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Farm Bill: House Action Today

Farm Bill; Immigration; and, the Ag Economy- Wednesday

Farm Bill

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The House cleared the way for a Wednesday showdown vote on the new farm bill agreement [one page summary here] , even as Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to dedicate a portion of the savings to help pay for extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

“The 222-194 vote Tuesday made for a sharp contrast with the broad support now enjoyed by the farm bill itself. And after two years of struggle, the Agriculture Committee leadership is increasingly confident that the giant measure will now prevail—almost exactly six months after it was upended by the same chamber last June.

“‘I think we’re going to get there but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be the farm bill would it?’ House Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) joked with reporters. And at a morning Democratic Caucus, proponents were cheered by the fact that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, rose to defend the deal despite liberal complaints about continued cuts from food stamps.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “Factoring in cuts already made during the two-year debate, the farm bill agreement now should generate about $23 billion in 10-year savings, a third of which is attributed to the nutrition title.

“The Congressional Budget Office late Tuesday released its final scoring which largely supports the $23 billion claim. But the picture is complicated by the impact of sequestration on CBO’s baseline during the years consumed by the farm bill debate.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “To the extent sequestration beats the Agriculture Committee to the punch and has already begun to reduce those costly payments, it diminishes what’s left to invest in new farm programs—and still show real deficit reduction.

“Thus in its Tuesday letter, CBO speaks of just $16.6 billion in 10-year savings from the conference report. But if the $6.4 billion in earlier baseline adjustments were factored back in, the numbers confirm the claim of $23 billion in net savings for the bill.”

Brad Plumer reported yesterday at the WonkBlog (Washington Post) that, “So what’s actually in [the Farm Bill]? I’ve made a pie chart below to outline the basics. This is based on the latest Congressional Budget Office’s scoring as well as reporting on how its predecessor House and Senate bills got combined.”

And Vicki Needham, Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The House is set to pass a five-year $1 trillion farm bill compromise on Wednesday.

“The nearly 1,000-page measure emerged on Monday after months of talks and is on the fast track to passage.

“The legislation faces opposition from conservative groups — the Club for Growth and Heritage Action — because they say it does not make any strides in reforming the food stamp and other programs.”

The Hill update added that, “On Tuesday, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted that Democrats will back the bill, although many liberals could vote against the measure because of $8 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, which is well below the $40 billion sought by Republicans.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) indicated yesterday that, “The Farm Bill conference report is just more business as usual and reverses the victory for common sense that taxpayers won last year. This logrolling prevents the long-term reforms that both farm programs and food stamps deserve. By separating farm policy from food stamps last summer, the House gave Americans an honest look at how Washington spends their money. As a farmer and a conservative, I cannot vote to take a step backwards.”

Also, Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday he has not decided whether he will support the farm bill after his push to limit who can quality for farm subsidies and how much they could receive were ‘watered down.’”

In an article in yesterday’s Des Moines Register, Mr. Doering quoted Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) as saying, “This is basically a sound, balanced, bipartisan bill.”

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) indicated yesterday that, “While the bill is not perfect, it represents a bipartisan agreement that will give the Hoosier ag community the certainty it needs to continue feeding our country and being a vital part of Indiana’s economy.  I call on my colleagues to quickly pass this bill and for the president to sign it into law.”

Hill reporter Erik Wasson tweeted yesterday that, “Conferees who did not sign farm bill: Rep. King over his amendment, McGovern, Levin over SNAP; Sen. Pat Roberts over price-based subsidies”

Meanwhile, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) was a guest yesterday on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on the Farm Bill.  An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of yesterday’s discussion is available here.

Chairman Lucas indicated that, “With the conference committee report signed out by almost every senator, every House member of the conference, shortly we’ll have a vote in the United States House on a rule to then bring the farm bill conference committee report, the Agricultural Act of 2014, to the floor, hopefully tomorrow, on Wednesday, successfully do our work, the Senate shortly thereafter, the President’s signature, I hope, after that. I may not quite be there yet, Mike, but after one, two, three years, we’re so close—so close. And I suspect you can hear it in my voice, even.”

The wind is to our back, the momentum is in our direction,” the Chairman noted.

On the dairy issue, Chairman Lucas pointed out that, “And when you have not only members from the Northeast sign the conference report, home of a lot of little dairies, but you have members from California sign the conference committee report, for example, home of a lot of big dairies, I think, Mike, this is just an example of the process got worked out.”

Also note that, Jerry Slominski, Senior Vice President for Legislative Affairs and Economic Policy for the International Dairy Foods Association indicated this week that, “The conference report is good news for consumers of dairy products who will not be forced to pay unnecessarily higher prices, and good news for dairy farmers who will receive an effective and efficient safety net to help them through hard times, without our government telling them how much they can produce.”

And the National Milk Producers Federation recently provided a brief summary overview of the dairy title provisions in the Farm Bill.

