about a bill taking shape in the House during an interview on CNN. ‘I’ve had a lot of discussions with various members of both parties in the House. Things are moving in the right direction.’”


Political Notes

Glenn Thrush reported earlier this week at Politico that, “Pete Rouse, a former White House chief of staff and arguably President Barack Obama’s most-trusted West Wing adviser, has told friends he will be leaving the administration this fall, people with knowledge of the situation tell POLITICO.”

The article stated that, “Rouse, nicknamed the ‘101st Senator’ during his tenure as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was the first senior aide then-Sen. Obama hired upon taking office in 2005… [T]he famously reclusive Connecticut native was visibly emotional at a White House ceremony in January 2011 when the president introduced Bill Daley as his replacement.

“As Rouse squirmed in the spotlight, Obama called him a ‘unique and indispensable asset to me and this administration,’ adding: ‘I cannot imagine life here without him.’”

Keith Good

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