Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Tuesday said he’s skeptical that House Republican leaders will proceed this summer with two major pieces of legislation — a farm bill and a firearms background check bill.
“He said the farm bill remains too controversial within the Republican Conference to be cleared for floor action, despite the fact that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Monday pledged his support — along with that of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. — for bringing up the measure later this month under an open rule.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “In a strong showing of support, the U.S. Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday morning to close off debate on amendments to the farm bill and move ahead to final debate on the legislation and one more vote likely on Monday to send the bill to the House.
“Thursday’s cloture vote allowed leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee to avoid other possible changes to the legislation and broke the gridlock over just how many amendments warranted debate. Twenty-two Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting for the bill. All 22 votes opposing the cloture vote were Republicans.”
Mr. Clayton noted that, “The Senate bill would also tie conservation compliance to eligibility for crop-insurance premium subsidies. Following an amendment to the bill, people with more than $750,000 adjusted gross income would see their crop-insurance premium subsidies capped as well.”
The Senate will not be in session on Wednesday as memorial observances for the Honorable Frank R. Lautenberg, the late Senator from the State of New Jersey take place.
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money blog that, “[The cloture motion (60-vote threshold)] would create a Monday final vote on the farm bill…”
And David Rogers pointed out yesterday at Politico that, “Cloture is always a challenge, but having been through a lengthy amendment process in the last Congress, Stabenow has tried to save time — and win support — by including virtually all the major substantive provisions adopted by the Senate in floor debate a year ago.”
The Senate approved two amendments to the Farm Bill yesterday as Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted that (video replay), “I just want to thank colleagues for their diligence as we work through amendments on the Farm Bill. Our goal is to complete this by the end of the week.”
With respect to the first Farm Bill amendment passed yesterday, Ramsey Cox reported at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate approved a farm bill amendment that would require a study on risk management of growing alfalfa.
“On Monday, the Senate voted 72-18 for an amendment introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). His amendment requires the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to carry out research and development regarding a crop insurance program for alfalfa. He said his amendment had no cost to taxpayers” [related video of Sen. Moran explaining the amendment just before the vote can be viewed here, while more detailed remarks on the amendment can be seen in this news release yesterday from Sen. Moran’s office.]
AP writer Steve Karnowski reported yesterday that, “An influential Minnesota voice on agricultural policy said Wednesday that he’s hopeful Congress will pass a new farm bill this summer after efforts last year failed amid election year politics.
“U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, threatened earlier this year to sit out the process of writing a new farm bill unless he got a guarantee from House Republican leaders that they’d let the legislation come up for a floor vote this time. Peterson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s now ‘fairly comfortable’ with the assurances he’s received from Speaker John Boehner and others, so his name will be on the bill when it’s unveiled later this week.”
The article noted that, “Peterson said Boehner made it clear to him in their recent discussions that ‘he wanted to get this over with.’ And he noted that Majority Leader Eric Cantor said late last week that the House will vote on it this summer. Peterson said he’s optimistic that he and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will be able to keep the bill close to what the committee passes and get it into a conference committee where they’ll resolve the differences with the Democratic-controlled Senate’s version.
“The Senate’s version won’t cut SNAP as much as the House version, and Peterson said they’ll need to work out that difference. But he said he expects the most difficult problem to reconcile will be the different approaches between the House and Senate bills toward restructuring crop subsidy programs.”
Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Congress will begin writing a new, $500 billion farm law next week, the head of the Senate Agriculture Committee said on Tuesday, even as calls mounted for deeper cuts in farm subsidies and food stamp spending.
“The Senate panel has scheduled a bill-drafting session for May 14. Its House of Representatives counterpart, unofficially, aims to start writing its version on May 15.”
Mr. Abbott noted that, “Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, has said the Senate bill would cut farm bill outlays by $23 billion over 10 years. The House bill is expected to aim for savings of $35 billion over a decade.”
“Stabenow’s proposal would shave $4 billion from food stamps, compared with the $20 billion that House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, has targeted,” yesterday’s article said.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “With new leadership promises of floor time, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas is back with a retooled farm bill that sets a goal of $38 billion in 10-year savings while tilting more to the right by demanding greater cuts from food stamps.”
The Politico article noted that, “Since Lucas’ last farm bill was shut down by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in December, the March 1 sequestration order has already begun cutting into commodity programs, and his $38 billion target assumes about $4 billion from these reductions.