Also in his discussion with Mike Adams on AgriTalk yesterday, Chairman Lucas addressed payment limitation issues and explained that, “And I’ll be honest with you, Mike, maybe I’m old school, but I’ve always had this perspective that farm bills should not be about deciding who can farm, should not be deciding about what a farm should be. The farm bill should be about raising food and fiber. It should be about trying to address weather and markets, things producers have no control over, trying to help make sure that consumers at home and around the world have plenty to eat and plenty of fiber.”

At the conclusion of yesterday’s discussion on AgriTalk, Chairman Lucas stated that, “If I have one regret about the Agricultural Act of 2014, and you and I discussed this numerous times in recent years, but I made the pitch that if we had good, solid farm bill policy that it should become permanent law, that we should replace the ’38 and ’49 Act. But I met opposition from the Senate, I met opposition from my Democrat colleagues in the House, I met opposition from every lobbyist group and every farm group in D.C.

“Now some would argue the old logic that having an arcane, unenforceable, unusable law like ’38 and ’49 on the books means we’ll always work the next farm bill. I would simply respond as hard as this one was, I don’t know what happens in five years’ time. As hard as this effort was, as many years as it took, Mike, I don’t know what happens next time. This bill was good enough. It should have been permanent law. But everybody in every direction pushed back on me. That’s my only regret. We didn’t make this safety net for production agriculture permanent.”

Also yesterday, Farm Director Ron Hays of the Radio Oklahoma Ag Network talked with Chairman Lucas about the Farm Bill process, an audio replay and summary of that discussion is available here.

The discussion covered a variety of Farm Bill issues and Mr. Hays pointed out that Chairman Lucas also “responded to a question about the fact that he will face a primary challenge this coming June for another two years in Congress.”  To listen to this portion of yesterday’s interview with Ron Hays, just click here (MP3- 1:56).

And Chairman Lucas and Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) held a joint teleconference with reporters yesterday where they discussed the Farm Bill and answered questions from reporters.

A complete FarmPolicy.com transcript of that conference call is available here.

Chairwoman Stabenow pointed out that, “I’m going to take us back almost three years and just say that from the very first moment discussion about deficit reduction started, and there was super committee process set up, every committee was asked to come together, produce spending reductions, deficit reductions, and Chairman Lucas and I reached out to each other and were literally the only committee that got House, Senate, Republican, Democratic agreement to cut our own area of jurisdiction. And if every part of the federal budget did what we did, I would dare say, Mr. Chairman, we might have a balanced budget.”

Chairwoman Stabenow added that, “Let me say I think between the commodity title, disaster assistance and crop insurance we have addressed the needs of every part of America’s agriculture, and that was something that we started out saying. We wanted this to work for every region, and I believe we have done that. It was tough to do, as the chairman said, because we were ending direct payments, we are ending direct payments, and moving to a risk-based system, and it’s been a lot of hard work to get to a point where we can say that this is good for everyone.”

On the issue of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), Chairman Lucas pointed out that, “I think the thing we need to bear in mind is this has been a hugely controversial set of subjects for years and years and years. The kind of thing that good people of good opinion have intense differences from perspective. The language, as the chairwoman quite clearly stated, that was in the bill dealt with a study, not with repeal.

The Senate didn’t have any language, basically, to start with. To be asked to go and advance past that towards a total repeal, when there wasn’t repeal language on either side, that just was extremely difficult. This is one of those things where this fight has to be fought starting at the very lowest levels—subcommittee, full committee, all the way through, and the groundwork had not necessarily been laid for that.”

Chairman Lucas added that, “But I understand the disappointment of our friends out there. They said upfront they wanted repeal. And I wasn’t totally surprised, after the final draft came out, of the decision they made and the position they took. But this is not over with. It’s just on this day this couldn’t prevail. And doing the farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, seemed to me and a majority of my colleagues to be of the highest priority at that moment.”

During yesterday’s conference call Chairwoman Stabenow also addressed payment limit issues and noted that, “And I would just add that because the issue of size of farms and size of operations is different, we did ask the USDA, we gave them the authority for the first time—this is very important, the authority—to set caps on numbers of managers and determine how to do that. We have given them authority they have not had before and we expect them to move forward in a thoughtful way to do that, looking at all sizes of operations. And it is major reform that we have adopted.”

With respect to potential passage of the measure, Chairman Lucas stated that, “I’ve always known that the folks at both ends of the spectrum would not support us. But like farm bills in almost my entire tenure in Congress, it’s the coalition of the folks in the middle who want to get things done, who believe in safety nets, who believe in having enough to eat, who care about the future, who will pass this bill. I think that will be there.

“And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it happens, just as my colleague the chairwoman is going to do everything within the Senate she can possibly do to do that. And there are a few cases where we have friends in each other’s bodies where we’ll visit with our friends to help make that happen. I think we’re going to get there. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be the farm bill, would it? So we’re going to get there.”

Meanwhile, Richard Simon and Michael A. Memoli reported earlier this week at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Congressional negotiators rejected an effort, led by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), to prevent California from requiring eggs sold in the Golden State to be produced under standards that give hens enough room to spread their wings.

