FarmPolicy

July 31, 2014

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Budget; and, CFTC

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The main farm bill negotiators emerged from their first face-to-face meeting in nearly two weeks on Wednesday more optimistic they will reach an agreement.

“The hour-long meeting occurred as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took to the House floor to blame Senate Democrats for failing to agree to a farm bill deal.

“‘Staff are doing some work on specifics and scores and so on, but we are making great progress,’ said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who flew into town despite the Senate recess to hold talks.”

The Hill update noted that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) concurred.

“‘We have made great progress, we have more progress to make,’ he said.

“Stabenow said that Boehner’s pressure and comments were ‘not productive comments.’”

Mr. Wasson explained that, “Farm bill conferree Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said she believes disputes over farm subsidies and not over food stamps are holding up the bill. She said in the end, enough members of the House GOP are willing to accept far less than the $39 billion in food stamp cuts in order to pass a bill.

“‘One of the reasons I am so optimistic is that everybody thought the food stamps was going to be the hold up in the bill. It’s not. It’s the commodity title that’s the hold up in the bill,’ she said.

“She noted that farm lobbyists from corn and soybean sectors are fighting with wheat producers while sugar and dairy subsidies have not yet been worked out.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Mich.) was dour going into the meeting, but said afterward that progress on all fronts has him more optimistic.”

A tweet yesterday from the House Ag Committee indicated that, “Lucas:we made great progress. We have more 2make. We have good-faith effort among principals”

While Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) tweeted yesterday that, “We’re making progress on the new #farmbill and hopeful that we can soon reach an agreement.”

Matt Fuller reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Stabenow said they were ‘nearing differences with every part of the bill.’”

Mr. Fuller pointed out that, “Even Peterson, who has openly shown his frustration with the long and novel farm bill process, said he felt more confident about a final product now than he did going into the meeting.

“‘Because we made progress,’ Lucas said. ‘On everything.’

Peterson said no one was going to announce developments on anything specific — ‘I don’t think that would be helpful.’ But lawmakers have indicated that the principal disagreements with the farm bill are over the nutrition and commodity titles.”

Jacqueline Klimas reported yesterday at The Washington Times Online that, “When asked whether the negotiators could complete a bill before the end of the year, Ms. Stabenow said only ‘we’re going to get this done as quickly as possible.’”

And David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Farm bill negotiators broke major new ground toward a long-sought deal, even as a leading agriculture lobby urged rival commodity groups Wednesday to ‘close ranks’ behind a final package this winter.

“Staff were closeted still working out the details and much will depend on final scoring from the Congressional Budget Office. But both sides made important concessions in the course of an hourlong closed-door meeting Wednesday of the four top principals from the House and Senate Agriculture committees.

The House moved off its position that all commodity subsidies be a function of a farmer’s planted acres. The Senate agreed to greater food stamp savings — albeit still far short of the $40 billion in 10 years cuts approved by the House in September.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “Wednesday’s talks came as Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, sought to calm the waters, calling on the agriculture community to step back and let the negotiators do their work without having to field grenades thrown in by competing interests outside.

“‘It is time, once and for all, to unify behind a farm bill that works for all of American agriculture, including crop, livestock, and fruit and vegetable growers,’ Stallman said. ‘The best way for us to do that is to trust those who have brought us this far.’”

Ed O’Keefe reported yesterday at the Post Politics Blog (Washington Post) that, “Aides familiar with the [Farm Bill] talks said that one way negotiators hope to close that yawning gap [in SNAP] is by focusing on what’s known as ‘Heat and Eat.’

“For many people who receive food stamp money, the level of assistance is partially tied to federal home heating assistance through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. States participate in the program to keep low-income residents from being forced to choose between paying the heating bill or buying groceries in winter months. To ensure funding for heating and food, states are permitted to send heating assistance checks of as low as $1 to needy households, which qualifies them for a higher amount of SNAP benefits.

“Acknowledging that there has been abuse in that program, negotiators are seeking to set a minimum amount of money that states must contribute in heating assistance, which in turn would reduce some payouts of SNAP benefits. The Senate’s Farm Bill sets a $10 minimum ‘heat and eat’ payment, while the House measure requires a $20 minimum for nearly $9 billion in savings.”

Meanwhile, in a speech yesterday on economic mobility, President Barack Obama noted that, “One study shows that more than half of Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives. Think about that.  This is not an isolated situation. More than half of Americans at some point in their lives will experience poverty.

That’s why we have nutrition assistance or the program known as SNAP, because it makes a difference for a mother who’s working, but is just having a hard time putting food on the table for her kids.”

Also yesterday, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) spoke about agricultural issues and the Farm Bill on the House floor, and noted in part that, “Farm policy has an important role in growing new opportunities in Rural America.

“Mr. Speaker, we need to pass a Farm Bill.

“The arduous process of reconciling the House and Senate versions of the legislation is now taking place, but it is important for all Americans to understand that the Farm Bill is not just about farms or food but it is also a jobs bill, a trade bill, an energy bill, a conservation bill and even a national security bill.”

