February 21, 2020

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Budget; Food Safety; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Republicans took the first steps late Thursday toward a formal Farm Bill conference with the Senate, as the Rules Committee cleared the way for a floor vote Friday that would marry up the separate titles approved in July and then last week.

“The provisions are part of a larger ‘martial law’ rule approved 9-3 by the Rules panel and empowering the GOP leadership to move quickly over the weekend on debt and funding bills prior to the fiscal year ending Monday night.

“In this context, the farm language can seem a bit player in the furor over a threatened government shutdown and potential default. But it is a critical first step that Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has been waiting for anxiously.”

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Even now [House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio)] has chosen such a convoluted approach that some fear it will take several weeks more before a farm bill conference can be up and running.

“There’s no chance of beginning before the current farm law — a one-year extension of the five-year program that already expired in 2012 — runs out Monday. And while the Senate has already appointed its conferees, it must repeat that process now — exposing Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to more delays.”

Also yesterday, Roll Call reporter Tait Militana tweeted that, “House action to merge nutrition, farm bills and launch negotiations on a final package could slip until next week ($) ‪ …

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kans.) discussed Farm Bill issues with Mike Adams on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program (replay of discussion available here (MP3- 6:52)).

In part, Rep. Huelskamp indicated that, “It’s my understanding once we get passed this CR (continuing resolution) deal, which hopefully won’t drag out too long…[h]opefully next week, later part of next week, we’ll have conferees appointed so Chairman Lucas and Chairwoman Stabenow can actually sit down and start negotiating on these issues.”

Rep. Huelskamp, who used to serve on the Ag Committee, also noted that, “But the one policy that is, where we seem to be the widest and the most different between the House and Senate and the President is the idea that the House has that if you are an able bodied adult, Mike, and there are 3.5 to 4 million of those receiving food stamps today with no dependents, the House said you at least should look for work or do some job training or something to prepare for work, and the Senate says no we will give them food stamps anyway.”

The New York Times editorial board pointed out today that, “While Congress is making up its mind on how much to slash from the food stamp program, some states are moving on their own to punish the poor by changing eligibility and other rules governing food stamps in ways that could deny vital assistance to needy people.

“In each case they seem to have taken their cue from House Republicans, who have voted not only to cut $40 billion across the next decade, but also to end waivers enacted during the darkest days of the recession that allow for more than the statutory 90-day limit for employable single adults when local jobless rates remain prohibitively high. The waivers provide help for an estimated four million needy recipients.

“While Senate Democrats and President Obama have vowed to block the House plan, at least a half-dozen states have begun ending the waivers on their own.”

Meanwhile, Des Moines Register reporter Jennifer Jacobs tweeted yesterday that, “‘My friend Chuck is being a little optimistic there,’ @SenHarkin says referring to Grassley’s prediction of action on the farm bill next wk.”

An update yesterday at WDAZ television (Grand Forks, N.D.) indicated that, “‘I find great encouragement in the leadership’s willingness and desire to pass a rule that ties the two back together. That certainly makes reconciliation either the Senate in conference committee much easier as well,’ said [Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.)].

“Even though the bill expires on Monday, most farm programs will continue until the end of the year because they extend through the crop year. Food stamps are financed through an annual appropriations bill, and their funding will continue despite uncertainty on the farm bill.”

A report yesterday on the Agriculture Today radio program (Red River Farm Network) by Mike Hergert included remarks on the Farm Bill from House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.).  To listen to this portion of yesterday’s Agriculture Today program, just click here (MP3- 0:45).

On the House floor yesterday, Ag Committee Member Tim Walz (D., Minn.) noted that, “As we’re doing this, my farmers and ranchers and millions of them across the country are going about their work every day – getting up before dawn, doing their work – feeding us, clothing us, and powering this country. They’ve asked us to pass a Farm Bill. Four months ago, the Senate did it. Four months ago, the House Ag Committee did it. That wasn’t good enough. We came to this floor, we created drama, we tried to make being hungry a sin – and now you’ve got a monstrosity.

“Well you know what? The constitution makes it very clear: bring the two together, conference the bill, and pass something that’s good for America.”

A recent update at the Red River Farm Network Online pointed out that, “The current farm bill extension expires Monday at midnight. North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp thinks all of the attention on the nutrition cuts is part of a long-term strategy by some to eliminate the farm bill.”

And Christopher Doering reported recently at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) Online that, “[Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.)] said if the two chambers were able to ‘split the difference between the two [nutrition titles] and end up in the $20 (billion) range, I think we might be able to get the votes to pass it in the House and Senate.’

