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Farm Bill; Smithfield; and, Immigration

Farm Bill- Recess Background

In a television interview back on August 29th, House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) stated that, “[Speaker Boehner] told me and [House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.)], right before we left, that they were going to vote on food stamps and then no matter what happens on that vote—and they weren’t sure if they can pass it—he’s going to appoint conferees right afterwardsAnd then he said to us I want this done by September 30th, so he wants the bill done.  Boehner has never been the problem.”

And in a radio interview on August 8th with J. Doug Williams (K-101-FM radio, Woodward, Okla.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) indicated that, “But if we cannot pass the food stamp language, we’re going to conference on the ‘Farm Bill Farm Bill’ in September.”

On August 28th, The Grand Forks Herald (N.D.) reported that, “[House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.)] said Speaker of the House John Boehner will appoint members of a conference committee on the farm bill in September, after passing a bill dealing with food stamps.

“‘We in the House expect to move a nutrition title out of the House,’ Cantor said. ‘That title will reflect the reform agenda that we’ve been about in the nutrition program.’”

And, Ed O’Keefe reported on August 29th at the Post Politics Blog (Washington Post) that, “Aides to House Republican leaders said Wednesday that they are still considering how to proceed with legislation establishing federal farm and food aid policy after news reports suggested that top leadership had settled on a strategy.”

However, as the Congressional recess ended, political variables changed.

Farm Bill- Current Developments- Updated Agenda, Syria

Ron Hays reported yesterday at The Oklahoma Farm Report Online that, “Will Syria become a roadblock to getting work completed on a 2013 Farm Bill? According to the Chairman of the House Ag Committee Frank Lucas, that seems to be the case- at least in the short term. In an exclusive conversation with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays, Chairman Lucas says ‘Clearly Ron, Syria has absorbed all of the political oxygen in the nation’s Capitol. I really expected this week that we would be taking up the Nutrition, a free standing item. That now has been pushed back simply because for the rest of this week and I am not sure how many days after that- Syria is a front burner issue.’

Lucas says that House Conferees will not be appointed by Leadership until the fate of the Nutrition Bill is known– he was hoping that would be before the end of September– but the uncertainty thrown into the wheels that grind political sausage means that may not happen sometime in early October…Lucas says he is working to remind leadership, ‘I know they are focused on Syria- but we need to get the Farm Bill done.’”

The discussion also turned to the Commodity Title of the Farm Bill; to listen to remarks on this issue from Chairman Lucas, just click here (MP3- 1:35).

And Ron Hays also asked Chairman Lucas about the time frame of the Farm Bill going forward– related audio on that topic can be heard here (MP3- 0:57).

The full discussion with Ron Hays and Chairman Lucas is available here, at The Oklahoma Farm Report Online.

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “The House debate over whether to authorize President Obama to take action in Syria will overshadow other legislative work this week, but Congress will finish a new farm bill before the end of the year, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., predicted at a town-hall meeting last week that also indicated constituents are more concerned about Syria and other issues.

“With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., planning to bring up a bill to cut $40 billion over 10 years from food stamps before proceeding to conference on the farm bill, Lucas started his town hall in this rural community of about 7,000 people in north-central Oklahoma last Thursday with a lengthy explanation about why Congress still hasn’t finished the new bill.”

The National Journal article noted that, “‘I have a hard time believing we will have a two-year extension or a one-year extension,’ Lucas said. ‘Both the majority and minority leadership see a blister they need lanced.’

“The nutrition issue, Lucas said, is a matter of how big a cut should be made to the food-stamp program. Ultimately that will be up to Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, he said. ‘If the crowd on high would agree, we could fill in the details in a matter of hours,’ Lucas said.”

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “The really tough remaining hurdle, he said, is the difference between the Senate and House bills on the commodity title. The Senate bill ‘puts 95 percent of their eggs’ in the basket of ‘shallow loss’ payments for losses not covered by crop insurance, while the House bill offers payments based on higher target prices for all crops. ‘Shallow-loss crop revenue is wonderful if you are in the Midwest,’ Lucas said. ‘If you are not in the Midwest it is not so wonderful.… If [the farm bill] doesn’t apply to all regions it is not a federal bill.’”

In a memo on Friday, Leader Cantor outlined legislative priorities as the recess draws to a close.

Billy House reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “So far the House has passed a bill dealing with agriculture programs without acting on food stamps and other nutritional programs that account for about 80 percent of the bill’s nearly $1 trillion in funding authorization. However, Cantor writes that a working group within the GOP conference has come together on a new version of that portion that could save an estimated $40 billion over 10 years. That would almost double the savings tied to reforms initially proposed by the House Agriculture Committee.

“Cantor’s indication is that the House will soon take action on the unfinished part and then proceed to conference with the Senate, which passed its version of the farm bill in June. Cantor said that the bill will ensure that work requirements for able-bodied adults without children are enforced—not waived—and eliminate loopholes exploited over the last few years to avoid the program’s income and asset tests.”

