November 20, 2019

Farm Bill Issues- Conference Committee Gets Started

Categories: Budget /Farm Bill

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Ending years of painful delays, House-Senate talks began on a new farm bill Wednesday, with renewed promises to finally complete the task by the end of December.

“‘We can do it, we have to do it,’ said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) ‘There are 16 million men and women whose jobs rely on the strength of agriculture,’ echoed his Senate counterpart, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). ‘I am confident we won’t let them down.’”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “It wasn’t quite crossing the River Jordan, but it was a huge sigh of relief nonetheless for Lucas after battling his party leadership to get to this point. Now, in conference, he can be more his own man. And if he and Stabenow can craft a compromise in the next two months, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would be hard-pressed to deny him a final vote on the House floor.

“‘We’re hopefully at the beginning of an end to the process,’ said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the House committee. And Lucas heard encouraging words from his old House mentor, now-Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). ‘We’re going to lose our credibility if we don’t get this bill done,’ Roberts said. ‘We have to get this bill done.’”

Yesterday’s article pointed out that, “Millions of families will be affected by scheduled food stamp cuts taking effect this Friday, Nov. 1.”

In her opening remarks, Stabenow seized on this point, saying the $11 billion in savings should be added to the equation measuring the new food stamp cuts in both bills. ‘That $11 billion plus the $4 billion in cuts in the Senate bill means that accepting the Senate nutrition title would result in a total of $15 billion in cuts in nutrition,’ she said.”

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Wednesday’s ceremonies were held on a grand stage: the gilded House Ways and Means Committee hearing room with its sculpted eagles. But the process is expected to shift quickly to backroom meetings of the four top members: Lucas, Peterson, Stabenow and Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran, the ranking member of the Senate panel and a former Agriculture Committee chairman.

“Peterson is hopeful that these meetings can step up and continue through the upcoming recess. ‘We need to get at this or we’re not going to get this done,’ he told reporters. And in a short news conference following the conference session, both Lucas and Stabenow signaled a willingness to do so.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The formal opening of talks amounted to statements from the 41 members around the table on Capitol Hill with terms such as ‘common ground’ being used frequently.

“Yet, other divisions arose Wednesday in areas such as target prices, conservation compliance, country-of-origin labeling and a provision in the House bill that would limit states’ ability to regulate agricultural products.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., indicated the two committees would be able to come to terms as long as someone in leadership isn’t trying to derail the process. Peterson has frequently complained about the heavy hands of House leaders when it comes to the farm bill.

“‘I believe if the conference committee is left alone and allowed to do our work, we’ll find some middle ground and be able to finish a farm bill,’ Peterson said.”

Yesterday’s article indicated that, “Steve King, R-Iowa, said one of his top priorities in conference would be to defend his provision that prevents states from blocking the commerce of agricultural goods approved by USDA or the Food and Drug Administration.

“Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., later described the King language as ‘anti-California’ because a ballot measure on chicken cages was the impetus of King’s amendment.”

And the DTN article also stated that, “Divisions were regional over issues such as whether a commodity program should be based on planted acres or base acres. [Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Tex.)] said some groups are ‘recklessly obsessed’ about this issue. He said it would change one-tenth of 1% of planted acreage.

“Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., later questioned the argument, saying, ‘Tying target prices to planted acres runs the risk of ruining decades of reform.’

“Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., also criticized both the Senate and House target-price programs, saying the House plan ‘went further backwards’ in policy. ‘A modern farm bill should not create planting, marketing, or international trade distortions. Let me be clear… target prices should be decoupled… and the government should not set prices at a level that practically guarantee profit, instead of acting as a risk-management tool,’ Roberts said.”

Also with respect to commodity supports, Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) stated yesterday that, “First and foremost, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for the entirety of American agriculture. The bill must reflective of the farmer’s production risk – whatever that may be. In my view, a producer’s choice program is best-suited to achieve this goal in the commodity title.”

And Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) pointed out that, “While I understand there are different ideas about what safety net is best, I urge my colleagues to recognize that one program doesn’t work for all crops.  Both bills before us attempt to provide producers with options to find what works best for them, and that is a step in the right direction.

“Importantly, Congress has taken a fresh look at our commodity programs while maintaining an effective safety net that is so critical to America’s farmers.  We should provide options to farmers while at the same time act as responsible stewards of the taxpayer.  When producers don’t feel that the revenue-based programs, or ‘shallow-loss’ programs work for them, they need to be provided an option to manage their risk, and I urge my fellow conferees to remember the importance of giving producers choices.

