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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; RFS; Regulations; Immigration; and, the Budget

Farm Bill -Policy Issues

Tom Cherveny reported this week at the West Central Tribune (Willmar, Minn.) Online that, “U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told about two dozen farmers Monday in Montevideo that he remains pessimistic about passing a Farm Bill by the end of the month, when the current legislation expires.”

The article noted that, “Peterson, the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee, said he and Republican chairman Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma ‘are going to try to figure out how to get this done.’”

Mr. Cherveny indicated that, “Peterson said southern states used to elect representatives who were concerned about agriculture. However, he said, the last two elections saw winners emerge from the South who could not ‘care less about farmers.’”

The article pointed out that, “Peterson said corn prices this year could fall below $4 a bushel, based on projections of a big crop. If the following year also produces a bumper crop, and $3.50-a-bushel corn, that becomes the maximum price at which farmers could insure their income. ‘You won’t be able to insure your crop at a level where you can make a profit,’ he said.”

Mike Fitzgerald reported yesterday at the Belleville News-Democrat (Il.) Online that, “The clock is ticking on the federal farm bill, and metro-east farmers like Chris Otten worry that the current bill’s Sept. 30 expiration date will come and go with no long-term replacement for it…[T]he big concern for Otten and other farmers is the fate of crop insurance. Last year, federally subsidized crop insurance was a lifesaver because of the drought that wiped out nearly 80 percent of the corn crop in some Illinois counties.

“‘Last year if there had been no crop insurance whatsoever, I don’t know what we would’ve done,’ he said.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said he would vote against a House bill containing $40 billion in cuts.

“Enyart, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, expressed pessimism that a conference committee from the Senate and House could work out a compromise acceptable to majorities in both chambers.

“‘It’s a long walk from $4 billion to $40 billion,’ he said. ‘I would hope that the conference committee will be able to reach an agreement. But I can’t hold out any hope for it at this point.’”

Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out that, “But U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, the most senior metro-east U.S. House member, believes Congress will pass a long-term farm bill later this fall — despite sharp partisan disagreement over the size of cuts to the nation’s nearly $80 billion-per-year food stamp program…[U].S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who also sits on the ag committee, also expressed optimism that a comprehensive farm bill will get passed.”

Meanwhile, in more specific developments regarding nutrition issues, a news release this week from Rep. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.) indicated that, “One foundational problem Reed says, is a lack of work requirement in connection with receiving food stamp benefits. Before 2009, rules were in place that required able-bodied adults without children to be engaged in work or job training in order to qualify for food stamps. That work requirement has since been waived in 47 states, including New York.

“Reed says the solution lies in reforms in the House bill that help recipients better themselves with job skills.”

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) tweeted yesterday that, “Told press GOP’s #SNAP funding bill is irresponsible & partisan, denying benefits to approx 4 million Americans; Dems will strongly oppose.”

While Rep. Terri Sewell (D., Ala.) tweeted yesterday that, “Median household income for #SNAP recipients in my district is $13,682. Let it sink in. Thirteen thousand six hundred and eighty two dollars”

Also yesterday, Pete Kasperowicz reported at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “House Democrats on Tuesday asked the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to assess how a Republican bill cutting back on food stamp spending would affect economic growth.

“Democrats said they anticipate that because benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help to stabilize the economy, removing them could hurt the U.S. economic recovery.

“‘The necessary corollary is that reductions in SNAP benefits could have a greater impact in setting back our recovery than other policies that achieve equivalent levels of deficit reduction,’ they wrote. ‘Given these potential consequences, we want to be sure that the full economic impact of the proposed cuts is taken into account when the bill is debated.’”

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The powerful seniors group, AARP, on Tuesday came out against a House Republican bill that it says would ‘punish’ people on food stamps.

“The bill, which is headed to the House floor on Thursday, cuts $39 billion from the program over 10 years, and according to the Congressional Budget Office would remove up to 3.8 million people from food stamp eligibility next year.”

Separately, AP writer Hope Yen reported yesterday that, “The nation’s poverty rate remained stuck at 15 percent last year despite America’s slowly reviving economy, a discouraging lack of improvement for the record 46.5 million poor and an unwelcome benchmark for President Barack Obama’s recovery plans.”

A related update yesterday at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that, “SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) lifted 4 million people above the official poverty line in 2012, according to new data that the Census Bureau released today.  That’s the highest level on record (see chart).”

