FarmPolicy

August 19, 2017

Farm Bill; and, the Ag Economy

House Passes GOP Farm Bill Nutrition Measure

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The House of Representatives finally passed a bill to fund nutrition programs as part of a farm bill on Thursday through a bill that revolved around cutting $39 billion over 10 years.

“In a narrow, 217-210 vote, House Republicans were able to pass the bill without a single Democratic vote. Fifteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill. It tightens eligibility requirements and would reduce enrollment of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 3.8 million people. The bill tightens rules on how states can enroll people for the program, as well as add tighter requirements, particularly for able-bodied people. The bill takes away the ability of states to receive waivers from those work requirements when unemployment levels are high.

“Almost instantly after passage, agricultural groups such as the National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Soybean Association issued statements calling on House leaders to name conferees.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “For people in agriculture, the narrow victory for House Republicans now at least ensures the House and Senate will move to conference negotiations over a new five-year farm bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said before the vote Thursday that he expects to name conferees ‘as soon as we can.’ Boehner said he expects the Senate to again announce that senators wish to conference.

“‘When they ask for a conference, we will appoint our conferees as well — the sooner the better,’ Boehner said.”

The DTN article indicated that, “‘I will admit to you this has been an unusual process, but it remains my goal to get a five-year farm bill enacted by doing everything possible to make sure that happens this year. This is a step towards that goal,’ [House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.)] said.

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took the floor as well to criticize the effects of the bill and highlight the challenges of a low-income family of four. She said everyone who votes for the measure votes to hurt their own constituents.”

In addition, yesterday’s article stated that, “Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, managed the debate for Democrats. She called the bill ‘a waste of our time and insult to every American in need.’ She noted the bill keeps the toxic amendments that derailed the farm bill the first time around.

“Rep Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said the bill would make the biggest reforms and restore integrity to the program. Arguments from Democrats were ‘just theatrics.’”

The DTN article also noted that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is considered the main writer of the bill, said the provisions in the bill would encourage a culture of work. He also noted anyone subjected to the work requirement would not be denied benefits if they are willing to sign up for the opportunity to work” [floor remarks from Rep. Cantor can be seen here and an info graphic from the Leader’s office can be viewed here].

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “Republicans invoked former President Bill Clinton in their defense of the bill, saying that the changes were in the spirit of those that he signed into law in 1996 that set work requirements for those who receive welfare.”

However, the Los Angeles Times editorial board pointed out yesterday that, “Proponents [of the GOP-SNAP measure] say they’re simply trying to restore the work requirements that were the hallmark of the 1996 welfare reform act, but they’re overlooking two key differences. While the 1996 law sought to help those in poverty overcome the barriers to employment, the House bill would let states cut off food aid without offering recipients opportunities to work, get job training or perform community service. In fact, it would give states a financial incentive to do so. And the welfare reforms were aided by a booming economy, making it easier for people with few job skills to find work. The economy today is sputtering, causing stiff competition even for low-wage, low-skill jobs.”

Meanwhile, David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Indeed, the House package promises $39 billion in savings over the coming decade—nearly 10 times what the Senate approved in June. The poorest households with children are largely protected, but 3.8 million people could be cut from the rolls in 2014 and hundreds of thousands of households would see their benefits reduced.

“‘It makes me question if the Republican leadership really wants a farm bill,’ said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) in opposition. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) agreed.

“‘We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a Farm Bill,’ she said of the vote.  ‘Not only does this House bill represent a shameful attempt to kick millions of families in need off of food assistance, it’s also a monumental waste of time. The bill will never pass the Senate, and will never be signed by the President.’”

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) also issued a statement after yesterday’s vote, as did Chairman Lucas, who noted that, “I remain committed to getting a five-year farm bill on the books this year. Today’s vote was another step toward that goal.”

And American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman noted in a news release yesterday that, “I am confident that Congress can pass a five-year farm bill this year.”

Yesterday’s Politico article noted that, “When Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) invoked Genesis —‘God created Adam, placed him in the Garden to work it’ —Fudge shot back that the Bible also mentioned the ‘poor and hungry over 200 times.’

