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.”
Agricultural Economy: U.S. Drought Impacts Persist
A news release yesterday from USDA stated that, “As the Obama Administration continues to support farmers and businesses impacted by the drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a two-month extension for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, freeing up forage and feed for ranchers as they look to recover from this challenging time.”
Yesterday’s release added that, “The Secretary today also designated 147 additional counties in 14 states as natural disaster areas-128 counties in 10 states due to drought. In the past seven weeks, USDA has designated 1,892 unduplicated counties in 38 states as disaster areas- 1,820 due to drought [related graph]-while USDA officials have fanned out to more than a dozen drought-affected states as part of a total U.S. government effort to offer support and assistance to those in need.”
Mike Adams asked Rep. Peterson, “What do you think is going to happen when you get back in session in September? Are you going to get a bill done?”
The Minnesota Democrat noted that, “We’re trying. We’re trying. We’re using August here to see if we can narrow the differences and get language written and get language scored and so forth so that when we get back, if there’s motivation to move this thing, we’re in a position to do it. But it’s kind of going slow at this point, but we’re trying, we’re pushing.”
Rep. Peterson added that, “I think what people are hoping for is that people will get an earful when they’re home for August and come back on September 10th with a number of members putting pressure on their leadership to try to get this thing moved.”
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in an interview with The Hill this week, said demands by the House GOP for deep cuts especially for food stamps now constitute the top obstacle for passage of a 2012 farm bill by September when current farm programs expire.
“Vilsack offered some praise for the version of the farm bill that passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee last week, even though it contains about $9 billion less in deficit reduction than President Obama had sought in his latest budget.
“He said the differences with the president pale in comparison to the differences with the House.”
Gardiner Harris reported in today’s New York Times that, “Farmers and ranchers will for the first time need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals, in hopes that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the drugs’ overuse.
“The Food and Drug Administration announced the new rule Wednesday after trying for more than 35 years to stop farmers and ranchers from feeding antibiotics to cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals simply to help the animals grow larger. Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected but cannot be treated with routine antibiotic therapy.”
Farm Bill: Revenue Loss Assistance Program- Regional Policy Perspectives
A news release yesterday from Sen. Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) indicated that, “Senators Kent Conrad and John Hoeven [R., N.D.] met with agricultural and agribusiness leaders from across North Dakota today to detail bipartisan legislation they crafted that will maintain a critical safety net for North Dakota farmers and serve as a major component of a new Farm Bill.
“‘We are facing serious budget constraints that make the development of this new Farm Bill more challenging than anything we’ve seen in the past,’ Senator Conrad said. ‘Senator Hoeven and I carefully crafted our legislation with the help of North Dakota’s producers. They told us that we need to maintain a strong crop insurance program. This legislation does just that while also contributing to deficit reduction.’
“‘Producers throughout our state have been telling us that good crop insurance is the foundation of a strong farm safety net and their number one priority,’ Hoeven said. ‘That is just what we have worked to craft in this bipartisan legislation, which is the most cost-effective approach that will enable us to save money to help reduce the deficit, while providing our farmers and ranchers with strong support.’”
Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson told members of the National Farmers Union on Sunday he was optimistic about chances for passing a farm bill this year, but there are hurdles such as a push for steeper cuts in the agriculture budget.
“Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota, spoke Sunday night as the National Farmers Union opened its 110th annual convention in Omaha.
“The Senate and House Agriculture Committees are operating under the assumption that they will cut $23 billion out of the baseline spending on agricultural programs over the next 10 years. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has not committed to a number and President Obama’s budget proposal last month aimed for closer to $32 billion in agricultural cuts. The president’s budget proposal may push other lawmakers to demand even more cuts from the Agriculture Committees.”
A news release yesterday from Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) stated that, “[Rep. Neugebauer] issued the following statement today regarding the Crop Risk Options Plan (CROP) Act, [H.R. 3107] which he introduced in the House of Representatives on October 5, 2011. This bill would give producers new options for federal crop insurance:
“‘This bill builds on a concept I introduced as part of the last farm bill that would enable producers to insure crops against shallow losses, which can be 25-30% of a farmer’s expected production. These shallow losses do not always trigger an indemnity with the existing multi-peril insurance plans, which can quickly add up across several thousand acres on the modern family farm. This bill’s county-level trigger for area plans would closely mirror a farmer’s production. This bill would also change the way the Risk Management Agency (RMA) determines yield histories, moving from a 10-year average to a seven-year Olympic average. This modification would result in yield histories that more closely follow the actual yield levels of modern crop production practices.
