Farm Bill: Executive Branch
In his weekly address on Saturday, President Barack Obama reiterated his call for action on the Farm Bill.
After noting that Democrats and Republicans should work together to “pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget,” and “finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system,” the President indicated that, “Third, we should pass a farm bill – one that America’s farmers and ranchers can depend on, one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need, and one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the longer-term certainty they deserve.”
And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew stated yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press television program that, “The farm bill needs to pass.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with Don Wick of the Red River Farm Network on Friday (audio replay (MP3- 11:00), unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed out that, “I think the most important thing, it [the Farm Bill] needs to come together quickly because the clock’s ticking. It’s ticking on permanent law coming into place, which would be pretty disruptive to the market and to consumers, it’s ticking on Brazil in its capacity to retaliate against the United States because of our cotton support program, which could impact negatively agriculture, so the clock’s ticking.
“And I think, again, we understand the importance of getting a farm bill. Whether it’s disaster assistance that could provide financial assistance to producers today who’ve gone through a very tough early winter storm or those poor producers that went through a tough time with drought last year and even parts of this year, we need a safety net.”
Sec. Vilsack added that, “And it’s going to require people to compromise. It’s going to require people to be creative in their thought process. But at the end of the day, it really just requires people getting in a room and being committed to getting this done quickly.”
With respect to nutrition, Sec. Vilsack noted in part that, “Well, I think, frankly, it’s a recognition that at the end of the day a statement’s been made about the nutrition programs, and I think the conferees have to understand that there are ways in which we can improve this program. But we shouldn’t be decimating the program, and we shouldn’t be basically sending two to three million folks who would otherwise be in need of the program out of the program. We should be focusing on ways in which we can make it more efficient, we can make it a sounder program, and I think we can do that.”
And on conservation compliance, the former Iowa Governor explained that, “We have got to have a deal between producers and the taxpayer, which is the taxpayer is willing to provide help and assistance on crop insurance and to provide a safety net, but in exchange they have to be assured that farmers will continue to be good stewards and continue to be focused on conservation. We’ve had that deal for many, many, many years with direct payments. We had that deal before direct payments with crop insurance. It seems to me that we need to continue that arrangement.”
In his discussion with Don Wick, Sec. Vilsack also noted that, “And with the disaster in the Dakotas, we basically now see why it’s important to have a livestock indemnity program. Let’s get that back in place. It’s been very frustrating to watch these poor livestock producers suffer through two very, very difficult years and not be able to have any assistance and help from USDA because the program’s lapsed.”
Christopher Doering reported on Friday at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “Michael Scuse, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, will be in South Dakota on Monday to visit FSA offices and meet with producers to let them know they can submit documents showing their losses from the storm. But ranchers will not receive any compensation until a new farm bill is in place. The USDA was given the authority to operate livestock disaster assistance programs in the 2008 farm bill, but the authority expired Sept. 30, 2011.”
Also on Friday, over a dozen Senators expressed concern about executive branch action with respect to marketing loans.
A news release from Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) indicated that, “[Sen. Cochran] and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today challenged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to explain recent ill-timed decisions regarding marketing assistance loans that are creating financial uncertainty and hardships for farmers and businesses, including what will amount to a one-month delay in processing loans.
“Cochran, along with 13 other Senators, wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that requests explanations for the Sept. 30 decision to apply a 5.1 percent sequester on marketing assistance loans made after Oct. 1, which could result in price reductions for peanut and cotton yields. The letter also asks the USDA to explain the rationale behind the timing of the loan processing delay.”
Farm Bill: Lawmaker Perspectives
On Friday, House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) discussed budget and Farm Bill related issues with Joel Heitkamp on the News & Views radio program (KFGO- Fargo-Moorhead, N.D.).
Rep. Peterson pointed out that, “[Speaker] John Boehner wants this done I can tell you that directly from him– that’s real- he wants to get this done. So I think we will, but it’s not going to be easy because there are still a lot of hurdles that we have to get over.”
In his interview with Joel Heitkamp, Rep. Peterson also stated that, “Either we are going to get this done by the end of the year or we are going to end up with something else, an extension or whatever. I don’t see any way this thing can drag into next year.” (audio clip– (MP3-0:36)).
Don Davis reported on Friday at the Grand Forks Herald (N.D.) Online that, “[Speaker] Boehner wants a new farm bill, Peterson said.
“‘I don’t think he wants to kill the bill over dairy,’ the western Minnesotan said. ‘And I don’t think he can.’
“On the other hand, Boehner may not control Republicans.
“House Republican Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia placed one of his supporters on the farm bill negotiating team, which begins talks with the Senate Oct. 28. Peterson fears the Cantor faction could derail the farm bill.”
Per Peterson reported on Friday at the Marshall Independent (Minn.) Online that, “There are deep divisions between the House and Senate on farm bill issues such as food stamps, and [Rep. Collin Peterson] knows much work lies ahead.