“Also, I would like to recognize that the upland cotton policies contained in the Senate and House versions embody fundamental reform that meet our commitments in the World Trade Organization. The legislation eliminates or changes all Title I programs providing direct support to those involved in cotton production, and addresses head on and remedies the criticisms central to the WTO dispute with Brazil.”

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) stated in part yesterday that, “We need market-based policies that are responsive to fluctuations in production and price without dictating what we produce.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) also indicated yesterday that, “Simply put, Ohio corn and soybean farmers must have a program that decouples target prices from planted acres.

“That’s why I strongly support the Senate’s Commodity title.”

Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) noted some of his ag policy priorities in a news release yesterday, which included: “Enhanced Crop Insurance: The farm bill includes a strong safety net for producers. Hoeven underscored that the safety net in the farm bill is focused on enhanced crop insurance. The legislation enhances crop insurance with the inclusion of the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO). The SCO enables producers to purchase a supplemental policy beyond their individual farm-based policy.

“Revenue Loss Protection: In addition, the bill features a new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program that covers assistance for multiple-year losses. The program works with crop insurance by covering between 78 and 88 percent of a producer’s historic five-year average revenues based on price and yield.”

Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) noted yesterday that, “Crop insurance has become an increasingly large part of the safety net for producers. Both bodies have worked to ensure that they provide effective risk management tools are provided. As we consider a final version of the Crop Insurance Title, I’m sure that we’ll be reminded of the many similarities between the Senate and House bills, and resolve our differences.”

Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the House farm bill distorts the market by coupling target prices supports with production, while supporters of price-based supports like Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said such claims are based on misinformation.”

The Hill article also noted that, “The leaders of the new House-Senate farm bill conference laid down the law on Wednesday, declaring that they and not the leaders of the new budget conference committee will have the final say on the nearly $1 trillion 2013 farm bill.

“‘The budget committee will not be writing the farm bill,’ Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said. ‘We will write, we will edit, we will offer responsible deficit reduction.’”

Mr. Wasson added that, “House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the budget committee could count whatever savings the farm bill achieves — after the fact.

“‘You can’t have our money if you don’t take our policy,’ Lucas said.”

“Lucas said that he is now ‘comfortable’ that the budget conference, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will not interfere with the farm bill process.  Ryan has called for deeper cuts to farm subsidies than in the House-passed farm bill,” the Hill article explained.

Niels Lesniewski reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee pledged Wednesday to seek to derail any effort to package a five-year farm bill conference agreement into an omnibus budget deal.

“‘I will fight that tooth and nail,’ Rep. Collin C. Peterson told reporters outside the conference meeting. ‘Even if they get a budget deal, if they put the farm bill in there, I will do everything I can to kill it, and it probably won’t take much to kill the budget deal.’”

More specifically with respect to budget issues, Bloomberg writer Heidi Przybyla reported yesterday that, “House and Senate lawmakers opened their latest bipartisan attempt to curb the U.S. deficit by clashing over whether to raise revenue or cut entitlement spending. Chances are they’ll do neither.

“Instead, they’re moving toward a third path, reductions to mandatory programs outside Social Security and Medicare to replace automatic cuts hitting the Pentagon, research and other programs, said two staff members involved in the process.

“The contours for a limited agreement emerged yesterday as Republicans and Democrats on a House-Senate conference panel held their first meeting. Aides who asked not to be identified to discuss private talks said the mandatory program cuts could include farm subsidies and health-care provider payments.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “‘A great number of entitlement programs, mandatory programs, are not Social Security and Medicare,’ Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said yesterday in an interview. ‘There are a whole bunch of programs that are mandatory in nature and have never been looked at’ and weren’t in the law setting up the automatic cuts, he said, citing farm subsidies and food stamps.

“Asked if such an accord is a fallback to a broader deal, he said. ‘I would hope so.’”

Yesterday’s update also indicated that, “The list includes reducing farm subsidies for $35 billion in savings and increasing federal-worker contributions to retirement plans for another $20 billion, according to a report released Oct. 29 by the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan fiscal advocacy group.

“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and a member of the budget conference panel, said any agreement on farm legislation will survive the broader budget accord.

“‘We will be the ones writing the farm bill,’ she said yesterday. ‘We will write, we will edit, we will offer, as we have, responsible deficit reduction.’”

Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman noted in today’s New York Times that, “Among the potential areas for alternative savings are farm subsidies and federal pensions.”

Niels Lesniewski added in his Roll Call update yesterday that, “Peterson also said he wouldn’t accept the dairy provisions authored by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., contained in the House bill. Peterson told reporters Wednesday he would now have the votes to kill Goodlatte’s measure, which has had the backing of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.