“King, who hails from the top egg-producing state, had persuaded the Republican-controlled House to include in its farm bill a measure to prohibit a state from interfering with another state’s production of agricultural products. He contended the California law infringed on Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce by imposing conditions on farmers who want to sell eggs in the nation’s most populous state.”

In other Farm Bill news, Kristina Peterson and Jesse Newman reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A five-year farm bill is expected to pass the House on Wednesday, providing the latest evidence of the waning influence of the House GOP’s most conservative flank.

Last June, a revolt by conservative House Republicans derailed the farm bill, forcing House leaders to double the cuts to the food-stamp program and sever its traditional link to agricultural subsidies. Seven months and one bruising government shutdown later, House leaders have now thrown their weight behind a bipartisan deal that reunites farm programs and food-stamp funding, whose cuts have shrunk to around $8 billion from the nearly $40 billion approved by the House in September.”

The Journal article noted that, “For House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), the bill’s passage Wednesday would mark a double triumph, reasserting some control over the rebellious conservatives who have complicated his life and notching a rare policy victory in the bill’s dairy-program overhaul, long an area of deep personal concern.”

The Journal writers added that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Tuesday he expects the farm bill to pass the Senate after the chamber completes work on a flood insurance measure.”

And, The Wall Street Journal editorial board included a negative piece on the Farm Bill in today’s paper.

 

Immigration

Daniel Newhauser and Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “A new narrative against taking up an immigration overhaul is forming in House conservative circles: Just look at the farm bill.

“Some Republicans feel they were steamrolled by the farm bill conference report — a five-year, $1 trillion bill that will see House action on Wednesday — and it is now giving them pause about passing immigration bills in the House.”

The Roll Call article indicated that, “Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., raised the concern Tuesday in a closed-door conference meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee. The House passed agriculture legislation that split what he called the ‘unholy alliance’ of agriculture and nutrition policy, namely the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

“When the bill came back from conference with the Senate, however, the two sections were fused again. Rather than cutting $40 billion from SNAP, it slashes $8 billion, leading some House members to think something similar could happen with an immigration overhaul, even if they pass the piecemeal bills leadership is considering.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writers Elizabeth Campbell and Megan Durisin reported yesterday that, “Near the confluence of the Merced rand San Joaquin rivers, the heart of the California farm belt, Bob Kelley watches the driest year ever erode water supplies and prospects for the dairy business his family began in 1910.”

The article noted that, “The drought is another blow to dairies, by far the state’s largest agricultural business with 2012 revenue of $6.9 billion, producing 20 percent of the nation’s milk output. Farmers have been struggling with losses or less profit as feed costs surged to a record two years ago, outpacing milk prices, according to Michael Marsh, the Chief Executive Officer of Western United Dairymen, a Modesto-based trade association.”

Scott Gold reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that,  “Not only did numerous places in California suffer their driest year on record in 2013; it wasn’t even close. In San Francisco, the driest year was 1917, when 9 inches of rain fell; in 2013, it was about 51/2 inches. San Luis Obispo County typically receives almost 2 feet of rain each year; that fell to 41/2 inches in 2013, obliterating the previous record of 7 inches, set in 1898.

“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 62.7% of the state has suddenly tumbled into ‘extreme’ drought conditions.”

In news regarding trade issues, Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “President Obama pushed for increased trade on Tuesday night to help U.S. business grow and hire more workers.”

The update noted that, “‘New trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs,’ he said.

“To that end, the president urged Congress to pass fast-track authority, which is designed to help smooth passage of any trade deals that may arrive on Capitol Hill this year.”

And Tom Lutey reported yesterday at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “To understand why Melville rancher Bill Donald follows free trade as closely as he does, one must first know the story of ‘the cow who stole Christmas.’

“It was Dec. 16, 2003. Donald and other American ranchers were beneficiaries of $3.9 billion in U.S. beef sales to foreign countries, with Japan as the biggest consumer, accounting for $1.4 billion of those sales.

“Beef exports were pushing the U.S. cattle economy to levels of success that domestic sales alone couldn’t reach. That prosperity all came crashing down after a dairy cow in Mabton, Wash., was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy — mad cow disease, a rare but known killer of animals and humans. Foreign buyers slammed their doors shut on U.S. beef faster than they could spit out a piece of gristle.”

Mr. Lutey noted that, “Now Donald is closely watching the TransPacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement including the United States and Japan, which he hopes will finally close the book on the Washington dairy cow tale. That agreement, and a TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe are on the rancher’s radar.

“‘That’s a great partnership for the U.S. cattle industry,’ Donald said of the trans-Pacific agreement. ‘The key to this is that if Europe comes in and Japan comes in, then all of their restrictions have to be OIE-based and they can’t lock us out for their own regulations. It just puts everyone on the same page with OIE guidelines.’

Asia-Pacific trade is crucial to Montana agriculture. More than 80 percent of Montana’s $1-billion-a-year wheat crop is exported to Asia-Pacific countries. For that reason, farm and ranch organizations like the Montana Grain Growers Association and Montana Farm Bureau Federation support the agreement and follow its progress closely.”

Keith Good