Lisa Mascaro reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times that, “For nearly 20 hours, senators considered more than 600 amendments, from lofty to less so, and voted on dozens. The marathon vote-a-rama did not end until just before dawn Saturday, when Democrats stumbled across the finish line and passed their first federal budget plan in four years.
“In a final squeaker, the chamber voted 50 to 49 to approve a $3.7-trillion budget blueprint that would raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, trim spending, invest new revenue to build infrastructure and tamp down the federal deficit.”
Suzy Khimm, writing on Saturday at the Wonk Blog (The Washington Post), provided “a list of nearly all the amendments that were filed, with the ones that were actually voted on in bold”– click here to view the list.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Congress approved and sent to the White House on Thursday a stopgap spending bill to avert any threat of a government shutdown next week and keep agencies funded through September in the wake of automatic cuts ordered under sequestration.
“Final passage came on a 318-109 vote in the House, as top Republicans opted to embrace significant changes approved by the Senate on Wednesday rather than risk further delay.”
Today on the House floor, Rep. John Shimkus (IL-15) asked questions about the price of RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) in a brief one-minute speech.
In part, he noted that, “There are questions that need to be asked on why such a swift, dramatic price shifts are being reported in the market. Are speculators at work?
“There is an excess of over 2 billion RINs, why is that not proving and providing stability? I encourage the media to ask these types of questions- but to simply jump out and blame the renewable fuels sector is incorrect.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “A far-reaching six-month funding bill cleared the Senate on Wednesday afternoon after final adjustments were made for the meat industry to forestall the planned furloughs of food safety inspectors this summer in the wake of sequestration.
“The measure goes next to the House, which is expected to give its quick approval Thursday so as to avoid any threat of a government shutdown when the current continuing resolution runs out March 27.
“The final 73-26 Senate roll call followed a 63-36 vote in which 10 Republicans — nine of them from the Senate Appropriations Committee — again provided pivotal support. And the eight days of floor debate signaled a renewal of that bipartisan partnership that has been historically important in moving legislation through the Senate.”
Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled a cloture vote on the continued spending resolution for Wednesday morning.
“Around 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday the Senate will hold three votes to advance the Senate continued spending resolution, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), which sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House earlier this month.”
Yesterday’s update explained that, “The first vote will be on an amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), which would move $60 million for military investments in biofuels to operations and maintenance. He said the funds would be better used to offset sequestration cuts to military operations than for energy projects.
“The second vote will be on a substitute amendment from Mikulski and Shelby, followed by a vote on the cloture motion to end debate on H.R. 933.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “If normal weather returns, it will be a record corn crop this year with a $2 drop in prices, according to new baseline market projections released Friday by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute [related press release, full report].
“The report by FAPRI, an economics group at the University of Missouri, parallels many of the production forecasts released last month at the USDA Outlook Forum, though FAPRI offers higher price projections for producers in some key crops such as corn and soybeans.
“In its summary, FAPRI states in 2014 and beyond average grain and oilseed prices will stay at levels seen this year, but above the average prices seen by producers before 2007.”
Alan K. Ota reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The Senate is expected to defeat Thursday competing Democratic and Republican alternatives to the $85.3 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled to begin Friday.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposes to replace the percentage cuts imposed by a provision of the 2011 debt limit agreement with a package of revenue increases and alternative savings [Congressional Budget Office score of this plan available here, while a more detailed discussion of the specific agricultural provisions of this package from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) can be found here].
“Senate Republicans settled late Wednesday on a sequester substitute that would give President Barack Obama until March 15 to send Congress an alternative package of targeted spending cuts. Lawmakers could block the president’s plan only by adopting within seven days a resolution of disapproval that would require Obama’s signature or the support of a veto-proof majority.”
The NSAC noted yesterday that, “Unlike the Democratic plan, the GOP plan would not address the Farm Bill.”
Damian Paletta reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal workers are expected to begin taking unpaid leave by late March or early April if the government absorbs $85 billion in spending cuts set to start March 1, according to estimates from different agencies.
“Even though the process begins March 1, many federal agencies must notify employees 30 days before beginning furloughs. That means the eventual impact of the cuts at many agencies could be slow-moving and give Congress and the White House more time to negotiate an alternative to the cuts—something both sides say they favor.”
The Journal article pointed out that, “Also causing consternation is a dispute about whether federal agencies have more flexibility than they claim to redirect the effects of the cuts.
“Federal law requires U.S. meat and poultry inspectors to be on site when plants are operating. The American Meat Institute, a group that represents the majority of the meat and poultry industry, has recently pleaded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to furlough inspectors at meat plants, worried that the plants would be temporarily shut down and production would halt. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a letter to the organization last week that such furloughs would be a ‘last option’ but ultimately unavoidable.
“USDA has said that to account for a $51 million cut in its food-safety branch, it plans to furlough meat inspectors for 15 days at more than 6,000 meat-production facilities in the U.S.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Democrats said Thursday they will move ahead with a roughly $110 billion budget package — evenly divided between new tax revenues and spending cuts — to forestall the across-the-board sequester cuts due to take effect March 1…The Nevada Democrat [Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid] hopes to bring the bill to the floor the week of Feb. 25 when senators have returned from the Presidents Day recess.”
