Marisa Schultz reported yesterday at the Detroit News Online that, “After a 16-day government shutdown, Congress kicked off two high-stakes budget negotiations last week to hash out differences — and Michigan’s Sen. Debbie Stabenow is the only elected official in 535-seat Congress who sits at both negotiating tables.
“The budget and farm bill conference committees are two small, bipartisan, bicameral negotiating teams working under tight deadlines to prove there is still some compromise left in Washington. In the thick of the challenge is Stabenow, the Lansing Democrat.”
An update posted on Saturday at FOX 34 News (KJTV-TV- Lubbock, Tex.) Online reported that, “Representative Frank Lucas [R., Okla.], chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, toured the food safety lab at Texas Tech [on Saturday]. The ag committee is crafting a five-year farm bill. Lucas said a key component of that bill is agricultural research.”
The update indicated that, “‘It’s time to work out all the details,’ Lucas said. ‘I think we can do that, even with less money to spend. But, remember the fundamental principle that I offered all my colleagues back east, the farm bill is still about making sure we have enough to eat and enough fiber to wear. If it’s going to be a federal farm bill, it has to be something where it is the safety network for all commodity groups and all regions. That’s what we’re pushing hard on, and not everybody agrees on that, but I think we’re going to get there.’”
A related audio clip from the Fox 34 News report can be heard here (MP3- 1:00).
House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was a guest on Friday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the discussion focused on the Farm Bill.
An unofficialFarmPolicy.com transcript of the AgriTalk discussion is available here.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “The U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 were given one year to come to an agreement on a long-term farm bill. They’re not getting another, said United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“‘There is no support for an extension in the Senate. It just simply rewards failure, and this needs to get done. Everybody in the countryside knows it needs to get done,’ Vilsack said following a town hall hearing on what he calls the food, farm and jobs bill Saturday morning at the Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant.”
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) spoke yesterday with Ramey Cozart on KKBS radio (Guymon, Okla.) and was asked: “What’s the No. 1 thing affecting production agriculture right now?”
In response, Chairman Lucas provided a general overview of the economic and policy landscape by breaking down the outlook into short, medium and long-term perspectives.
“Well, in the short term it’s still weather issues, for the next few weeks and months. Is it going to continue to rain on the Corn Belt? Are we going to stay green for the rest of the fall? Will we be able to put a wheat crop in the ground?
“In the longer run, the real question is about the farm bill. We’re operating now in the sixth year of a five-year farm bill. Will I be able to go to conference in September? Can I work out the differences with the Senate and get a farm bill on the books? Because remember, while most farmers and ranchers know that the biggest part of the money in the farm bill is food stamps now, nonetheless the farm bill is the commodity title, it’s crop insurance, it’s the conservation programs, it’s CRP and rural development and farm credit, all those things.
“The farm bill is very important, especially if Mother Nature decides that the last few weeks of green is just temporary and we go back to drought conditions next year and the year after, or world markets take a hiccup, the Chinese stop buying imports, what that does to demand, or just a whole myriad of things. So putting the farm bill on the books is, in the intermediate, the next most important thing.”
Chairman Lucas explained that, “And if you just want to talk about a long ways down the road, the trade agreements that are going on, because right now the President’s proposed, and it’s a legitimate thing, proposed trying to negotiate with the European Union a trade agreement to open up imports and exports to a greater degree with the Europeans and with the Pacific Rim countries, they’re trying to negotiate that. That’s all the way from New Zealand around to Japan, for instance.
But the thing on trade agreements is it’s not just trade—is it fair? By that are the tariffs really the same for stuff going in and out of the country? Will the people we deal with in other countries standardize what they refer to as phytosanitary standards? Will they grade and deal with bug and pest and variety issues in a fair and equitable fashion? If trade is fair, these trade agreements, if they can be concluded, in the long run will open up more markets to us, but it’s got to be fair. Not just free, it’s got to be fair.
“So in the short run it’s the weather, intermediate it’s passing the farm bill, in the long run it’s still these trade deals with the rest of the world.”
As a side note, Katie Smith reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that Chairman Lucas was tied for fifth in a “top ten tally members of Congress with the most town halls scheduled this month.”
Yesterday, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) appeared on “NOW with Alex Wagner,” the MSNBC television program and discussed the Farm Bill. A replay of this discussion has been posted at FarmPolicy.com Online.
With respect to a way forward on the Farm Bill, Chairwoman Stabenow indicated that: “In my judgment, I am not going to allow—I will do everything in my power to stop just a temporary continuation like was done last year. Why? Because all of the subsidies these guys say they want to end that they don’t support would continue under a continuation budget. We’d have no savings; we would have no reforms.