Still, he said, ‘It’s going to be a real negotiation to find that sweet spot and find that number that would satisfy enough Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate to actually get something passed.’”

Mr. Doering added that, “Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said legislation passed by the House Agriculture Committee in May proposed about $20 billion in cuts and received bipartisan support. She was optimistic there is ‘room to find common ground.’

“‘It’s not about a magic number to me. At the end of the day, I will support a bill that contains good policies that bring integrity back to the program,’ she said.”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported earlier this week that, “Congress is a year overdue in writing a new U.S. farm law. New legislation could take months of further wrangling or could evolve rapidly from the current parliamentary storms over federal spending.”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “Analysts see four possible outcomes for farm bill negotiations: legislative success, budgetary cherry-picking, more temporizing, or a statutory train wreck. Any of them could occur, say analysts.”

In other Farm Bill news, Alexandra Wexler reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all of its remaining sugar inventory for credits that would have allowed refiners to bring more of the sweetener into the country.

“The USDA had received 85,375 short tons of sugar earlier this month from four processors who defaulted on government loans that were due at the end of August. The sugar had been put up as collateral for those loans. Earlier this month, the agency exchanged 56,711 tons of that sugar for 154,193 tons of import credits.

“The USDA said Thursday it traded the remaining 28,664 tons of sugar with U.S. refiners, who process raw cane sugar into the white sweetener sold in supermarkets, for government-issued import credits totaling 72,571 tons of the sweetener.”


Agricultural Economy

A news release yesterday from the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) indicated that, “With the current Farm Bill expiring on Tuesday, October 1st, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress [JEC], today released a report analyzing the increasingly important role of agricultural exports in the U.S. economy. The report shows that the value of American agricultural exports doubled over the last decade and that growth in developing countries is expected to increase demand even further.

“Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the report highlights the need to pass a long-term, comprehensive Farm Bill to ensure this growth continues.”

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted in part yesterday that, “I applaud Sen. Klobuchar and the [JEC] for highlighting the important role that agricultural exports are playing in the U.S. economy. Agriculture is a bright spot as our economy gets back on track and represents one of the few areas where we actually have a trade surplus. And as the report clearly shows, more exports mean more jobs here at home.

This is one of the many reasons why we must get a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill done now.”

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The nation’s top U.S. trade official said Thursday that world leaders will work toward closing out the remaining issues of an Asia-Pacific trade deal during leadership meetings next week in Indonesia.

“U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said that ‘there is a lot of momentum’ in the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and talks are in the ‘end game’ stage with the aim of completing the agreement by year’s end, he told reporters during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Thursday.”

Nirmala Menon reported yesterday at the Canada Real Time Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Canadian cattle producers have started to feel the pinch from a contentious U.S. meat-labeling rule which is scheduled to be enforced in November.

“The ‘market is starting to anticipate’ losses of around $50 per head of cattle as a result of the latest country-of-origin labeling rule, says John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. And that’s on top of losses of $25-$40 a head incurred since the original country-of-origin rule became mandatory in 2009, he says.

“As Ottawa fights the country-of-origin labeling rule, known as COOL, at the World Trade Organization, several North American trade groups are appealing a recent U.S. court decision denying a preliminary injunction they had sought to block the rule. They filed a formal brief appealing the Sept. 11 decision this week.”

And David Kesmodel reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. intends to quickly ramp up pork exports from the U.S. as its top priority after Thursday’s closing of its $4.7 billion acquisition of Smithfield Foods Inc. senior executives said.”

In other developments, an update yesterday at the National Drought Mitigation Center stated that, “Drought eased in several southwestern and central states in the week that ended Sept. 24, 2013, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map. The proportion of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse declined to 45.46 percent from 48.19 percent a week earlier… [I]n the Midwest, drought intensified in parts of Iowa and Illinois, but retreated from central Indiana.

Thomas Geyer reported this week at the Quad City Times  (Davenport, Iowa) that, “Despite a late-season drought in the two most productive states in the Corn Belt, Quad-City area farmers say they are awed by their corn yields. Those grand yields are why the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is estimating a record corn crop of 13.8 billion bushels, up 28 percent from last year’s production, which was hit hard by an extreme drought.”

And Reuters writers Julie Ingwersen and Michael Hirtzer reported yesterday that, “Several soy processing plants in the western U.S. Midwest were idled amid a slow start to the soybean harvest, trade and company sources said on Thursday.”



Holly Yeager reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The short-term spending plan moving through the Senate would eliminate legislative language that allows farmers to continue growing genetically modified crops even if a court has blocked their use.

“The Farmer Assurance Provision — dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act by its critics — was inserted into an earlier government funding bill that expires Monday and would have remained in place under the stop-gap funding bill approved by the House last week.”