The list of bills the House of Representatives will vote on next week has been posted here, but Farm Bill related legislation is not listed on the agenda.

Paul Kane reported on the front page of yesterday’s Washington Post that, “Congressional leaders, who will return Monday after a five-week break, had planned to use September to position their caucuses for a showdown over government funding levels and a bid to increase the federal debt limit, the third clash over the debt since 2011. The two sides are also jockeying over a proposed immigration overhaul and a continuing struggle over the farm bill, which was a victim of a conservative revolt over food stamps.

Instead, the first order of business is the question of whether to support missile strikes in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical attack on civilians.”

Mr. Kane noted that, “[Speaker] Boehner and Cantor plan to wait for the Senate to make a decision about Syria before taking up the matter in the House. Meantime, the GOP leaders plan to bring to the House floor this week a stopgap funding measure that would leave in place austerity measures mandated by the continuing inability of Obama and Congress to reach a deal on broad tax-and-entitlement reform.”

Kristina Peterson and Janet Hook reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress must also grapple with a slew of long-simmering issues, including how to fund farm-bill and nutritional-assistance programs. The House opted to separate nutrition programs, widely known as food stamps, from the farm bill it passed narrowly in July, leaving the House and Senate at a stalemate on the issue. The Senate passed a bill funding both farm and food-stamp programs in June.

“If Congress takes no action, the farm-bill programs would lapse at the end of the month. Funding for food stamps, on the other hand, is expected to be continued at current levels after Sept. 30, unless Congress decides to change them.”

Meanwhile, AP writer Roxana Hegeman reported on Saturday that, “U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts told Kansas agricultural leaders Saturday at the state fair that the food stamp program is the ‘redline’ for Democrats in the passage of the farm bill — and that his is crop insurance.

“The Republican senator said that the Senate will not pass a farm bill without what it sees as an ‘appropriate’ funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.”

The article noted that, “U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said, like Roberts, his emphasis is on the crop insurance program.”

“But Roberts said the conferees can meet despite the Syria debate and said he is optimistic something will be worked out on a farm bill,” the AP article said; and added that, “Congress will have to finish a farm bill before the end of the year if lawmakers want to avert the threat of milk prices doubling for consumers. Most of current farm law expires at the end of September, but its effects won’t be felt until the end of the year when dairy supports expire. Without the supports, milk prices are expected to rise.”

An update on Saturday at the Kansas Ag Network Online included an audio replay of the Kansas State Fair forum where Sens. Roberts and Moran spoke.

Additional remarks from Saturday’s event from Sens. Roberts and Moran on the issue of crop insurance, can be heard here (MP3- 5:17).

Yvonne Zipp reported on Friday at the Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich.) Online that, “The current Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of September. [Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.)] said he believes a new five-year bill will be in place by mid- to late October. Upton said he is not yet certain how he will vote on a Republican proposal to reduce the federal food assistance program, SNAP, by $40 billion over the course of the next 10 years, as part of that Farm Bill. A Senate version would reduce spending by $24 billion.”

Jason Noble reported on Friday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Debate over a military strike on Syria and funding for the federal government will dominate debate when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., next week, likely pushing action on the farm bill into October or later, said Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation. That means the present farm bill probably will expire, although most farmers won’t be affected for a few months. Ultimately, the bill could be rolled into a larger federal budget deal, with savings from food stamp cuts used to offset spending elsewhere.”

The Register also included video clips featuring remarks on the Farm Bill from Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa) (video here) and Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) (video here).

A separate Des Moines Register update included remarks on the Farm Bill from Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa), Rep. Dave Loebsack (D., Iowa), and the Hawkeye State’s two U.S. Senators- Tom Harkin (D) and Chuck Grassley (R).

And Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) spoke last week with the Denver Post editorial board and addressed issues associated with Farm Bill passage; a portion of his remarks can be heard here (MP3- 1:30).

Meanwhile, Khadeeja Safdar reported on Friday at the Real Time Economics Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Food-stamp use grew 2.3% in June from a year earlier, with nearly one-sixth of the U.S. population receiving benefits.

Illinois showed the largest enrollment increase from last year with a 14.7% gain, according to Agriculture Department data released Friday.”

The Journal update noted that, “In a recent paper  published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jeffrey B. Liebman and Peter Ganong find that food-stamp enrollment shows a strong and persistent correlation with local unemployment rates. They attribute the increase in food-stamp rolls from 2007 to 2011 primarily to the recession—both higher unemployment and the temporary policy changes made to the program in response to the downturn. The surge in enrollment over the period was mostly due to the ‘program’s built-in automatic stabilizer features operating as usual in the midst of a very severe recession,’ they write.