Mr. Rogers noted that, “[The bill contains:] $27.5 billion in net spending reductions from farm programs. About $31 billion would be saved by cutting direct cash payments to producers — a system that is widely criticized at a time of high farm income. And to win support from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the bill reallocates about $3.5 billion of these savings to extend farm programs left hanging by the White House and Senate Republicans in the New Year’s tax deal.”
DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will have to furlough meat, poultry and egg product inspectors if sequestration goes into effect, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote the American Meat Institute on Tuesday. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also raised concerns about the furlough.
“AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boylehad written Vilsack and President Barack Obama that USDA has a ‘statutory obligation’ to keep FSIS inspectors on the job.”
“By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the Agriculture Department’s inspection seal.
“The prospect of mass furloughs of meat and food inspectors was part of a broader White House warning about the effects of the potential spending cuts on everyday life. Meatpackers said a shut-down would devastate consumers as well as their industry.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsackspoke yesterday at the National Ethanol Conference in Las Vegas.
During the “Q and A” portion of his remarks, in response to a question regarding the Farm Bill, Sec. Vilsack elaborated on the sequester and budget issues (audio, (MP3- 4:07), FarmPolicy.comtranscript) and noted that, “Sequester could have an impact on the farm bill, because in order to avoid sequester, some folks may say, well, you know what, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do some deficit reduction. We’re going to take some money from those farm programs and we’ll use it for deficit reduction now, not in the context of a new farm bill, but just to avoid sequester.
“But when they do that, it makes it more difficult to write that farm bill, because if you’re going to do away with direct payments and you’re going to try to save the $48 billion that direct payments represents, and you’re going to try to plow some of that back into a new system that takes care of rice producers, and cotton producers, and soybean producers, and corn producers, and wheat producers, etc., but yet you also have to have some for deficit reduction, the smaller that pie is, the more difficult it is to write those programs.”
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.”
Purdue University Agricultural Economist Chris Hurt noted yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Where Have All the Beef Cows Gone?”) that, “Cattle numbers are down again, to their lowest level since 1952, according to USDA’s recent inventory count. Beef cow numbers are at their lowest level since 1962 as the devastating impacts of the 2012 drought continues the longer-term decline. Beef cow numbers were down three percent in 2012 and 11 percent since 2007. The drivers have been high feed and forage prices, persistent drought in the Southern Plains, and of course the widespread Midwestern drought of 2012.”
Dr. Hurt added that, “What will it take to turn the herd decline around? The answeris more rain, more crop production, and more pasture and forage production. Larger crop and forage production would increase availability and lower prices of these critical feedstuffs. Given the small size of the calf crop, this would bolster calf prices. A second condition beef producers would like to see before expanding is some assurance that feed prices will have an overall moderation in coming years, not just a one year decrease.”
After additional analysis, yesterday’s farmdoc update pointed out that, “If crop and forage production returns to near normal, the cattle industry is poised for multiple years of favorable returns and expansion. However, everyone watching the ‘Drought Monitor’ knows that much of the country has not yet returned to normal weather conditions. Beef cattle producers will be poised to expand when weather conditions improve. Unfortunately for the beef industry, both poultry and pork producers are waiting at the start line as well. Those industries can expand production much more quickly and will extract market share from beef during the period from late 2013 to 2016.”
A news release yesterday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) indicated that, “[USDA- FSA] Administrator Juan Garcia today announced that beginning Feb. 5, USDA will issue payments to dairy farmers enrolled in the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program for the September 2012 marketings. The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 extended the authorization of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill) through 2013 for many programs administered by FSA, including MILC. The 2008 Farm Bill extension provides for a continuation of the MILC program through Sept. 30, 2013.”
The release added that, “The payment rate for September 2012 is approximately $0.59 per hundredweight. The payment rate for October 2012 marketings is approximately $0.02 per hundredweight. The payment rate for November 2012 marketings is zero.”
A recent editorial at Hoard’s Dairyman Online noted that, “As far as dairy is concerned, 2013 will be much of the same with renewal of the MILC program (Milk Income Loss Contract), Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP) and dairy product price supports. Unfortunately, DEIP and the dairy price support program represent outdated safety net initiatives that offer no peace of mind for dairy producers nor does it account for the escalating price of feed. That being the case, neither will generate stability under current market conditions. While MILC was renewed with a $7.35 ration adjuster at 45 percent of production, it too offers no projected support based on current futures contracts. Plus, not all milk production is eligible due to its production caps.
“In light of the legislative stalemate, the Dairy Security Act (DSA) was kicked to the wayside. While it didn’t receive praise from many processors and a few producer groups due to production controls during periods of high milk supply, it did offer margin protection or insurance based on a balanced approach of milk prices and feed costs. The DSA also represented the broadest and most public dairy producer led policy discussion our industry has seen in some time.”
Meanwhile, Jim Dickrell noted on Tuesday at AgWeb Online that, “If the farm bill is ever to pass, it will have to go through a more normal legislative process, say lobbyists who have worked on Capitol Hill for years.
“It cannot be wedged into larger budget bills that get rammed through Congress without debate.”