November 21, 2019

Farm Bill and Budget Issues; Ag Economy; Immigration

Farm Bill and Budget Issues: Recap- Friday

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “In an interview with DTN, [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] said USDA faces the prospect of a dual fiscal problem hitting the department on Tuesday. USDA employees go into the weekend knowing the farm bill expires Sept. 30, as well as waiting to see if Congress will keep the government operating.

“The uncertainty of not having a farm bill will affect USDA employees first. ‘When you add to that the disruptive nature of the lack of clarity about the budget, it’s a very stressful time for those who work at USDA,’ Vilsack said.

“The Senate passed a bill Friday 54-44 to keep operating the federal government until Nov. 15. The bill reinstated funds for the Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obamacare.’ The House and Senate have to come to terms by Tuesday or much of the federal government will shut down.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “The short-term budget plan passed by the Senate Friday does not include any language to extend farm-bill programs.

“Each federal department has different staffers who will remain on the job. USDA has people whose jobs directly relate to safety such as firefighters, who are considered essential. Other people paid through permit fees in areas already hit by sequestration furloughs will remain on the job for now.”

For more information on USDA “procedures and contingency plans” relating to a potential “lapse in funding,” see this USDA webpage, “U.S. Department of Agriculture Lapse in Funding Plans.”

Niraj Chokshi reported over the weekend at the GovBeat Blog (Washington Post) that, “In a document outlining its contingency plan for a potential shutdown next week, USDA said funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — formerly known as food stamps — will continue in October under authority granted by the 2009 stimulus bill. In addition, the agency said, states might still also be able to receive partial reimbursements for related administrative costs from a $2 billion contingency fund.

“Child nutrition programs — including ‘School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk‘ — will also continue into October, the USDA said.

But not all federal food aid will continue, though advocates say many states may pick up the tab. Federal funding for administration and benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — which provides grants to states for food aid, health care referrals and nutrition education for some low-income women and children — will cease if the government shuts down.”

On Friday, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported that, “A stopgap extension of current law [Farm Bill] runs out on Monday. Negotiators from the House of Representatives and the Senate may take up the bill in the next week or two.

“Traditionally, this group reconciles disagreements and brings a compromise bill to a final vote. But analysts say the standoffs on the budget and debt limit are likely to delay consideration of the farm bill, as well as make the bill a target for cuts when budget savings are needed.”

The Reuters article indicated that, “Given the deep divisions between the Republican-controlled House and the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, negotiators may arrive at the table with irreconcilable ideas of what to put into a final version of the bill.

“In the end, Congress could fast-track an alternative – such as an extension of the current law for a second straight year – if the farm bill goes off the rails or never builds enough steam to move ahead.”

Mr. Abbott pointed out that, “Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, would be chairman of the farm bill conference under congressional protocol. Lucas backs food stamp cuts, expansion of crop insurance and higher crop support prices.

But House leaders have avoided negotiations for months and may want to write the bill themselves. Under that approach, they would hand a version to conferees for rubber-stamp approval. ‘My guess is they are not going to conference,’ said Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the small-farm group National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.”

Also on the issue of House Farm Bill conferees, in his DTN article from Friday, Chris Clayton noted that, “‘We don’t know whether the folks who will be appointed will go into that room with an agenda as House leadership has or if they will go in with the desire to get something done,’ [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] said.

“Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., wants to get a bill done, but Vilsack said Lucas ‘needs reasonable people and people he can work with.’ Vilsack said he was ‘fairly confident’ senators from both parties would be reasonable.”


Farm Bill and Budget Issues: Recap- Saturday

Recall that on Thursday, the Rules Committee approved a measure that included a provision that would relink the fragmented farm only and nutrition parts of the Farm Bill.

On Saturday, the House passed this measure by a vote of 226-191.

A news release on Saturday from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) indicated that, “Today [Rep. Cramer] released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rule during a weekend session rejoining the agriculture and food stamp bills passed by the chamber.

“‘As I have said all along, separating the agriculture and food stamp portions of the farm bill was the best strategy to pass both pieces of legislation through the House. With this accomplished, today we linked them together again to accelerate the conference committee process. This morning I spoke with House Leadership and urged them to name conferees in the coming days, not weeks, so we can begin negotiations with the Senate.’”