“An additional $14 billion would come now from further changes in basic farm programs and the remaining $20 billion from the nutrition title, chiefly food stamps.
“Lucas stressed that he is still waiting for final scores from the Congressional Budget Office: ‘My staff are jumping from one foot to the next.’ But his hope is to keep faith with promised assistance for livestock producers while finding the added savings he needs from trims elsewhere in the commodity and crop insurance titles.”
Yesterday’s article added that, “‘Remember there are three tiers of issues here: committee issues, floor issues and there will be conference issues,’ [Chairman Lucas] said. ‘I just have to get to conference to sort out some issues.’”
Chris Clayton reported on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently won’t press another pause button on the farm bill.
“Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, sent a memo out Friday to other House Republicans. In it, Cantor outlined several key agenda items for the spring and summer, including another repeal vote on Obamacare, legislation to avoid rising interest rates for student loans and a bill to require the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct more cost-benefit analysis for rule-making.
“In his memo, Cantor also stated on the summer agenda ‘and we will consider a farm bill produced by the Agriculture Committee and Frank Lucas.’”
Mr. Clayton added that, “The House Ag Committee is set for a May 15 markup for the farm bill and shooting to reduce the projected 10-year spending by $38 billion compared to current budget estimates.”
A Purdue Universitynews release indicated yesterday that, “Last year, farmers didn’t have nearly enough rain for their wilted, drought-ravaged crops. So far this year, they have too much of it – so much that they can’t get into their fields to work them for planting.”
The update explained that, “[Purdue Extension agronomist Tony Vyn] advises farmers anxious to get into their fields not to succumb to three common tillage temptations: tilling too early or too often and when it’s too wet. He says farmers need to be patient and wait for a break in the weather.
“That break will come, but slowly. The outlook for the first half of May is continued frequent rainfall with below-normal temperatures for Indiana, said the State Climate Office, based at Purdue University. Both temperature and rainfall should moderate to more typical May conditions later in the month… [W]hen farmers do get into their fields, [Purdue Extension corn specialist Bob Nielsen] says 25 percent to 30 percent of the corn crop could be planted in a week and the rest of it a week later – still in time for maximum yield potential.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas is planning a farm bill that will cut $38 billion in spending over 10 years, $3 billion more than last year, with $20 billion coming from the food stamps account and $18 billion from the rest of the bill.
“Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, has scheduled a markup of the bill on May 15. The proposed $38 billion cut would make it easier to get the bill through the Republican-controlled House, but the large food stamp cut — $20 billion compared with $16.5 billion last year — will make it difficult for House Democrats to support it, and it would make a conference with the Senate more difficult.
“The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to cut $23 billion over 10 years, the same as last year. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said she wants to mark up a bill in May, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that he wants to bring it to the floor in May.”
Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Lucas did not provide details on how the $18 billion would be divided among the other titles of the bill.
“But he did say that the commodity title would have the same basis as last year, which would mean elimination of the direct payments program, which costs $4.9 billion per year. The bill would create two new farm programs: a shallow-loss program to pay for losses not covered by crop insurance or a program with payments when crop prices fall below target prices.”
In an update Friday House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) stated: “Take a road trip across our country and you’ll easily see the diversity of American agriculture. Our farmers produce different crops, employ different growing techniques, and face unique market and weather risks.
“Despite these differences, our farmers have at least one thing in common: a belief that crop insurance is a vital risk management tool that must be preserved.
“Farmers borrow more money in a single year than most Americans will borrow in a lifetime just to produce a crop. The recent drought across the country can attest to the fact that when a farmer loses a crop due to a natural disaster, it’s likely that every farmer in that area is suffering the same loss.”
Chairman Lucas pointed out, “Meanwhile, crop insurance has been on the front line of budget savings: $17 billion worth over the past five years, even before sequestration.”
John Mason reported yesterday at The Register Star (Hudson, N.Y.) Online that, “A bill that would help young people get a foothold in farming was announced at Hawthorne Valley Farm Monday.
“U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson [R., N.Y.] pledged to lead the effort to include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act in the Farm Bill.