“All of those things that they talk about would be eliminated and we would just continue with the old way, spending way too much money on the wrong things, and things like local food systems, organics, fruits and vegetables, healthy foods in schools, would not have the funding to continue. So I don’t support that. They need to get the job done.”
And Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture.com that, “Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday that he supports the Senate not extending the 2008 farm law again in order to keep pressure on the House of Representatives to pass a new farm bill.”
Mr. Looker noted that, “Grassley, who is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, indicated Tuesday that resistance to another extension is coming from the committee’s leader.
“‘I had a discussion with Chairwoman [Debbie] Stabenow (D-MI) and she said I could quote her that she said she’s not going to extend the farm bill for another year,’ Grassley said.
“Not extending current law holds out the possibility that permanent farm bill legislation, dating back to 1949 and earlier, could kick in sometime after the current fiscal year ends on September 30.”
An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its first snapshot of the budget projections for 2014 and beyond on Tuesday. The snapshot includes projections for federal farm bill spending. The final version of the projections, which will be published in late March, will be the version that is used for determining the costs and savings of competing budget resolutions and farm bill proposals to be debated later this year. As a general rule, though, there are only rarely big differences between the early snapshot and the final projections.”
The NSAC update noted that, “The 2012 debate on a new farm bill used the March 2012 CBO baseline as its measuring rod. Compared to that March 2012 baseline, several items stand out in the new version.
“First, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as the food stamp program, is projected to decline in cost by almost $8 billion in the next five years and by nearly $12 billion over the coming decade, relative to last year’s projection. Those are decreases of 1.9 and 1.5 percent, respectively.”
“Second, CBO projects a decline in the cost of the crop insurance program, by close to $3 billion over the next decade relative to last year’s projection. The insurance subsidies would still cost close to $9 billion a year, according to CBO.”
Yesterday’s NSAC analysis pointed out that, “Third, the current suite of commodity programs are projected to increase in cost by $1.6 billion over the next 10 years relative to last year’s projection. The increase is largely due to projected increases in Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) payments for corn, soybeans, and wheat and projected increases in counter cyclical payments for cotton. Dairy program costs drop dramatically after the current one-year extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program — included as part of the short-term farm bill extension enacted at the beginning of January — expires at the end of this year.”
Kevin Robillard reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus wants to protect an estate tax reduction from any deal averting the fiscal cliff, according to his hometown newspaper.
“Baucus told the Great Falls Tribune in an interview Sunday that he wants to keep the Bush-era rate for estate taxes in order to protect ranchers and farmers who pass their properties on to their children.
“‘…Baucus is working to preserve a reduction in estate taxes that exempts the first $5 million of an estate’s value for individuals and taxes the remainder at 35 percent,’ the paper wrote, but didn’t include direct quotes from Baucus on the topic.”
Yesterday, in his weekly column, Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) indicated that, “The estate taxcurrently provides an exemption for all estates valued at $5 million or less. Anything valued in excess of $5 million is taxed at a rate of 35 percent when it is passed to beneficiaries. If this tax policy is left unaddressed, those rates will significantly change come January. The exemption will drop to $1 million, with anything above that taxed at a staggering 55 percent. A $1 million threshold might seem like a lot, but rising farmland prices are pushing the value of ag operations into the stratosphere. The average price for an acre of farmland has ballooned from $1,503 in 2010 to $2,425 today, according to the University of Nebraska Department of Agricultural Economics. Nebraska’s average farm size is 966 acres. Thus, one could estimate the average farm value based on land alone at more than $2.3 million, well above the lowered exemption.
“Farmers and ranchers, many of whom have had land in their families for generations, should not be forced to pay Uncle Sam more than half the value of their estate. And producers should not be forced to sell land to avoid the impacts of the fiscal cliff. Unfortunately, I’ve already heard from Nebraskans who are facing this very dilemma.”
David Shepardson reported yesterday at The Detroit News Online that, “Sen. Debbie Stabenow says she is optimistic Congress will pass disaster assistance for farmers facing a record drought if the House doesn’t approve a farm bill.
“The Lansing Democrat and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee said she’s been working during the congressional recess to try to get the House to act on farm reform legislation.”
An update posted yesterday at The Oklahoma Farm Report Online reported that, “Work continues on the House version of the 2012 Farm Bill, and Congressman Frank Lucas took some time to speak with Ron Hays about the progress that has been made to date and how the process will continue.