And Pat Garofalo noted in a column yesterday at USNews Online that, “But even looking past the insanely deep reductions, there are several problems with the GOP’s [SNAP related] proposal. First, by changing so-called ‘work requirements,’ it would severely harm those who are looking for work but have been unsuccessful due to the weak economy. The driving force behind the bill – House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. – claimed recently that it would not affect those who legally qualify for benefits and are trying to find a job. ‘No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset tests of the current program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose their benefits under the bill,’ he said.  Sadly, that does not seem to be the case, as Bob Greenstein, who was administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service under President Carter, notes that unemployed beneficiaries would lose their food stamp eligibility after just three months, even in places with sky-high unemployment.

“At the moment, the average jobless worker has been out of work for nearly 37 weeks, while the median duration of unemployment is 16 weeks. More than one-third of the unemployed have been looking for work for six months or more, and there are still more than three job seekers for every position available nationally. From that perspective, three months of food stamps isn’t going to cut it, even for people who are doing all they can to find a job.”

The Des Moines Register editorial board indicated in yesterday’s paper that, “While some GOP lawmakers embrace corporate welfare through tax benefits and subsidies, they think government benefits for low-income people are too generous.

“To see whether the poor are really eating like kings, these lawmakers should participate in the SNAP Challenge, too. Iowa’s two House Republicans, Steve King and Tom Latham, could see first-hand how the 420,000 Iowans who rely on food assistance get by on an average of $4 and change per day for meals.”

Leon Panetta noted in a column yesterday at Politico that, “The 1996 welfare law limited SNAP for jobless people ages 18 to 50 who aren’t raising minor children to three months of benefits out of every three yearsbut it let governors request waivers for areas where unemployment is high and enough jobs aren’t available. The House bill would end these waivers, which most governors of both parties have received during the downturn.

“As a result, several million of the poorest Americans could lose food benefits. Those who would face a benefit cutoff after three months have average incomes of only 22 percent of the poverty level, or about $2,500 a year for an individual. Serious hunger and destitution would result.”

And AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick provided an interesting update yesterday (“Fact Check: Food Stamp Debate Has Empty Calories”) that took “a look at some of the arguments being made by the GOP’s House majority as the chamber prepares to take up the bill.”

In other developments, Brian Francisco reported yesterday at The Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Online that, “U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman confirmed Monday that he lost his post with the House Republican leadership team after voting against its rules for amending and debating the first farm bill.

Republican officials removed Stutzman, R-3rd, as an assistant whip, or vote counter, this summer because he opposed their procedures for advancing the five-year agriculture and nutrition bill.

“‘I did vote against the rule, and I knew it would cost me my position as assistant whip,’ Stutzman said Monday outside Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana, where he spoke at a 30th anniversary celebration.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson noted yesterday at The Hill’s Congress Blog that, “Some in Washington are saying that yet another extension of the current farm bill is the only solution, given the time constraints of the congressional schedule. This is not acceptable. An extension is a cop-out. Both chambers of Congress have each passed a version of the farm bill, but now the House must move swiftly to appoint conferees and begin the formal conference process with the Senate.”

In more specific policy issue regarding animal agriculture and egg production, Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) noted recently at USA Today Online that, “When Californians voted to ban the use of certain cages for egg-laying hens, California egg producers were disadvantaged. So the California Legislature banned the sale of eggs not produced under these standards, thereby applying the will of the majority of one state onto the rest of the nation.

“This policy is called protectionism, and has failed throughout history. Such policies undermine the efficient system of trade we have always enjoyed, and the burden of regulation will drive food costs up.”

Rep. King added that, “The U.S. enjoys free trade among the states. To ensure this is always the case, the Founders gave Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. Simply put, California has never had the authority to ban the sale of any good produced in the U.S. based solely on the manufacturing or production standards of the state where it was produced.

My bipartisan amendment merely clarifies and reaffirms this long-standing constitutional principle. Severely limited in scope, it has no effect on any state’s right to regulate production within its own borders, nor does it nullify any federal animal welfare laws.”

The USA Today editorial board indicated that, “[Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa)] insists that the California law threatens interstate commerce because it mandates that all eggs sold in California, including out-of-state imports, adhere to California production rules — a knotty legal issue that could tie up courts for years.

But there’s no need for such an extended battle, because a better solution exists: a compromise struck by the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers. These natural adversaries agreed on an ‘enriched colony cage’ that would allow the birds more space, to be phased in gradually. All that’s needed is Congress’ blessing, which so far hasn’t come.”


Agricultural Economy

Katie Micik reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Farmers were prevented from planting 3.57 million acres of corn and 1.69 ma of soybeans, according to the latest certified acreage data from USDA.”

Ms. Micik explained that, “The idle corn and soybean acreages are significantly higher than the average of final prevented planted acres for the past four years. According to FSA final numbers, the average prevented planting acres for crop years 2009-2012 are: corn, 1.79 million; soybeans, 973,000; wheat, 2.22 million. Final prevented planting figures are released in January after the crop harvest, and can vary slightly from acres found in September reports. September numbers are no longer available for seasons beyond 2011.”