“‘It is terrible policy wrapped in a terrible process…It was just cooked up in the majority leader’s office as some sort of Heritage Foundation fever dream,’ said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). ‘It is a rotten thing to do.’”

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) on Thursday used food props on the House floor to portray members of Congress as steak-eating, vodka-swilling socialites in a bid to get Congress to reject a GOP bill cutting $40 billion in food stamps.

“On the House floor, Speier said members of Congress typically get rich food allowances when they travel overseas and therefore get to indulge. But she said that stands in contrast to the policy Republicans want to force on lower-income people by passing new limits on food stamps.”

House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) noted yesterday on the floor that, “The House failed to pass the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill because it was hijacked with partisan amendments on the floor – amendments that are included in the bill we are considering today. This bill goes even further by eliminating state requested waivers to exempt Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, or ABAWDS, in high unemployment areas from SNAP’s current work requirements.

“To be clear, these waivers are granted only at the request of the states. They are under no requirement to apply and may choose to opt out in the future. There’s a lot of hypocrisy coming from the other side of the aisle here – waivers have been requested by both Republican and Democratic Governors. A majority of Republican Governors, in fact, have asked to waive current work requirements.”

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) indicated yesterday on the floor that, “And I lament with Mr. Lucas that we don’t have a bipartisan bill because I know that’s what he wanted. That’s what he forged. And that’s what’s been abandoned unfortunately by his party. I think that’s sad for the country, it’s even sadder for the people who will be so adversely affected.”

Also on the floor yesterday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) discussed the GOP nutrition measure within the context of crop insurance and attempted to draw contrasts and comparisons between the two programs (video replay and transcript here).

In a discussion with Mike Adams on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program, Chairwoman Stabenow pointed out that, “[W]hat I’ve been doing all along is focusing on the policy and the way to achieve spending reduction, savings to reduce the deficit in every part of the farm bill.  And from our perspective in the Senate, we will tackle legitimate waste, fraud and abuse issues, but not just arbitrarily cut food assistance for folks that are temporarily out of work or seniors, children, disabled veterans just because.

I wouldn’t do that any more than I would cut crop insurance because the costs went up 50% last yearThey went up 50% because of the drought, because of flooding and so on.  People could say, you know, this—and people have said.  People in the Senate have said we’re spending way too much on crop insurance, we don’t want to do that, we should just arbitrarily cut it.  Well, crop insurance is there when there’s a disaster for farmers, and food assistance is there when there’s disasters for families, so we’re going to treat disaster assistance programs the same way.”

And in an opinion column yesterday at The Hill Online, Chairwoman Stabenow pointed out that, “The GOP approach is like saying we’re tired of spending so much fighting wildfires, so we’ll just cut the budget for the fire service. That isn’t going to work. The fire will rage on.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “In order to negotiate the bill with the Senate, Republicans said Thursday that one more step is needed — the House will have to hold a procedural vote to allow both the farm and food stamp bills to go to a House-Senate conference together. It is unclear whether Republicans who pushed to split the two bills will oppose that effort.

“Once the bills get to that conference, negotiations with the Senate will not be an easy task. A Senate farm bill passed in June would only make a tenth of the cuts to food stamps, or $400 million, and the White House has issued a veto threat against the House bill. The two chambers will also have to agree on policy for farm subsidies amid disputes between different crops.”

Pete Kasperowicz and Erik Wasson reported yesterday The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “But even if a conference committee were assembled, the big differences between the House and Senate bills could pose problems for bicameral effort. One question is how to find agreement between the two chambers on a total level of food stamp spending — the Senate-passed farm bill only makes a $4 billion cut to SNAP.

“Another question is whether to synchronize the authorization for commodity and food stamp programs. For years, both have been authorized together under a single five-year farm bill.”

Ed O’Keefe and Niraj Chokshi reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Passage of the bill means that the House can begin negotiations with the Senate over a final version of the farm bill, which would once again merge food aid with other agricultural policy.

“But Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a long speech on the Senate floor Thursday, rejected the GOP approach, saying that Republicans had ‘turned their backs’ on low-income families in hopes of making budget cuts.

