The “Washington Insider” section of DTN indicated yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Like it or not, the farm bill has long been deeply intertwined with the national social safety net. Now, it seems possible that it will become even more so–a fact that could reduce odds of passage of a five-year bill in the near future.”
The DTN item pointed out that, “[T]he House bill included such large cuts for nutrition that it has always been questionable whether the conference committee’s heroic compromise–a still large nearly $9 billion cut for nutrition–could pass.”
Yesterday’s update added that, “Now, however, the Democrats seem bent on upping the ante for the whole process. Last week, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D, Md., told colleagues he wants them to withhold essential Democratic votes on any final House-Senate farm bill unless Republicans agree to extend the now-expired, longer-term unemployment compensation. Congressional Democrats say they are united in their criticism of the pull-back in emergency unemployment insurance and in efforts to extend the programs in the new year.”
Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “US farmers are becoming gripped by anxiety even as they close the books on their best financial year.
“A twin threat of sagging grain prices and a retreat on biofuels policy in Washington has prompted warnings that some farm operations could struggle to break even in 2014, a stark shift from the nominal record $131bn they earned this year.”
Mr. Meyer explained that, “Lower crop prices could also force Washington to pay billions of dollars worth of new subsidies outlined in the farm bill under negotiation in Congress, even as other subsidies are cut.
“A prime source of concern is that farmers will collect an average $4.40 per bushel for corn for the marketing year that started on September 1, down 36 per cent from the prior year, the Department of Agriculture estimates. Corn for March delivery traded at just over $4.27 at the end of last week on the Chicago Board of Trade.”
Neil King Jr. and Patrick O’Connor reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Republican leaders and their corporate allies have launched an array of efforts aimed at diminishing the clout of the party’s most conservative activists and promoting legislation instead of confrontation next year.
“GOP House leaders are taking steps to impose discipline on wavering committee chairmen and tea-party factions.”
The Journal writers pointed out that, “Six chairmen had voted against an initial version of a farm bill earlier in the year, causing the legislation to collapse on the House floor, and 11 voted against the pact this fall to reopen the federal government and extend the country’s borrowing authority into 2014.
“Republican leaders in the House have employed similar tactics to enforce discipline with their rank-and-file. Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, one of four Republicans to lose a committee assignment in 2012 for consistently voting against party priorities, said he recently approached GOP leaders about returning to the Agriculture Committee. In response, the Kansas Republican said one member of the leadership team made it clear ‘that until I voted the way they wanted me to vote, they were not going to put me back on the Ag Committee.’”
The Journal article added that, “GOP leaders hope a less restive Republican caucus will allow the House to pass a farm bill and push ahead on at least incremental overhauls of the immigration system. But conservatives groups, including Heritage Action, already promise to fight both initiatives.”
Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported earlier this week that, “Rents on prime U.S. crop land are expected to stay high in 2014 despite a sharp drop in grain prices, raising financial pressure on farmers who rent most of their land and risk big losses in the coming year, analysts and bankers say.
“More than half the 250 million acres (101 million hectares) of corn, soybean and wheat land in the United States, the world’s biggest grain exporter, are rented. Negotiations on 2014 farm land leases are going on in the Corn Belt and Great Plains, with farmers, absentee owners and their farm managers, and farm lenders all penciling out projected grain growing profits and losses.
“‘With the recent drop in crop prices and the stickiness of land rents not falling as quickly as crop prices, many farmers are feeling the squeeze once again between revenue, costs and rent,’ said Kent Olson, an economist at the University of Minnesota.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and several Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), held a briefing with reporters yesterday on unemployment insurance.
During the briefing, a reporter asked Rep. Pelosi: “Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), I’m sure you’ve seen, has said that a Democrat should refuse to vote on a farm bill before there is an unemployment insurance extension plan. Do you agree with that plan?”
Rep. Pelosi noted that, “I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that the unemployment benefits need to be paid for. Workers pay into a system as they are working. We have always considered this an emergency — an emergency that springs from a downturn in the economy. And that therefore, there does not need to be an offset to it.”
After additional remarks, Rep. Pelosi pointed out that, “I don’t know what the votes are going to be for the farm bill, but I know that — that, I call him chairman — Ranking Member Van Hollen is really — sees the urgency of getting the unemployment insurance matter settled.
“And he’s looking for wherever there is money, and I think, in some of the areas of subsidies, farm subsidies and the rest, there could be money that could be used to pay for — for the unemployment insurance, rather than going to deficit reduction, which is important.
“But as we know, unemployment insurance spending reduces the deficit as well. So, you know, let’s see — you know, let’s — let’s fight one fight at a time, which is, we don’t think it should be paid for.”
Friday’s Congressional Record contained a statement from Sen. Pat Leahy (D., Vt.), which indicated in part that, “Madam President, while the days are limited before the end of 2013, the Farm Bill Conference Committee presses on, working together in a bipartisan fashion to resolve differences and to take the steps necessary to enact a comprehensive and balanced farm bill. Under the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas, it now appears we are on target to complete our work on this bill early in the New Year.
“Nonetheless, it has now been more than 440 days since the farm bill first expired. Farms are businesses, and farmers in Vermont and across the country are desperate to have a new farm bill enacted to give them the much-needed certainty for their planting and other farm decisions. Since the 2008 farm bill expired last year, we have seen parts of the country ravaged by blizzards that wiped out cattle herds while commodity prices slump.”