A news release Saturday from the National Farmers Union (NFU) noted that, “[NFU] President Roger Johnson issued the following statement today after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rule that would relink farm programs and nutrition programs, ‘Today’s actions should pave the way for the farm bill to be completed this year. Extending the 2008 Farm Bill again is not an adequate solution. While it is obvious we will not have a completed farm bill by its expiration on Sept. 30, I urge House leadership to appoint conferees so that the process of conferencing the Senate and House versions of the bill can begin right away.’”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) indicated in a statement on Saturday that, “In the midst of a potential government shutdown, it is a moral outrage that the House Majority is pushing through a measure that would deny food to over four million Americans by slashing $40 billion from the food stamp program while spending $90 billion on crop insurance subsidies. This includes the 26 anonymous individuals who receive over a million dollars each.

“Almost as disheartening is the thud with which our longstanding bipartisan cooperation on the Farm Bill has ended. For decades, a strong coalition of members from both sides of the aisle supported the Farm Bill and ensured both farmers and vulnerable Americans were made whole. But the House Majority has bowed to their most extreme members and millions of Americans may have to suffer the consequences. Once again, House Republicans are taking America in the wrong direction.”

A recent update at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog noted that this procedural rejoining motion, “…[w]ill send the re-joined single comprehensive House farm bill back to the Senate with the expectation that the Senate would act to strike the House language, replace it with the Senate-passed farm bill, ask for a conference with the House to start negotiating on a final bill, and re-appoint the Senate representatives to such a conference committee.

Even if all that comes to pass, it is still unclear what will happen once that message is received from the Senate.”


Broader Budget Issues

Jonathan Weisman and Jeremy W. Peters reported in Sunday’s New York Times that, “The federal government on Sunday morning barreled toward its first shutdown in 17 years after the Republican-run House, choosing a hard line, voted to attach a one-year delay of President Obama’s health care law and a repeal of a tax to pay for it to legislation to keep the government running.

“The votes, just past midnight, followed an often-angry debate, with members shouting one another down on the House floor. Democrats insisted that Republicans refused to accept their losses in 2012, were putting contempt for the president over the good of the country and would bear responsibility for a shutdown. Republicans said they had the public on their side and were acting to protect Americans from a harmful and unpopular law that had already proved a failure.”

The Times article added that, “The House first voted 248-174 to repeal a tax on medical devices, then voted 231-192 to delay the law’s implementation by a year — just days before the uninsured begin enrolling in the law’s insurance exchanges. The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage.

But before the House had even voted, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, declared the House bill dead. Senate Democrats are planning to table the Republican measures when they convene on Monday, leaving the House just hours to pass a stand-alone spending bill free of any measures that undermine the health care law.”

Lori Montgomery and David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The U.S. government appeared on Sunday to be on the verge of shutting down for the first time in nearly two decades as House leaders were running out of time and options to keep it open.

“House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declined to say on ‘Fox News Sunday’ whether Republicans would consider the only plan President Obama and other Democratic leaders insist they will accept: a simple bill that funds federal agencies without dismantling any part of Obama’s signature 2010 health-care law. Instead, he said, Republicans were headed in a different direction, one likely to set up yet another late-night showdown.”

The Post article noted that, “McCarthy predicted that the House will ‘send another provision not to shut the government down but to fund it. And it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at.’

“Unlike other budget crises of the past three years, this one was unfolding in slow motion. The halls of the Capitol were dark Sunday. There were no negotiations, and neither the House nor the Senate was in session.”

Janet Hook and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The endgame of the shutdown battle will begin Monday afternoon, when the Senate is expected to reconvene roughly 10 hours before the midnight deadline. The Senate is expected to take up the House bill to continue government spending through Dec. 15 and strip out GOP amendments to delay the health-care law for a year and repeal its new tax on medical devices. That would put the ball back in the House’s court.

“The simplest path to avoiding a shutdown would be for the House to immediately pass the Senate funding bill and send it to the White House. [Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.)] and others predict that there would be enough votes to pass such a bill, if brought up by GOP leaders, with Democrats joined by some Republicans willing to postpone the health-care fight in the interest of ending the showdown.