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, issued a statement yesterday on the Monsanto provision not being included in the Senate Amendment to the House Continuing Resolution, which indicated in part that, “My promises made are promises kept. I have never supported the Monsanto provision, and I continue to oppose it. When I became Appropriations Chairwoman and inherited this problem, I promised I would work to solve it. The Monsanto provision is not included in either of the Senate or House FY14 Agriculture Appropriations bills, and that is a good thing. There’s no reason for it to be included in a short-term CR, either.”

More broadly, Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Options for keeping the federal government open narrowed Thursday as some of the most conservative Republicans in the House rebuffed proposals from Speaker John A. Boehner, who had aimed to break a stalemate over the federal budget.

“The opposition from conservatives to any measures that fall short of their goals of cutting federal spending or dismantling President Obama’s healthcare law left the Ohio Republican with little room to maneuver as a Monday night deadline approached for providing money to keep federal agencies running.”

The article noted that, “With the collapse of the Republican strategy in the Senate to stop the Affordable Care Act, debate has shifted to the House, where lawmakers are planning a weekend session with no clear path forward.”

The LA Times article explained that, “Boehner hoped to open a new front by shifting the focus to the debt limit legislation. The Republican leadership loaded up the debt bill with a proposed one-year delay of Obamacare and other demands, including that the administration approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline between Canada and the United States. But conservatives said the bill did not fulfill leadership promises to cut spending and balance the budget in 10 years.

“Lawmakers said a whip count showed lagging support hours after the bill was presented.”

Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane reported in today’s Washington Post that, “As Republicans struggled in the House, GOP hard-liners also were blocking progress in the Senate, where most members of both parties were ready to vote late Thursday on a plan to keep the government operating through Nov. 15.

“But Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) objected. Although both men voted earlier this week to advance the measure, they argued Thursday that Republicans should now unite to kill it.

“That prompted an angry Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to appear in the Senate chamber for a remarkable debate in which he accused Cruz of blocking the late-night vote and delaying it until Friday so he could ‘turn this into a show’ for his supporters from the tea party movement and conservative political organizations, such as Heritage Action for America.”

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “The bitter back and forth in the absence of any high-level discussions between Republicans and Democrats was seen as increasing the possibility of a shutdown or default. It was a marked contrast from past showdowns when talks were taking place behind the scenes even as the parties traded public partisan shots.

“The Senate faces a critical vote on Friday to cut off debate on legislation to keep the government open. If Democrats muster 60 votes, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, will move to strip out House language that guts the health care law and pass a stopgap spending bill that finances the government through Nov. 15, without Republican policy prescriptions.

At that point, no one is sure how the House will react.”

Janet Hook and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama repeated Thursday that he won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling and won’t sign any bill that defunds or delays the health-care law. He lashed out at Republicans for what he said were moves endangering the full faith and credit of the country. ‘You don’t mess with that,’ he said in a speech in Largo, Md.”


Food Safety

AP writers Steven K. Paulson and Dan Elliot reported yesterday that, “The owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm were arrested Thursday on charges stemming from a 2011 listeria epidemic that killed 33 people in one of the nation’s deadliest outbreaks of foodborne illness.”

And Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “Food and worker safety advocates staged a rally Thursday at the White House to oppose the Obama administration’s plan to pull inspectors from poultry plants, escalating a dispute between the Obama administration and public interest groups.”

Mr. Goad noted that, “The spectacle was meant to illustrate concerns held by critics of the U.S. Agriculture Department regulation that would cut federal personnel and shift inspection responsibilities to plant employees.”

And Bloomberg writers Brian Wingfield and Shruti Date Singh reported yesterday that, “Food-safety advocates are raising alarms over a decision by the Obama administration to permit chicken processed in China to be sold in the U.S. even after several high-profile incidents of food contamination.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in addressing a decade-long trade dispute over farm imports, said it will allow poultry slaughtered in the U.S. and Canada to be processed in China and returned to the U.S. for consumption. Critics are vowing to fight the decision, which they say puts consumers at risk due to lax Chinese factory oversight.”



AP writer Gosia Wozniacka reported yesterday that, “With the harvest in full swing on the West Coast, farmers in California and other states say they can’t find enough people to pick high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and pears.”

Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “House Democrats are forging ahead with a plan to introduce an amended version of the Senate-passed immigration overhaul bill in the coming weeks despite worries the move could alienate Republicans.

“Though the strategy is designed to unite the minority party in building pressure on House Republican leadership, it is actually causing some fissures in the Democratic Caucus.”

Keith Good

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