“‘We’ve got a lot of issues – commodity entitlements, food stamps, dairy, and we’ve gotta get them worked out,’ Peterson said. ‘The four of us [Peterson, Rep. Frank Lucas, R.-Okla., and Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D.-Mich., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss.] are committed to getting this thing done, but we have some tough negotiating to do to get things resolved. We’ve got a lot of work to do.’”
Meanwhile, during an interview Friday on KTOK radio (Oklahoma City, Okla.), House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) briefly discussed issues associated with the SNAP program– related audio here (MP3- 1:00).
And Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “On the House floor, in radio interviews, and in encounters with reporters in the hallways of the Capitol, Lucas has sounded absolutely giddy about finally finishing a bill to replace the expired 2008 farm bill. As he told National Journal Daily last week after the vote on the continuing resolution to open the government and fund it through Jan. 15, ‘It’s taken me years to get here.’
“Whether Lucas is able to retain that level of enthusiasm may depend on how that first meeting goes. Lucas and the other three members of agriculture’s Big Four in Congress—House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss.—have decided the conference will begin with opening statements.”
Mr. Hagstrom noted that, “A House GOP aide, noting the range of conferees that Republican and Democratic leaders have chosen, said the meeting is likely to be a ‘venting.’
“Whether those opening statements emphasize cooperation and the desire to finish a bill or show continued wide differences among the conferees may signal whether the conference is likely to be successful.”
An update on Saturday at Radio Iowa Online reported that, “As for resolving the impasse over the Farm Bill, [Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley] says there’ll have to be some middle ground between the $40 billion cut in food stamps that House Republicans want and the $4.5 billion cut Senate Democrats have proposed and which was included in the bipartisan Farm Bill that cleared the Senate this summer.
“‘I don’t know where that compromise is, but I think it can be reached and we’ll have a Farm Bill to the president within the next month,’ Grassley says. ‘I actually have confidence that we will be able to accomplish that.’”
Josh Moniz reported yesterday at The Mankato Free Press (Minn.) that, “[Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.)] said he will accept major compromises on nutrition spending, but will require it to be ‘at a reasonable level’ to vote for it. [Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)] said there will be compromises, but she wants to be as close as possible to the $4 billion level. Neither Democrat supports the proposal for $40 billion in cuts.
“Both lawmakers oppose ending the permanent law that reverts the Farm Bill to its 1949 version if no new bill is passed. That measure is intended to force Congress to pass some form of Farm Bill every five years. Currently, the out-of-date 1949 Farm Bill is in effect because Congress failed to pass a new bill before the shutdown. The law will create problems like $7 per gallon milk next January unless Congress passes a new Farm Bill this year.
“Walz said the issue is the closest he comes to a ‘red-line item,’ or legislation he would completely oppose.”
Farm Bill: Budget Issues
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The leaders of the agriculture committees in Congress and K Street lobbyists are eager to put the finishing touches on the [farm] bill, which could get wrapped into a year-end budget deal that replaces automatic sequestration cuts.”
The article explained that, “It’s clear that the rural lawmakers aim to be able to present a finished product to budget co-chairmen Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
“‘I really think we are on a separate track,’ one aide said. ‘There is momentum.’
“‘We want to be prepared and get it wrapped up as soon as possible for whatever comes,’ a Senate aide said.”
Mr. Wasson pointed out that, “One lobbyist was hopeful that a budget compromise could carry the farm bill to Obama’s desk.
“‘That could also be the saving grace. That is something we could attach it to,’ the lobbyist said. ‘I don’t think we can pass it as a standalone bill.’
“Another lobbyist expressed trepidation.
“‘They could take a bite out of us one too many times,’ the lobbyist said.”
More broadly on the budget talks, Ramsey Cox reminded readers on Friday at the Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Conferees have their work cut out for them with a nearly $90 billion difference between the House and Senate budget resolutions.
“Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.) budget replaced sequestration with an equal amount of targeted cuts and revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Her House counterpart, Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), kept the sequestration spending level of $967 billion, but restored defense cuts by cutting domestic programs.”
Also, with respect to farm related spending in the two resolutions, an update on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog explained that, “Recall that both the House and Senate FY 2014 budget resolutions include significant cuts to farm bill spending. The House budget cuts farm bill spending by $184 billion over ten years. Of this total, $135 billion would come from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), $31 billion in cuts would be split between commodity program and crop insurance subsidies, and roughly $18 billion would come from cuts to farm bill conservation title spending. The difference between the SNAP cut in the House budget resolution and the SNAP cut in the House-passed nutrition bill is a whopping $96 billion. On the Senate side, the cut to farm bill spending – roughly $23 billion – is much closer to the cut contained in the Senate-passed farm bill. The Senate budget resolution takes all $23 billion from commodity and crop insurance spending, while the Senate farm bill takes roughly two-thirds of its savings from those programs.”