“In another paper released in May, economists Hilary Hoynes and Marianne Bitler present similar findings, arguing that the enrollment patterns during the most recent recession align with previous recessions when controlling for the magnitude of the downturn. ‘The program is responsive to business cycles to the same degree it has been in other recessions,’ says Ms. Hoynes. ‘This is a large recession—the enrollment levels are in step with the magnitude of the labor shock.’”

Also on the nutrition issue, Mercedes White penned an article that was posted on Friday at the Deseret News (Salt Lake City) Online titled, “How food stamps keep families in a cycle of poverty.”

And Lydia DePillis reported on Friday at the WonkBlog (Washington Post) that, “Being ‘food insecure,’ though, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re underweight: Both occasional lack of adequate nutrition and obesity track closely with poverty. That perhaps explains why Mississippi — the state with the highest poverty rate, at 22.8 percent — also has both the highest food insecurity rate (20.9 percent) and the highest obesity rate (34.6 percent). It also has the second-highest concentration of fast food cooks, after Arkansas, which comes in right after Mississippi in the obesity rankings.”

Also, The New York Times editorial board indicated today that, “Instead of providing aid for the hungry, House Republicans want to reduce the food stamp program — the most basic part of the social safety net — with $40 billion in cuts across the next decade. A showdown vote over this cruel plan is expected this month. The House majority leader, Eric Cantor, is leading a propaganda drive that invokes reform as its cause while blaming the victims of hunger simply because the food stamp rolls had to double to nearly 48 million people in the crunch of recession.

“The Cantor plan would force an estimated four to six million people to lose the food stamps that now sustain them. It would invite state governments to ratchet benefits back further because they could use savings wrenched from the pantries of the poor for various other programs, including tax cuts. The measure’s ‘work requirements’ provide no job training funds yet mandate that able-bodied, childless adults who cannot find at least part-time employment will lose their food stamps after 90 days, even if the local unemployment rate is prohibitively high.”

In other policy news, Kimberly Kindy reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “A meat inspection program that the Agriculture Department plans to roll out in pork plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat at American and foreign plants that have already adopted the approach, documents and interviews show.”

Today’s article noted that, “Elisabeth Hagen, the USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, has praised the new inspection procedures. One week before the USDA inspector general’s office issued the critical report this spring, Hagen told the Food Chemical News, a trade publication, that the pilot initiative has produced safety results the department is ‘comfortable [with] and confident in.’”

In related news, the National Association of Federal Veterinarians issued a recent press release titled, “USDA Veterinarians’ Experience with New Inspection Procedures- Result is a Safer Product.”



Michael J. De La Merced reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “Smithfield Foods won national security clearance on Friday for its proposed $4.7 billion sale to a Chinese meat processor, overcoming one of the biggest obstacles to a takeover.

“The approval by an important government committee came despite the deep-seated skepticism of a group of lawmakers, who professed concern over a Chinese company owning Smithfield, America’s biggest pork producer.”



Lee Davidson reported on Friday at The Salt Lake Tribune Online that, “Fruit farmer Robert McMullin does not worry that too many immigrants are flooding the country. He worries there are too few and says he and other Utah farmers need more immigrants to do the hard, lower-paying farm work that resident Americans refuse to take on.

“‘This year with our sweet cherry crop, we had to leave fruit in the field because we couldn’t get enough people to harvest it. It just got to be too old,’ he said. ‘I get concerned about that same thing happening now with our peaches and apples.’”

Michael D. Shear and Julia Preston reported in today’s New York Times that, “Congress is likely to postpone consideration of an immigration overhaul until the end of the year, if not longer, even as advocates are preparing for an all-out, urgent push this fall to win their longstanding goal of a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants here illegally.”

The Washington Post editorial board noted in part today that, “After repeated delays, GOP leaders said this summer that they expected to bring immigration legislation to the House floor in September. Now they say the agenda looks too crowded. They should reconsider. With millions of hardworking immigrants and their children waiting to leave the shadows, an empty legislative process is not good enough.”

Jennifer Medina reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “As the immigration debate simmers in Washington, California Republicans face a very different reality than a majority of their party colleagues, who elsewhere largely represent districts that are overwhelmingly white.

“More than half of California’s 15 Republican members of Congress have districts that are at least 30 percent Latino, making them potentially vulnerable to Democratic challenges and prime targets for those pushing for a path to citizenship. In [Rep. David Valadao’s] district, Latinos make up 70 percent of the population.”

And Kristina Peterson reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “House Democrats want to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. They also want to take back their majority in 2014.

Those two goals have been at odds at times this summer. The Democratic Party’s main campaign arm for House races is targeting 17 Republicans—the number of seats the party would need to flip to regain control—who it believes are vulnerable in 2014. More than half of those are also on the list of GOP lawmakers who advocates of a broad immigration overhaul are hoping will join them in pushing legislation through the House.

“The result: Some Democrats are working to oust the very Republicans that could be vital to kick-starting the stalling effort to pass broad immigration legislation.”

Keith Good