Citing his own trips to the grocery store with his wife, Landra, Reid said that proposed reductions in SNAP funding would make it difficult for some recipients to purchase ground beef and milk in the same shopping trip.”

Kristina Peterson reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “If the House and Senate cannot reach agreement, many nutrition programs would likely continue at current spending levels under other bills aimed at keeping federal agencies funded into the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. The two chambers are working on a short-term measure that would fund agencies through mid-December at current levels, giving lawmakers time to negotiate spending levels for the remainder of the year.”

The New York Times editorial board indicated today that, “In what can be seen only as an act of supreme indifference, House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday that would drastically cut federal food stamps and throw 3.8 million Americans out of the program in 2014.”

The Times added that, “…there is no justification for savaging the safety net and decimating the budget.”

 

Farm Bill- Policy: Sugar

Alexandra Wexler reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged two-thirds of the sugar it received earlier this month after U.S. sugar processors defaulted on federal loans.

“The USDA traded 56,711 short tons of sugar with U.S. refiners, who process raw cane sugar into the white sweetener sold in supermarkets, for import credits that would have allowed the refiners to bring 154,193 tons of the sweetener into the U.S., the agency said Thursday.”

 

Farm Bill- National Journal Feature Articles

National Journal recently updated its webpage with a special report titled, “House Agriculture Committee- Search for the Future of Food.”

Articles from the series, written by Jerry Hagstrom and other reporters, cover a variety of interesting and current topics.  The articles can be found here, at National Journal Online.

 

Agricultural Economy

An update yesterday at the National Drought Mitigation Center Online indicated that, “Heavy rains across the western half of the country, including those that brought dramatic flooding to Colorado, eased drought in the week that ended Sept. 17, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map. But drought expanded slightly in the Midwest and South.”

The update noted that, “Drought expanded in the Midwestern and southern states of South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.”

Jim Offner reported this week at the Cedar Valley Business Monthly Online (Waterloo, Iowa) that, “The value of Iowa farm real estate jumped again last year.

“A U.S. Department of Agriculture survey says the average value of Iowa agriculture real estate value — a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms — increased 20 percent, to $8,400 an acre from August 2012 to August 2013.

“Iowa agriculture real estate values outgained all neighboring states, except North Dakota, where an energy boom fueled a 36.3 percent increase in values, to an average of $1,690 an acre.”

Emiko Terazono reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Syngenta, the world’s largest agricultural chemicals company by sales, is to call on farmers to use less pesticide and fertiliser to grow more crops – in what is a counterintuitive move.

“The Swiss-based seeds to fertilisers group has set itself a range of targets including increasing average productivity of leading crops without using more chemicals, land and water. On Tuesday it will unveil the ambitious seven-year plan in various locations around the world.”

And with respect to trade, Doug Palmer reported yesterday at Politico that, “President Barack Obama on Thursday said he hoped to work with Republicans in Congress on a bipartisan bill supporting White House efforts to wrap up huge trade deals with 11 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the 28 nations of the European Union.

“‘We’re going to need Trade Promotion Authority,’ Obama said in remarks to the President’s Export Council, which brings together top corporate leaders, Cabinet officials and members of Congress to discuss ways to expand trade.

“The remarks came as the White House is trying to finish talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan, Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific countries by the end of the year.”

And William Mauldin reported yesterday at The Real Time Economics Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “The U.S. government flashed a green light to Chinese investment in this country with the approval of the $4.7 billion purchase of U.S. pork giant Smithfield Foods Inc. by Shuanghui International Holdings this month… Still, U.S. critics say unfettered investment by China can bring financial risks to American companies and the national economy at large.”

The update added that, “Controversial Chinese investments may eventually lead to changes in the U.S. review process. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), who leads the Senate Agriculture Committee, criticized the food-safety records of Chinese companies during the Smithfield review. She said this month her committee will ‘continue examining the effectiveness of the review process for acquisitions such as this and take steps as needed to protect American interests in future transactions.’”

Keith Good

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