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “China’s interest in eventually joining an Asia-Pacific trade agreement is growing considerably, U.S. business officials say.

“A mere four months ago, the Chinese government was referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as part of an ‘insidious’ trade scheme by the United States designed to keep China from gaining global ground.

“But now Chinese officials are talking more positively about the idea, especially since Japan joined the talks last month.”


RFS- Renewable Fuel Standard

Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The U.S. oil and gas industry said Tuesday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has bungled its handling of a program responsible for setting the country’s renewable fuels policy.

“The American Petroleum Institute, which represents 500 oil and natural gas companies, said the EPA has poorly administered the so-called Renewable Fuel StandardAPI has said the mandate is outdated and should be repealed. They have made the Renewable Fuel Standard the group’s top lobbying priority in 2013.”

Todd Neeley indicated yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “API’s Downstream Group Director Bob Greco said Tuesday that the RFS was ‘broken beyond repair; and outdated…[G]reco said demand for gasoline is down and the U.S. has ‘drastically increased’ domestic crude oil production and lowered imports.”


Regulations (Water)

Nancy Stoner, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water, and Lek Kadeli, the Acting Assistant Administrator in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Research and Development, indicated yesterday in an EPA Blog update that, “This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, ‘Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.’”

“The final version of this report will serve as a basis for a joint EPA and Army Corps of Engineers rulemaking aimed at clarifying the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. A draft of this rule was sent today to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.”

A separate EPA update stated that, “Exemptions from Clean Water Act permitting continue for: Agricultural stormwater discharges, Return flows from irrigated agriculture, Normal farming, silvicultural, and ranching activities.”

A news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union (NFU) stated that, “[NFU] is encouraged by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) release today of a peer-reviewed study entitled Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, revealing findings on the state of American waterways.

“‘We are pleased by the EPA’s announcement today, noting that agricultural activities named in the Clean Water Act remain exempt from jurisdiction or permitting,’ said NFU President Roger Johnson.”



Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “President Obama on Tuesday blamed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for a lack of progress on immigration reform…‘[T]he only thing that’s holding it back right now is John Boehner calling in to the floor because we’ve got a majority of members of Congress, Democrats and some Republicans, in the House of Representatives, who would vote for it right now if it hits,’ Obama said in an interview with Telemundo.”

And Anna Palmer and Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “Nancy Pelosi is huddling with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, top labor leaders and former AOL exec Steve Case in separate meetings this week as supporters of immigration reform try to revive the issue, which fast seems to be dying on Capitol Hill.

“Their goal: get legislation moving in the House again before the Thanksgiving recess.

Proponents concede that it’s a heavy lift, and that Republican lawmakers didn’t come out of the August recess ready to act. The Syria debate, and now the battle over whether to fund the government and hike the debt ceiling are the top priorities in the GOP-controlled House, whose rank-and-file are already skeptical of immigration reform. Putting immigration back on the front burner is going to be tough, especially right before the 2014 elections when Republicans won’t be eager to be seen as agreeing with President Barack Obama’s agenda.”



More specifically on budget developments, Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “The threat of a government shutdown intensified Tuesday as House Republican leaders moved toward stripping funding from President Obama’s landmark health-care initiative and setting up a stalemate with the Democratic Senate.

“House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to keep the government open past Sept. 30 with relatively little fuss. But roughly 40 conservatives revolted. After a strategy session Tuesday, Boehner and his leadership team were being pushed into a more confrontational strategy that would fund the government into the new fiscal year only if Democrats agreed to undermine Obama’s signature legislative achievement.

“Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have ruled that out, leaving the parties hurtling toward an apparent impasse.”

The Post article stated that, “Despite the risk of widespread economic turmoil, political leaders have yet to begin talks to resolve the impasse.”

Janet Hook reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A federal shutdown is a risk because much of the government will run out of money after Sept. 30 unless Congress acts. Mr. Boehner and his lieutenants have been trying to pass a simple funding extension because they believe the public will blame the GOP if a government shutdown occurs.

“Conservatives faulted Mr. Cantor’s proposal because it would have sent the government funding and health-care cuts to the Senate in separate pieces, allowing that chamber to vote down the latter measure and move on. The new plan wraps the two initiatives in one bill, requiring the Senate to remove the health-care component and send it back to the House, where it would have to pass that chamber again before the Oct. 1 deadline.”

Also, Erik Wasson reported yesterday The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned Tuesday that the long-term outlook for the national debt remains dire, despite a near-term drop in the deficit that has been lauded by the Obama administration.”

Keith Good