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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; and, Immigration

Farm Bill: SNAP

Billy House reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Halloween week kicks off in Congress with two issues long haunted by delays, as House and Senate conferees start separate negotiations Wednesday on a budget plan and a farm-bill reauthorization.

Opening remarks from participants are expected to define most of the early action.”

Mr. House noted that, “One main difference between the Senate and House [Farm] bills is that the Senate bill retains the 1938 and 1949 farm laws as the basis for agricultural programs while the House bill would make the 2013 commodity title permanent law.

“Another big difference is that the Senate bill cuts only $4 billion over 10 years from food stamps—formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—while the House bill would cut $39 billion through a series of provisions that Democrats say will lead to increased hunger.

“In what may be a sign of the turbulence ahead, Speaker John Boehner appointed Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to the conference committee even though he doesn’t serve on the Agriculture Committee. And it is Southerland who has made food stamps his main issue and wrote the amendment to the House bill to which the Democrats object the most.”

Jim McTague reported today at Barron’s Online that, “But if you are more into cage boxing, or if you happen to own shares of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or a major supermarket chain, then another conference committee — the one charged with stitching together a bipartisan, five-year, $500 billion agricultural bill — definitely is the one for you.

“Here, the Republican Party’s brawling, penurious conservative wing is gearing up for another bone-crushing confrontation with the Democratic Party’s bleeding-heart liberals as well as with some of the more moderate members of its own party. This time, the battle is over the proper size of cuts to the food-stamp program, known nowadays as SNAP — for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Republicans want to isolate SNAP from the farm bill so it can’t be used as a hostage in negotiations over other controversial provisions like sugar supports. Then they want to cut the food-aid program by $39 billion over 10 years. Democrats are offering to cut roughly $4 billion over the same time frame, and they want the program left in the farm bill. Acrimony already is running high on both sides, so bridging that $35 billion gap will be difficult. This has supermarkets and grocery chains on pins and needles because their SNAP revenues are not minuscule. In a sense, SNAP has become as much of a crutch for food retailers during this period of sluggish growth as it is for the poor.”

Elizabeth Drew reported in a story from the November 7th issue of Rolling Stone that,  “Hardly any other federal undertaking – with the exception of the Affordable Care Act – has attracted more hostility from the far right than the food-stamp program. As recently as the mid-Sixties, actual hunger and starvation existed in this country on a significant scale, particularly in the Deep South and Appalachia. In 1967, Robert F. Kennedy took a widely covered trip to the Mississippi Delta, where he was quite evidently shocked at the sight of listless babies with distended bellies who were unresponsive to his touching them or trying to get them to laugh.”

The article noted that, “Until the House took it up this year, the food-stamp program had mostly enjoyed bipartisan support from Capitol Hill. Of all the commissions, committees and ad hoc groups formed in the past few years to propose ways to cut the budget – the sainted (if overrated) Simpson­Bowles, Domenici­Rivlin, the ‘Gang of Six’ – not one of them suggested cutting food stamps.”

Nick Swartsell reported on Saturday at the Dallas Morning News Online that, “‘It will be contentious,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, a Midland Republican who is one of four Texans on the conference committee handling the measure. Agreements over other issues in the farm bill, including adjustments to subsidies to farmers, could come quickly, but ‘the big tough one will be the nutrition’ issue, he said.”

The article pointed out that; “Agriculture and nutrition spending have been joined at the hip in Congress since the 1970s. They were combined to encourage representatives from urban districts to vote for legislation benefiting rural areas, and vice versa.

“That could end soon, however. The House bill puts food-stamp legislation on a three-year time frame, effectively separating it from agriculture for the first time in 40 years.”

And on Friday, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) was on KABC radio (790- Los Angeles) with Doug McIntyre where the conversation focused on the food stamp program.

A replay of the interview with Rep. Cramer is available here (MP3- 6:44).

In part, Rep. Cramer discussed program integrity, and issues associated with “categorical eligibility;” and he pointed out that, “The House Republicans passed, you really have to put this in context, it’s a $40 billion reduction over 10 years in food stamps which represents a 5% cut in a program that has grown by over 100% in five years.”

Arianna MacNeill reported on Saturday at the Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) Online that, “One of the biggest points of contention will be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps…[Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.)] said he expects the final figure to come in the range of $4 billion to $10 billion.”

David Montgomery reported on Saturday at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “[Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.)] said bridging the food stamp divide is key to passing a farm bill, and she predicted a compromise is possible.

“‘There will have to be a number in the middle that we’ll have to arrive at, and that’ll be a good thing,’ she said.”

In other news regarding SNAP, Mark Nord indicated recently at Amber Waves Online (USDA- Economic Research Service (ERS)) that, “The food security of households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) improved from 2008 to 2009, coincident with higher SNAP benefits mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA—also known as the stimulus bill). From 2009 to 2011, however, the food security of SNAP households worsened as inflation reduced the buying power of the ARRA SNAP benefit increase by about half.”