“Lucas says that he has had the opportunity to read the version recently passed in the Senate. He says there are major differences in approach between the Senate and House versions.
“‘They have a bill that is very focused on crop insurance. It is very heavy on the crop revenue side which my economists on the House Agriculture Committee assure me will be good for the folks in corn and bean country in the Midwest. They’ve got a bill that is very frugal in its savings on the nutrition side. They save about $4 billion through reforms. The nutrition programs are about 80 percent of all farm bill spending. They have a bill that imposes a variety of other things, some conservation requirements on crop insurance and things like that.’”
Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that would prevent Congress from considering an increase in the debt ceiling unless both the House and Senate have approved a concurrent budget resolution, something the Senate has not done in nearly three years.
“Lamborn announced his bill as the House was debating whether to accept President Obama’s request to increase the debt ceiling by another $1.2 trillion. The House voted to disapprove of Obama’s request, but the Senate is not expected to follow suit, making the debt ceiling hike inevitable.
“Lamborn said his bill would at least require a budget to be in place before these debt-ceiling increases can occur.”
Meanwhile, yesterday’s Need-to-Know Daily Email from National Journal reported that, “Asked in a mid-afternoon briefing on Wednesday if President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would factor into ongoing negotiations to extend the payroll-tax cut and other tax provisions, a visibly angry House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said ‘all options are on the table,’ adding: ‘This fight is not over – you can count on it.’”
Forrest Laws reported on Friday at the Delta Farm Press Online that, “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ farm bill approach may no longer be a good fit for agriculture, and it certainly doesn’t fit the rice industry.
“That seemed to be the gist of the comments made at a panel on ‘Farm Policy Outlook and Analysis: Where We Are and What that Means for Rice’ at this morning’s session of the USA Rice Federation’s annual Outlook Conference in Austin, Texas.
“The mini-farm bill proposal submitted by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to the Select Committee on Deficit Reduction included a provision for target prices that could be used to provide revenue insurance coverage for the row crop commodities.”
Josh Gerstein reported yesterday at Politico that, “The supercommittee’s failure may have unleashed a round of doom and gloom over the past week about Washington’s ability to tackle the debt problem. But Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) struck a sunnier note Sunday, saying he believes Republicans and Democrats could agree to a major deficit-reduction package next year.
“‘We have a good chance of actually getting the big package, big deficit reduction in 2012,’ Schumer said on NBC’s ‘Meet The Press’, repeatedly billing his own analysis as ‘a contrarian view.’
“‘The knives … are over our heads. The Bush tax cuts expire in 2013. Sequestration goes into effect in 2013. Now that seems a year and a month away, but as we get closer and closer and closer, the pressure on both parties to come together in the middle — provided we don’t remove one of those knives, like taking defense off the table — is going to be stronger and stronger,’ Schumer said.”
Erik Wasson and John T. Bennett reported on Wednesday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The supercommittee’s failure is widely expected to punt critical decisions on taxes and spending to the lame-duck Congress in December 2012, which could end up being one of the busiest ever.
“At the top of the list are the Bush tax rates now set to expire at the end of the next year.
“Efforts to cancel or mitigate the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts triggered by the failure may also be decided in the lame-duck.”
A news release yesterday from American Farmland Trust (AFT) stated that, “A national coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land. The coalition outlined a set of key principles [PDF] that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.
“The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:
“- Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.
- Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.
- Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.
- Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.
- Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance. “
The AFT release added that, “The 2011 Survey on Agriculture and Environment [PDF] conducted on behalf of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, shows clearly that Americans overwhelmingly view conservation as an important priority in national farm policy and don’t want to see conservation programs cut.”
Yesterday on the AgriTalk Radio program with Mike Adams, guest host and AgriTalk producer John Herath interviewed Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The interesting discussion, which can be heard here (MP3- 11:07), provided an excellent overview and analysis of current farm policy issues including: The recently passed House Appropriations Bill, the 2012 Farm bill, last week’s Senate vote on ethanol subsidies, prospects on the Senate Appropriations process, as well as federal deficit issues and the negotiations over the debt limit that are being spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden.
Robin Bravender reported last night at Politico that, “Top Cabinet officials insisted Thursday that the White House hasn’t forgotten rural America, despite critics’ claims that the administration is pursuing policies that will hurt farmers and small businesses.
“President Barack Obama signed an executive order Thursday establishing a White House Rural Council aimed at boosting job creation and economic development in rural areas.
“But key administration officials said Obama has had rural America’s back all along.”