Meanwhile, Damian Paletta reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “In the wake of the just-ended government shutdown, top Republican leaders have told the White House that they are open to rolling back parts of the automatic defense and nondefense spending cuts in any new budget deal. Democrats have broadly supported an easing of the cuts.
“In exchange, the GOP leaders say they want reductions in entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which Democrats say they would only back if a deal raised new revenue, a condition that Republicans oppose.
“Still, the GOP overture has created the possibility of a deal if both sides can shake off their recent feuds, according to interviews with congressional aides.”
Eric Lipton reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “With automatic cuts to the military set to take effect by January and a separate round of cuts scheduled for Medicare, lawmakers will have to decide who gets hit the hardest. Washington’s lobbying machine — representing older citizens, doctors, educators, military contractors and a wide range of corporate interests — is gearing up to ensure that the slices of federal money for those groups are spared in new negotiations over government spending.
“It is a debate that almost no one involved wants to have so soon after the nasty fight over the federal budget, which produced the 16-day shutdown and again failed to reverse the automatic cuts resulting from previous disagreements. But Congress managed to reopen the government and extend the nation’s borrowing limit largely by creating a new series of deadlines that run through February, giving special interests several chances to influence the process.”
And Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “As the budget conference committee begins its work, two main questions jump out: What role will the president play, and what is the scope of the deal lawmakers will seek?
“The White House has signaled that it plans to give lawmakers time and space to chart a course. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would be as involved as he and committee members believe is useful.”
Farm Bill: A Closer Look at SNAP; and, The Sugar Program
Oklahoma State University Agricultural Economist Jayson Lusk penned an update on Friday at the farmdoc daily blog titled, “Public Opinion about the Food Stamp Program.”
The update noted that, “Uncertainties surrounding the future of farm policy remain but these results provide some insights into which policies are likely to be most popular in public opinion. Although there is little support for large cuts in benefits, moderate cuts are more palatable. Moreover, there are issues such as adding work requirements, reducing the length of participation, and maintaining eligibility rules that have budgetary implications and that are popular in public opinion. While the House decision to decouple farm programs from SNAP may ultimately cause a break down in the urban-rural political coalition that has held together the farm bill for decades, it is a move that the vast majority of Americans support.”
And The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently indicated that, “On the farm bill, Mr. Obama will have to accept some limits on food stamps. The House has split off food stamps from the farm bill, but the two can be considered together in a conference with the Senate.
“The House bill contains such modest reforms as a work requirement and would reduce spending by about $4 billion a year. This is hardly onerous considering that these welfare payments are now $83 billion and go to 47.7 million Americans, a seventh of the population, and pay for nearly 11% of all food purchases. Democrats want to turn the program into another middle-class entitlement, but House Republicans want some reform. If Mr. Obama wants a farm bill, he needs to make a concession on the food entitlement.”
Alexandra Wexler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Despite a prolonged slide in domestic sugar prices, U.S. candy makers are expanding production in other countries as federal price supports and a global glut of the sweet stuff give an ever-greater advantage to foreign rivals.”
The article stated that, “Some U.S. candy makers blame the federal government’s sugar policy, set by Congress and administered by the Agriculture Department. Loans, marketing allotments and import restrictions guarantee a minimum price of about 21 cents a pound to domestic sugar processors. Sugar users say the protections inflate wholesale prices, hurt profit margins and sap the competitiveness of U.S. candy makers in the global market.
“The price-support program’s defenders say it is an essential safety net for domestic sugar growers and processors besieged by record imports from Mexico. U.S. government-backed loans are the only option for some processors that need access to financing, according to the American Sugar Alliance, an industry group. Without the current U.S. sugar policy, 90% of the 142,000 sugar-growing and processing jobs in the U.S. would be in danger, the industry group estimates. The alliance also says that sugar makes up an extremely small percentage of the retail cost of candy and has little impact on U.S. jobs.”
Water Resources Bill
Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “With the Senate out for the week, the House will have a chance to practice the long-forgotten art of working together. The main event is a bipartisan water resources bill, which would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to maintain ports and waterways and work on flood prevention projects.”
“The legislation aims to speed up the approval process for these projects, including by streamlining environmental reviews. The bipartisan bill unanimously cleared the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in September.”
Julia Preston and Ashley Parker reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “As the fiscal crisis subsided and the government went back to work this week, President Obama and other leading Democrats were quick to say that an immigration overhaul should be back on the agenda in Congress.”
The article indicated that, “But the possibilities for progress on the issue will be determined in the House of Representatives, where many conservative Republicans are fuming with frustration over their meager gains from the two-week shutdown and turning their ire against Mr. Obama, saying he failed to negotiate with them. It will be up to Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to discern whether relations with the White House are simply too raw for House Republicans to consider legislation on an issue the president has made a priority.”