After additional analysis, the update indicated that, “Taken together, results of the two studies suggest that increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 10 percent ($69 per month for a family of four) would reduce the number of SNAP-recipient households with very low food security by about 22 percent, and reducing the maximum benefit by 10 percent would increase that number by about 29 percent.”

Erik Wasson reported on Saturday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “There is little chance that Congress will act to avert what hunger activists call the ‘food stamp cliff’ — a cut to benefits that will affect some 47 million beneficiaries, including children and the elderly.

The cut takes effect on Nov. 1, and will bring an end to a funding increase that Democrats wrapped into President Obama’s 2009 stimulus law.

For a family of four, the cut will be $36 per month, or about 20 meals under the Department of Agriculture’s estimate for the cost of a ‘thrifty meal.’  Single adults will see their monthly benefits reduced to $189 per month, for a cut of $11.”

Meanwhile, some have argued for policy reforms to SNAP and have noted that, “Food stamps shouldn’t be used to purchase junk food.”

 

Farm Bill: Lawmaker Perspectives

Tom Lutey reported on Friday at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “Americans’ disgust with a government that accomplishes little is improving the odds of a farm bill passing this year, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Friday.

“Speaking during an economic conference at Montana State University, Baucus said lawmakers, like the citizenry, want to see progress on the major issues facing Congress after grinding to a federal government shutdown. Passing a farm bill, after three failed attempts since 2011, would be a good starting point, he said.”

The article noted that, “‘If SNAP is separated from the commodity title of the farm bill, if they’re separated, as sure as I’m standing here I’ll tell you the commodities part of the farm bill will start dying on the vine,’ Baucus said.”

Nick Smith reported on Friday at The Bismarck Tribune Online that, “Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., says she believes a new farm bill will be ready by the mid-December deadline for agreeing on a new long-term budget set out in the recent debt-ceiling deal.”

“Heitkamp said she expects a new farm bill to be rolled into the budget negotiations,” the article said.

A news release last week from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) stated that, “Today, [Sen. Cantwell] and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) joined Washington state agriculture and trade leaders at a Seattle produce export company to call for the passage of a Farm Bill that supports Washington jobs.”

The update noted that, “‘The Farm Bill is the most important jobs bill for Congress to pass,’ said Cantwell today…‘As the Conference Committee begins formal negotiations, I will work tirelessly for investments that benefit our local farmers, families and food supply,’ [said DelBene].”

Jim Spencer reported on Saturday at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota thinks his congressional colleagues may be embarrassed enough by the recent debt ceiling showdown to actually cooperate in farm bill negotiations that start this week.”

The article also stated that, “But the House voted down the bipartisan farm bill produced by its ag committee to pass separate bills for farm programs and food stamps. [House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.)] said the House leadership’s appointment of Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to the conference committee was ominous because Southerland helped in that separation.

“‘He can hold the whole thing up,’ Peterson said.”

Mr. Spencer noted that, “The other big sticking point is a dairy program that pays dairy farmers to limit production when market prices dip. The Senate bill includes the dairy program. The House bill does not.

Peterson, who strongly backs supply management, says the program’s fate could be determined by a single vote in the conference committee.”

Also with respect to dairy issues, a news update Friday from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) stated that, “[Sen. Baldwin] today led a bipartisan letter with her colleagues Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Al Franken (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MN), and Robert Casey (D-PA) urging the Farm Bill Conference Committee to consider extending the current Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program until a new dairy program is implemented.”

Also, a news update last week from Rep. Richard Hudson (R., N.C.) stated that, “[Rep. Hudson], a member of the House Agriculture Committee, authored a letter to the House FARRM Bill conferees, urging them to hold strong on reforms and savings as they begin negotiations with the Senate. Joined by 27 of his House colleagues, Rep. Hudson outlined the successes of the House-passed bill and encouraged Chairman Lucas and the conferees to maintain the commonsense provisions.”

Janet Kubat Willette reported on Friday at the Post-Bulletin (Rochester, Minn.) Online that, “[Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.)] said he wasn’t going to lock himself in on language in the bill heading into negotiations, but he did indicate it would be a mistake to take out permanent law.”

Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) discussed an amendment he sponsored in the House Ag Committee Farm Bill markup relating to the Commerce Clause and the production of agricultural products in an update at Beltway Beef Online.

In part, Rep. King stated that, “When talking about the amendment, it is critical to note that it has no effect on any state’s right to regulate the production of an agriculture product within its own borders, nor does it nullify any federal animal welfare laws. HSUS and others would like for you to believe that my amendment is a gross overreach and would nullify a slew of animal welfare provisions, but that is simply not true.”