“The bill is renewed every five years, and is due for renewal this year. If the act is included in the bill, it would mean about $55 million a year, Gibson said, spent in such areas as training new farmers, grants for marketing, business planning and creation of value-added products, loans for land purchase and farm startup, conservation easements to keep land affordable for working farmers, and aid to returning veterans wishing to get into farming.”
Policy Issues: Crop Insurance, CRP, Nutrition, Animal Production (Antibiotics), and Disaster Declaration
Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Crop insurance indemnities have risen to a record $17 billion for 2012 crop year, the U.S. Agriculture Department said in its latest report issued on Monday.
“The figure, which was up more than $700 million from the prior week, pushed the total for 2012 to $16.99 billion. The number is higher than 2011 when a series of natural disasters ranging from a freeze in Florida to drought in Texas prompted insurance companies to pay out a record $10.8 billion to farmers, short of the $12 billion they collected in premiums.
“The 2012 drought spread beyond the Midwest to affect more than 60 percent of the contiguous United States, making it the worst since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. A sharp drop in crop yields pushed corn and soybean prices to record highs during the summer and costs to feed U.S. livestock soared, forcing ranchers to send their herds to slaughter rather than pay the higher feed costs.”
Rob Schultz reported earlier this week at Madison (Wis.) Online that, “The number of state farmers buying crop insurance this year could increase 15 percent after last year’s drought showed how well the program worked.”
“‘Just cropping the land is getting more and more and more expensive, and there’s so much more risk out there from the inputs compared to what your return is. That used to be widening, now it’s narrowing,’ [Michelle Austin, director of insurance services for Badgerland Financial] said.”
Ellyn Ferguson reported on Saturday at Roll Call Online that, “Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, the new ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, could be the wild card among the congressional players involved in writing a farm bill that could have a chance of being signed into law this year.
“He took the top GOP seat at the start of the 113th Congress after asserting his seniority on the panel to move Pat Roberts of Kansas out of the spot. The change means not only new leadership but also a regional shift in power that is likely to alter the Senate farm bill’s direction.
“Cochran is expected to champion Southern growers who opposed the 2012 Senate farm bill written by Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Despite opposition from Cochran and other Southern Republican committee members, the two leaders got the bill through the panel and the Senate floor with bipartisan support.”
The Roll Call article pointed out that, “On nutrition issues, Cochran may surprise those who want to see significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a domestic food aid program for low-income people that constitutes more than half of all Agriculture Department and farm bill spending. The lawmaker says federal food programs such as SNAP and the national school lunch program have benefited his state, which ranks among the poorest in the nation.”
“So far, Cochran, a veteran of the Senate and a courtly practitioner of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, is keeping his farm bill plans to himself. He says he will seek consensus on a committee bill and does not plan to block or delay the legislation,” the Roll Call article said.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Thursday that he will move ahead a farm bill markup May 15 despite pressure from the Republican leadership to take more time first and consider tougher changes in the food stamp program to win over conservative votes.
“Lucas told POLITICO that he was fully prepared to hold listening sessions first with the Republican whip’s office over the next month. But he wants to keep to his schedule and produce a bipartisan bill together with his ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
“‘They suggested I take a little more time,’ Lucas said of a meeting Thursday with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his top staff. ‘I said I wanted to go May 15 but would be happy to hold the listening sessions to hear what my colleagues think.’”
Mr. Rogers added that, “As the floor leader, Cantor is said to be worried still about the ability to win over conservative support for any farm bill, and Lucas has felt pressure from the leadership to steer more to the right and consider tougher work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries, for example.”
Several lawmakers highlighted farm policy related legislation this week.
A news release from Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) yesterday indicated that, “[Rep. Noem] introduced legislation today to provide a dependable safety net for livestock owners in South Dakota and across the United States. The Livestock Disaster Protection Act would extend the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill for five years, as well as retroactive coverage for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.”
“Rep. Noem will work with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas to include these provisions in the new Farm Bill, which is expected to be drafted in the coming weeks,” the release added.
Similarly, an update Tuesday from Sens. Mark Udall (D., Colo.) and Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) stated that, “[Sens. Udall and Enzi] urged the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee to ensure that permanent livestock disaster assistance is included in the 2013 Farm Bill. Ranchers across the country need access to a strong and permanent safety net in light of the severe ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West. A robust livestock insurance program, Udall and Enzi argued in their bipartisan letter, will give ranchers and cattle operators the assurance they need to continue to boost local economies and feed the nation.”