“‘I believe this bill would enhance the current crop insurance program for farmers as they face weather risks. I am committed to ensuring farmers and ranchers have cost-effective crop insurance options that work.’”
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.”
Greenwire writer Jean Chemnick reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “The first eight months of 2011 have been a difficult time for American farmers, who have seen their operations disrupted by an endless stream of snowstorms, floods, droughts and record heat affecting regions across the country.
“As a result, farmers and their trade associations are telling Washington they need a more robust crop insurance safety net, making disaster relief a top ask for the 2012 farm bill. They are also hoping that insurance programs are spared in this autumn’s deficit-reduction talks.
“Still, agriculture groups are reluctant to link their new emphasis on risk management to the weather events of the past few years, and they reject outright the notion that they are trying to insulate themselves from climate change.”
Dan Piller reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “The Iowa Farm Bureau’s policy conference reversed itself Wednesday morning. After lengthy debate and a multitude of motions, the group approved a resolution stating that compliance with conservation programs not be a condition for purchasing federally subsidized insurance programs.
“The new resolution reads ‘the Iowa Farm Bureau supports conservation compliance; however, eligibility for federal crop insurance should not be subject to farm program conservation requirements.’
“If federal direct payments to farmers are eliminated by congress, as is widely expected, federal agriculture and environmental regulators would be left without a compliance requirement if conservation compliance were not added to insurance eligibility. Such compliance was linked to farm insurance for decades but removed in 1996.”
Alicia M. Cohn reported yesterday at The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room that, “Republicans in the House and Senate are working ahead of the formation of the bicameral deficit-reduction ‘supercommittee’ to guarantee increased transparency in the committee’s process.
“In a letter sent Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a group of six GOP senators requested that the supercommittee meetings not take place ‘behind closed doors.’
“The letter asks that Reid and McConnell, who each will appoint three members of the Senate to the 12-member committee, see that all meetings of the deficit-reduction committee ‘are done in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts.’”
Farm Bill: Budget Issues- Potential for Mixed Incentives in Agriculture Deal Making
Robert Pear reported in today’s New York Times that, “Republicans and Democrats maneuvered for advantage on Wednesday in the next battle over federal spending, trying to influence the choice of members and frame the agenda for a powerful ‘supercommittee’ that is supposed to recommend at least $1.5 trillion of additional deficit reduction measures…Congressional leaders have two weeks to name panel members. Names of candidates were circulating Wednesday on Capitol Hill, and some lawmakers have been quietly promoting themselves or their friends for spots on the 12-member panel, which will consist of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats from the House and the Senate.”
The Times article pointed out that, “Congressional leaders say this panel has a better chance than many of its predecessors because the debt deal creates a strong incentive for bipartisan agreement: If the committee fails to agree or to win approval for a plan from the House and the Senate, the government will automatically cut $1.2 trillion over 10 years from hundreds of military and nonmilitary programs, biting deeply into the priorities of both parties.”
Nonetheless, in an interview yesterday with FarmPolicy.com, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) indicated that the incentives stemming from automatic cuts may not necessarily provide a clear impetus for deal making- particularly in the case of some aspects of Farm Bill spending.
Jake Sherman reported on Friday at Politico that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Republican lawmakers in a memo Friday what to expect for the rest of the summer, including votes on three stalled trade agreements, action on an intelligence bill, and movement throughout the summer on the debt ceiling…[C]antor did not let on to when he thinks there will be a vote to raise the statutory debt ceiling — the major issue of the next two months. He said he expects action ‘throughout the summer.’”
More specifically on the debt ceiling issue, Carl Hulse reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “As hard as it may be for lawmakers and the White House to reach an agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling in the coming weeks, striking a budget bargain is just the beginning of the real work.
“When and if bipartisan talks being overseen by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. produce some combination of spending cuts, major program changes and revenue increases, the House and Senate must then assemble those various agreements into legislative form and approve them.
“While many members of Congress might like the overall framework of any budget deal, some are sure to balk at the legislative detail required to wring money out of popular programs like farm subsidies, Medicaid and Medicare or to force federal retirees to kick in more of their own money for their pensions.”