 

Farm Bill: Livestock- Blizzard Disaster

AP writer Chet Brokaw reported today that, “Joe Carley has nearly finished burying the cattle he lost in a freak early fall blizzard that killed tens of thousands of cattle in western South Dakota. Now, he’s figuring out how to dig himself out of the financial hole left after about a quarter of his cows and maybe a third of his calves died in the storm.

“‘There’s some sleepless nights. There’s a lot of worry. My brain’s always rolling. We’re pulling ourselves out of it, you know. We’re trying to figure things out and step forward,’ Carley, 40, of Philip, said during a break from herding cattle at the local livestock sale barn, where he works to help make ends meet.”

The article noted that, “Ranchers also could get a big boost if a federal livestock disaster program that expired in 2011 is revived in a new farm bill. The House and Senate versions of the new farm bill include provisions to do just that and to provide retroactive payments, but the two chambers have been unable to agree on a farm bill after passing different versions several months ago. Spurred partly by the disaster, the House and Senate now plan to restart negotiations.”

Kevin Woster reported on Friday at Keloland Television (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “[Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.)] intends to take the stories of extreme livestock losses, in some cases hundreds of cattle, to a conference committee on the federal farm bill that begins work Wednesday to settle differences in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions of the legislation. Noem was named to the conference committee, meaning she will have direct involvement in crafting a compromise between the House and Senate.

A key issue will be the livestock indemnity provisions of the farm legislation, which provide partial compensation for livestock losses in disastrous situations such as the blizzard.”

Julie Harker reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse has just returned from South Dakota where an early October blizzard killed upwards of 25-thousand head of cattle, ‘I don’t think anything prepared me or anyone for what actually happened out there,’ Scuse says, ‘I’ve seen many disasters across the country as I’ve traveled for my job but to see the numbers of cattle that were lying dead in the field, to visit one of the burial pits and see the number of cattle in a pit and to talk with the ranchers out there and to hear their horror stories and just the numbers of losses – some of the producers have lost 60 to 70% of their herds. It’s going to be very, very difficult for them to recover.’”

 

Farm Bill: House – Senate Measures, Specific Differences

Chris Clayton provided an overview of some of the specific differences in the House and Senate Farm Bills in an update posted Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog, “By the Numbers: Breaking Down the House and Senate Farm Bills.”

 

Agricultural Economy

David Pierson reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “[Tony Mata’s (a Dallas meat scientist)] persistence is a testament to changing fortunes in the beef industry. U.S. per capita beef consumption has been falling for decades as consumers have shifted to lighter fare. Pricey prime rib and filet mignon have vanished from many American tables in a sluggish economy.

That has the beef industry scouring the animal for affordable delicacies — cuts that will fetch higher prices than burger without breaking the bank for shoppers. Now steaks with names like ranch, petite tender, Denver and Sierra are popping up in meat cases alongside familiar names like sirloin and porterhouse.”

David Kesmodel reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Cattle futures hit a record intraday high Friday, spurred by tight supplies after prolonged drought in the Great Plains.

“Live cattle for October delivery reached $1.349 a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, breaking the Jan. 4 record for a front-month contract. Futures finished Friday 0.2% lower, however, amid speculation that the beef industry will find it tough to pass along higher cattle and beef prices to U.S. consumers.”

 

Immigration

Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman reported on Friday at Politico that, “House Republican leadership has no plans to vote on any immigration reform legislation before the end the year.”

And Eric Lipton and Ashley Parker reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “A push to bring immigration legislation to the House floor, led by an unusual coalition of business executives, prominent conservatives and evangelical leaders, threatens to create another schism in the Republican Party and could have a noticeable effect on campaign contributions before the midterm elections.

“Several Republican executives and donors who are part of a lobbying blitz coming to Capitol Hill next week said they were considering withholding, or had already decided to withhold, future financial support to Republican lawmakers they believe are obstructing progress on immigration.”

Matea Gold reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “A network of Latino donors that played a pivotal role in raising money for President Obama’s reelection is now focused on a new campaign: an effort to oust lawmakers who stand in the way of overhauling immigration laws.”

Meanwhile, Peter Wallsten reported on Saturday at The Washington Post Online that, “A Republican congressman from a heavily Hispanic district is breaking ranks from his party to join Democrats in an eleventh-hour push for a broad immigration overhaul before the end of the year.

“Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) plans to sign on as the lone GOP member with 185 Democrats to co-sponsor a plan that would give millions of unauthorized immigrants the chance to attain citizenship.

“A handful of House Republicans have expressed support for citizenship legislation similar to the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate over the summer. But Denham is taking the additional — and politically provocative — step of locking arms with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats trying to neutralize opposition from House conservatives and shake up a polarized immigration debate.”

Keith Good