Meanwhile, an editorial posted yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online indicated that, “Lawmakers from both parties are trying to reverse a provision slipped into the 2008 farm bill that effectively bans catfish imports. That bill shifted regulation of catfish safety—alone among all other forms of seafood—to the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the Food and Drug Administration.”

The Journal stated that, “Even by the trade-distorting standards of the rest of America’s agricultural policy, this catfish inspection program is a doozy. Lawmakers may not be able to resist the siren call of farm subsidies, but at least they should insist that conferees deliver a final bill that doesn’t embroil the U.S. in a needless trade war over a fish.”

And in news regarding food safety, David Pierson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has outlined a broad plan to combat salmonella. But some food safety advocates say it doesn’t do enough to combat a pathogen responsible for 1.3 million illnesses in the U.S. each year.

“The push has taken on new urgency this year after a salmonella outbreak tied to Foster Farms poultry from plants in central California sickened at least 389 people nationwide. The outbreak exhibited an especially virulent strain of salmonella that showed signs of resistance to antibiotics.

“The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Wednesday released a priority list of actions.”

A news item yesterday from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) indicated that, “[Rep. DeLauro] and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), two long-time food safety advocates released the following statement today on the Agriculture Department’s Salmonella Action Plan. The representatives met earlier today with representatives of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

“‘While USDA’s initiative in issuing this plan is to be applauded, the substance falls short in addressing this important public health issue,’ DeLauro said. ‘The Government Accountability Office recently identified major flaws in the proposed poultry slaughter program, so why is USDA proposing we expand the program? Meat is continuing to leave these processing facilities contaminated with Salmonella. We should be fixing the source of the problem, not leaving it up to consumers to guess whether their dinner will send them to the hospital.’”

 

Agricultural Economy

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Board released its Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions. Commonly referred to as the “Beige Book,” the report included the several interesting observations with respect to the U.S. agricultural economy; a summary of this portion of yesterday’s Fed report has been posted here, at FarmPolicy.com Online.

 

Biofuels

University of Illinois Agricultural Economists Scott Irwin and Darrel Good indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Potential Impact of Alternative RFS Outcomes for 2014 and 2015”) that, “We have had a number of previous farmdoc daily posts discussing the potential problems in implementing the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) due to the expanding gap between the implied mandate for renewable biofuels (ethanol) and the E10 blend wall (see here, here, here, and here).  We argued that the EPA faced several constraints as it considered potentially momentous decisions about the RFS rules for 2014 and 2015.  The EPA announced preliminary rulemaking for 2014 on November 15, 2013, and the proposal did indeed signal a significant shift in EPA policy.   The most surprising and controversial aspect of the proposal was the write down of the renewable mandate from 14.4 to 13 billion gallons. This was much larger than anticipated by most analysts (at least prior to the leak of the proposed rulemaking earlier this year) and more aggressive in dealing with blend wall constraints than our own “Freeze It” proposal.  The purpose of today’s post is to trace through the likely implications of the proposed EPA rulemaking in the same manner that we analyzed alternative implementation options in our earlier posts.  Specifically, we investigate two scenarios: 1) implementation of 2014 and 2015 rules as proposed by the EPA, and 2) implementation of 2014 and 2015 rules identical to the EPA proposal with the exception that the renewable mandate is not written down.”

 

Budget

Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan reported yesterday at Politico that, “Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan met Wednesday as they try to hash out a multi-year budget deal, but no agreement was reached during the one-on-one session in the Capitol, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks.

“The meeting between the top two negotiators comes more than one week before a Dec. 13 deadline for Murray and Ryan to finish a budget pact that would set spending levels through 2015, while replacing part of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.”

Damian Paletta and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congressional negotiators are nearing a small-scale budget agreement, possibly by the end of this week, but minefields remain as they work to sort through differences on revenue and spending matters, several congressional aides and lobbyists said.

“Aides to senior Democrats and Republicans said talks were progressing but added that a final agreement hadn’t been reached.”

 

CFTC- Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Gina Chon and Philip Stafford reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Three industry groups filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Commodity Futures Trading Commission challenging the agency’s controversial, cross-border swaps rules, which are part of a broad effort to reform the derivatives market.

“The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and the Institute of International Bankers accused the CFTC of ‘unlawfully circumventing’ procedures, failing to conduct legally required cost benefit analysis and imposing rules that are contrary to international co-operation.

European regulators have also opposed the CFTC’s cross border derivatives rules, saying the agency has over-reached by requiring foreign market participants to follow the US rule book if they trade with a US counterparty. Critics say that could force about half of London’s derivatives market to operate under US rules.”

And lastly today, Emily Cahn reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “GOP state Sen. Torrey Westrom will announce Thursday that he will challenge longtime Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., in the 7th District.

“Westrom, the first legally blind person elected to the Minnesota Legislature, will make the announcement Thursday morning in the northwestern part of the state, according to a news release from the campaign.

“Westrom is the first Republican to announce a bid against Peterson. Republicans have made the 12-term Democrat a top target in 2014.”

Keith Good

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