In a radio interview earlier this week with Mick Kjar (Ag News 890, Terry Loomis, Farm Director (Fargo, ND)), Senate Agriculture Committee member John Hoeven (R., N.D.) discussed several Farm Bill issues.
In part, Sen. Hoeven indicated that, “I think that the conference committee really has the parameters for an agreement, people just need to agree and we need to have the bill on the floor when we get back the first weeks in January and get it passed. I think right now we are on track to do that. People are positive about it, so I think right now it’s going the right way.
“Now I am here and I’m pushing every single day to make sure something doesn’t go off track, but I think right now we’re going to be in a position where we can get this thing to the floor, that second week in January, and it get passed, and I’m just going to keep doing everything I can to make that happen.” (Related audio here (MP3- 0:55)).
Also in his discussion on Ag News 890, Sen. Hoeven briefly discussed crop insurance and Title I issues– related audio here (MP3- 1:00).
Don Wick, of the Red River Farm Network, spoke with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about a variety of policy related issues in an interview yesterday.
An audio replay of the discussion can be found here, while an unofficial FarmPolicy.comtranscript of the Red River Farm Network conversation is available here.
When asked for his thoughts on the Farm Bill timetable, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “Well, Don, I’ve sort of likened it to I’m like a groom at the altar waiting for the bride to walk down the aisle. I think she’s in the church, but I haven’t seen her walk down the aisle yet. I’m hopeful that work that can be done by the conferee leadership this week can give us a clear signal that the major issues have been resolved between the conferees and that we’re in a position to have very active work done on finalizing the farm bill the first part of January.
“We need so much of what we can get from a new farm bill. I’m going to China this week. We are not in a position today to be aggressive in terms of trade promotion because those trade promotion programs that we operate at USDA are sort of stalled because we don’t have authority without a farm bill. That’s just one classic example of why it’s important to get this farm bill done so that we can go back into the business of really promoting American agriculture and making sure that we’re selling as much overseas as possible.”
David Rogers reported on Friday at Politico that, “Farm bill talks moved into the final stretch Friday with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas saying ‘we’re moving right down the path’ toward a House-Senate conference report in January.
“‘Very optimistic, we’re closing in,’ echoed Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) after an early morning session with Lucas. ‘There’s no question in my mind that we’ll be able to come together and have a farm bill that we can take action on in January.’
“The two ranking members, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) also attended the hour long session, which began at 8 a.m. The new confidence reflects a collective relief that new scores from the Congressional Budget Office will help the two sides reconcile differences over the commodity title.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) spoke on K-101 radio (Woodward, Okla.) yesterday morning with J. Doug Williams and noted that, “On the Farm Bill process, basically we have the framework of the commodity title, that’s the stuff that actually raises the food– crop insurance and those kinds of things– we have basically the framework of the nutrition title— that’s food stamps, that’s where the majority of the money goes. There are probably a hundred little things that most of our listeners wouldn’t give a hoot about that still have to be sorted out between the House and the Senate and that’s work for this weekend and next week.
“My goal is, even though we go home on Friday, and if Lynda [the Chairman’s wife] is listening I’m in trouble, but I may be back a few days next week even though we are not in session to finish everything up because the final agreement needs to be worked out by next week so that the lawyers can put the perfected language together, so that USDA can look it over one last time, so that CBO can score it one last time, so I can have one last set of public conference hearings when we come back that second week in January and proceed to a vote and be done with this process.”
“Some key senators have said the Senate won’t accept a one-month extension, but obviously the House is going to call their bluff. Either everyone gets an extension or USDA spends January trying to draft rules for permanent law to go into effect.”
Kristina Peterson reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A new five-year farm bill won’t be passed in Congress this year but could be ready in January, lawmakers said Tuesday.
“Winter storms kept an employee of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office away from Washington and unable to complete the key cost estimates lawmakers needed to continue their negotiations, chairmen of the House and Senate agriculture committees told reporters Tuesday.”
Ms. Peterson explained that, “Without cost estimates, negotiators said they wouldn’t be able to reach a deal with enough time to vote on legislation before the House adjourns for the year at the end of this week. Lawmakers said they still hoped to settle on a framework before the Senate leaves one week later, potentially setting up a vote in January on the first new farm bill since 2008.”
Kyle Potter reported yesterday at the Fargo Forum (N.D.) Online that, “After months of doubt, the top House Democrat in ongoing negotiations says lawmakers are a near a deal that would pave the way for passing a farm bill in the next month.
“Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, one of four House and Senate negotiators working behind the scenes on a compromise between the two chambers, said the framework of a farm bill deal could be finished before the House adjourns for the year on Friday, pushing a full vote sometime into January.
“Crucially, Peterson said the negotiators have agreed on how much to cut from food stamps – one of the largest sticking points between the House and Senate. Peterson declined to provide a number, but said the deal hews ‘substantially closer to the Senate’s’ targeted cuts of $4 billion over the next decade rather than the House’s bill, which would slash $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
Yesterday’s article noted that, “‘I think it will pass the Senate, but I cannot guarantee you it will pass the House,’ Peterson said in a meeting with the Forum’s Editorial Board Monday. ‘They are not going to be happy with the food stamp cuts.’
“Peterson said he’s confident he can secure ‘yes’ votes from at least half of the House Democrats – important if many Republicans, who control the House, balk at the smaller-than-expected food cuts to food stamps.”
The article added that, “But even as a deal emerges, a short-term extension may still be necessary to avoid skyrocketing milk prices that could come as dairy subsidies expire at the end of the year.”