“However, that route could pose political risks to Mr. Boehner, whose standing as speaker rests on retaining his party’s support, including from a conservative wing that often has clamored for him to be more combative in fighting Mr. Obama’s policies.”

In a more detailed look at budget issues, David Rogers reported on Saturday at Politico that, “To understand the shutdown crisis in Washington, go back to the House Republican balanced budget plan last spring.

“To placate the right, promises were made then that could not be kept, and with a new fiscal year beginning Tuesday, GOP leaders are running out of room. President Barack Obama may very well be in denial about the federal debt, as Republicans suggest. But Speaker John Boehner and his deputies have a credibility deficit of their own.”

The article noted that, “Indeed, the supreme irony is that the health care fight now is being resurrected on a continuing resolution that is itself at odds with the GOP plan of six months ago.

“Back in March, that resolution held out the promise of repealing Obamacare but got to balance only by keeping hundreds of billions in added revenues and Medicare savings in the Affordable Care Act. It promised to protect defense spending while living with the post-sequestration caps of $967 billion set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. But to deliver on this pledge, it required such large cuts from domestic spending bills that the whole appropriations process collapsed by midsummer.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “As the House Budget Committee chairman and his party’s go-to numbers man, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) bears a big responsibility here.

“He is too smart not to have seen the holes in his budget plan. And once the Senate followed with its own resolution, he failed to follow up by aggressively pursuing a conference with Democrats.

“The lure was always to push Obama back against a debt ceiling backstop. But the sort of entitlement reforms and long-term savings that Republicans want are far better dealt with in a budget reconciliation bill. Now, after blocking the Senate from going to conference, the GOP is left with two time-sensitive vehicles — a CR and a debt ceiling bill — to try to effect change.”


Farm Bill- Nutrition

In news regarding nutrition issues, Carolyn Lochhead reported on Friday at the San Francisco Chronicle Online that, “The House and Senate farm bills before Congress would, for the first time, open a trickle of funding for a program that doubles food stamp benefits that are spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets.

“The program is operating with private funds at 300 farmers’ markets across the nation, including seven in the Bay Area.”

The article added that, “The House bill would allot $5 million to the food stamp match, and the Senate bill would spend $25 million.

“Leah Smith, director of programs for the Agricultural Institute of Marin, a nonprofit organization that operates seven Bay Area farmers’ markets, said the food stamp match, called ‘Market Match,’ has grown from a trickle of low-income customers when it began in 2008 to become a major source of income for local farmers.”

Meanwhile, AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “The Agriculture Department says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.

“The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.”


Agricultural Economy

On Friday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its monthly Agricultural Prices report which stated that, “The corn price, at $5.28 per bushel, is down 93 cents from last month and $1.61 below September 2012 [related graph], the soybean price, at $13.80 per bushel, decreased 30 cents from August and is 50 cents below September 2012 [related graph] …and… the September price for all wheat, at $6.75 per bushel, is down 12 cents from August and $1.52 below September 2012 [related graph].”

David Shaffer reported over the weekend at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “Some ethanol plants are making money again — on ethanol.

“For more than a year, high corn prices squeezed the profit out of the biofuel. Producers that made money often did so only through sales of secondary products such as the animal feed called ‘distillers grains’ left over from corn fermentation.

“But Minnesota-affiliated ethanol ­companies and the industry tracking service Biofuels Benchmarking say many plants’ fortunes shifted in the second quarter, bringing positive margins back to the core business of making fuel.”



Reid J. Epstein and Jonathan Allen reported on Friday at Politico that, “The White House is getting ready to launch a major fall blitz for immigration reform — this time, one that appears to be more about partisanship than partnership with Republicans.

“While Washington may be consumed in the latest continuing resolution crisis and debt ceiling drama, it’s also just days away from massive new push on an issue many had written off months ago.

“But if the president’s low profile on immigration in the past had been a bow to the reality that Republicans wouldn’t want to join hands with him publicly, the nature of the renewed push suggests the West Wing brain trust isn’t betting much on the prospect that the issue will be resolved in this Congress.”

Keith Good

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