“‘We might have to bulldoze that one,’ Peterson said. ‘The Goodlatte provision is completely unworkable, unacceptable, and I will not take it under any circumstances.’”

Also on the dairy issue, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) issued a news release yesterday titled, “NMPF Urges Farm Bill Conferees to Include Senate’s Dairy Security Act in Final Measure,” while the International Dairy Foods Association issued a statement yesterday titled, “IDFA Encourages Farm Bill Conferees to Accept the House Dairy Title.”

An update yesterday from the Food Policy Research Center (University of Minnesota) indicated that, “The University of Minnesota Food Policy Research Center announces a new Issue Brief ‘Dairy Subtitle to the 2013 Farm Bill: Critical Issues and Options’ (lead author Dr. Marin Bozic, University of Minnesota, Department of Applied Economics). The brief summarizes the state of the knowledge on proposed dairy policy reforms, building on five working papers from three different research teams.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “House and Senate negotiators have begun talks on crafting a compromise farm bill, including cuts to the food stamp program.”

The article noted that, “The biggest obstacle to a final bill is how far apart the two parties are on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Lucas said at the conference meeting that he was hoping to find common ground on the issue, but House leadership, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have insisted on higher cuts.

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent out a statement as the meeting opened that said food stamp recipients ‘deserve swift action from Congress to pass a bill that provides the much-needed nutritional support for our children, our seniors, our veterans, and our communities.’”

Ed O’Keefe reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “The Democratic-run Senate passed a bipartisan measure in June that would cut about $4 billion in SNAP funding mostly by making administrative changes. But the GOP-controlled House approved slashing almost $40 billion in food stamp money over the next decade by rewriting eligibility rules for beneficiaries.

“‘I am willing to be flexible; I am willing to compromise,’ said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a liberal supporter of the food program. ‘I will not support a farm bill that makes hunger worse.’”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D., Ohio), the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition, tweeted yesterday that, “Today was a good start to the Farm Bill Conference Committee.”  The update also linked to a replay of her opening remarks at yesterday’s meeting, which included comments on nutrition issues.

Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where some of the discussion focused on Farm Bill issues.

During yesterday’s discussion, with respect to reductions in SNAP funding, Sen. Grassley stated that, “Well, a senator I don’t want to name, because I shouldn’t name them, but on the Democratic side, where the power is in the Senate, the word was put out it couldn’t be more than $10 billion.  Now, I don’t know…you know, that’s considerable savings from the four billion that we’ve had, but it’s considerably below the 40 billion that the House had in their bill—or yeah, the House had, so I…if you can’t get a $20 savings bill through the House, how are you going to get a $10 billion savings bill through the House?  So I just don’t know.  I wish I had that answer.  If I had that answer and I could carry it out, we’d have a farm bill to the President tomorrow.”

A news release yesterday from the Food Bank for the New York City noted that, “Days before nearly two million New Yorkers will see their food stamp benefits slashed under $5 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP formerly known as the food stamp program), a major new study from Food Bank For New York City reveals that current benefit levels are already inadequate when it comes to meeting basic food needs.”

And Shelly Banjo and Annie Gasparro reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Retailers and grocers are bracing for another drain on consumer spending when a temporary boost in food-stamp benefits expires Friday.

The change will leave 48 million Americans with an estimated $16 billion less to spend over the next three years and comes just months after the expiration of a payroll tax cut knocked 2% off consumers’ monthly paychecks.”

Also, Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Farm bill conferees spent more than three hours on Wednesday promising to work with each to reauthorize crucial farm and food aid programs, but some House Republicans are already throwing up potential roadblocks to a House-Senate deal.

“Midway through the first bipartisan, bicameral meeting of the conference committee, 27 House Republicans — led by Indiana GOP Rep. Marlin Stutzmanissued a press release calling on the conferees to retain the two-bill farm bill strategy, deployed when the chamber could not pass a comprehensive farm bill earlier this year with 218 GOP votes.”

House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) noted in a statement yesterday that, “Conferees ought to continue the long tradition of producing bipartisan farm bills that both protect Americans from hunger and support our nation’s farmers as they produce the safest, most abundant, and most affordable food in the world.”

And, a news release yesterday from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) stated that, “[Rep. Fortenberry] and Senator Chuck Grassley today encouraged House and Senate farm bill conferees to retain key farm policy reforms regarding payment limitations as they begin work this week on a reconciled farm bill.  New farm payment limit requirements were approved earlier this year in both the House and Senate farm bills.”

Keith Good

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