Janet Hook and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress is heading into the final stretch of its legislative session with a pile of year-end policy decisions before it and little time to address them.
“Lawmakers are struggling to negotiate deals on farm programs and food stamps, and on the budget for a fiscal year that began two months ago…[T]he window for joint congressional action is narrow. The House returns from Thanksgiving recess Monday, while the Senate reconvenes Dec. 9. If the House adjourns for the year as planned on Dec. 13, the two chambers will be in session simultaneously for only one week in December.”
Ron Hays, of The Oklahoma Farm Report and Radio Oklahoma Network, spoke on Friday with House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) about the Farm Bill and farm policy variables.
An audio replay and summary of the Chairman’s remarks from Friday can be found here, while an unofficial FarmPolicy.comtranscript of the conversation with Ron Hays and Chairman Lucas is available here.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Farm bill talks stumbled badly Thursday and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said it would be ‘very challenging’ now for him to meet the Republican leadership’s schedule of having a final agreement back on the House floor by Dec. 13.
“The Oklahoma Republican had been pressing hard for some framework of a deal before the Thanksgiving recess. But after three face-to-face meetings between House and Senate negotiators in less than 24 hours, the upshot seemed more a picture of frustration.
“‘Anything is possible but it is very challenging,’ Lucas said. He added that it was a ‘fair assessment’ that he had not made the progress he had hoped for this week.”
During a radio interview yesterday with J. Doug Williams (K-101-FM radio, Woodward, Okla.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) indicated that, “And I am in the process, with my senior colleagues on the House side on the Ag Committee, to try to negotiate out the differences between us and the Senate. There are three big areas of difference, and in reverse order, food stamps. The Senate wants to save about $4 billion by basically making the Northeastern states that use food stamps to help pay for their citizens’ home heating oil to stay warm in the wintertime to pay more.”
“The Senate essentially just doesn’t want to make any changes in food stamps. The House wants to do ten times as much, so working that out is going to be tough,” the Chairman added.
Chairman Lucas pointed out that, “The second area is the dairy program. The House leadership doesn’t want to do supply management, which makes the dairy insurance work better. The Senate insists on that. That’s a philosophical issue about supply management by the federal government.
“And the biggest area, the one that matters probably the most, generally, to our listeners, is the commodity title. The Senate wants to do…they’ve finally come around to the fact that you have to have a safety net that works not just for the Midwest, but for everybody else. They want a program by which, when you sign up for five years, you’re automatically covered under either version of the safety net.
“The problem is, when you take the responsibility out, you also reduce the quality of the safety net. The House perspective is we’re big boys and girls, we can make big decisions, let’s give people a choice between which way they go, let them choose for the five years. If they make the right decision, then the safety net will be stronger. If they make the wrong decision, well, they made the decision they made. So that’s a difference right now. And those are the three big things holding us up.”
“Eighty-four percent of the nation’s corn is in the bin, compared to 73% last week and a five-year average of 79%.”
The DTN article added that, “Soybean harvest advanced by five percentage points in the same week. Ninety-one percent of the nation’s crop has been cut, compared to 86% last week and a five-year average of 92%.”
Dar Danielson noted yesterday at RadioIowa Online that, “Iowa farmers are rushing to complete the corn and soybean harvest before winter sets in for good.”
Meanwhile, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Break-Even Soybean Prices: History and Projections”) that, “For farmland that is cash rented near average rent levels, break-even soybean prices have increased from near $5.00 per bushel in 2004 to around $10.70 per bushel in 2013 and 2014. Break-even prices near $10.70 will cause losses when soybean prices are below $10.70. Prices being below break-even prices are possible over the next several years.”
Tony C. Dreibus reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Soybeans rose for the fifth straight session on signs of strong demand for U.S. inventories…[C]hicago Board of Trade soybean futures for November delivery gained 11 cents, or 0.8%, to $13.19 a bushel.”
Darren Goode reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Obama administration may be about to hand the oil industry a major victory by reducing the federal requirement for blending ethanol into fuel — a decision with big implications for farm-state politics, food prices and the nation’s energy markets.
“As early as Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce how many billions of gallons of ethanol it will require refiners to blend into gasoline and diesel fuel in 2014. If it sticks with a draft version that leaked in October, the agency will lower the amount to 2012 levels.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow signaled Tuesday that face-to-face talks among the top four farm bill negotiators will resume this week, and she is upbeat enough to hope for a deal by Thanksgiving.
“‘I hope so. It’s doable,’ the Michigan Democrat said.
“‘I feel confident the four of us can come together,’ Stabenow said, speaking of herself, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “As formal talks open Wednesday [at 2:30], farm bill negotiators are looking at new alternatives to better align the House and Senate commodity titles and reduce the cost of rival revenue insurance plans to protect against shallow losses.
“An anticipated meeting between President Barack Obama and the top four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees has been put off because of an apparent scheduling conflict. But the White House signaled it will still pursue discussions to underscore Obama’s commitment to completing a farm bill before January.
“Most public attention has focused on the deep divide over food stamp funding. But the commodity title is its own battleground.”
Billy House reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Halloween week kicks off in Congress with two issues long haunted by delays, as House and Senate conferees start separate negotiations Wednesday on a budget plan and a farm-bill reauthorization.
“Opening remarks from participants are expected to define most of the early action.”
Mr. House noted that, “One main difference between the Senate and House [Farm] bills is that the Senate bill retains the 1938 and 1949 farm laws as the basis for agricultural programs while the House bill would make the 2013 commodity title permanent law.
“Another big difference is that the Senate bill cuts only $4 billion over 10 years from food stamps—formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—while the House bill would cut $39 billion through a series of provisions that Democrats say will lead to increased hunger.
“In what may be a sign of the turbulence ahead, Speaker John Boehner appointed Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to the conference committee even though he doesn’t serve on the Agriculture Committee. And it is Southerland who has made food stamps his main issue and wrote the amendment to the House bill to which the Democrats object the most.”
Jim McTague reported today at Barron’s Online that, “But if you are more into cage boxing, or if you happen to own shares of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or a major supermarket chain, then another conference committee — the one charged with stitching together a bipartisan, five-year, $500 billion agricultural bill — definitely is the one for you.
“Here, the Republican Party’s brawling, penurious conservative wing is gearing up for another bone-crushing confrontation with the Democratic Party’s bleeding-heart liberals as well as with some of the more moderate members of its own party. This time, the battle is over the proper size of cuts to the food-stamp program, known nowadays as SNAP — for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Republicans want to isolate SNAP from the farm bill so it can’t be used as a hostage in negotiations over other controversial provisions like sugar supports. Then they want to cut the food-aid program by $39 billion over 10 years. Democrats are offering to cut roughly $4 billion over the same time frame, and they want the program left in the farm bill. Acrimony already is running high on both sides, so bridging that $35 billion gap will be difficult. This has supermarkets and grocery chains on pins and needles because their SNAP revenues are not minuscule. In a sense, SNAP has become as much of a crutch for food retailers during this period of sluggish growth as it is for the poor.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “When the farm bill conference meets Wednesday afternoon, it will be on a grand stage: the gilded Ways and Means Committee meeting room in Longworth with its sculpted eagles and history of past bargains.
“The challenge for negotiators is to think as big and bold.
“The Agriculture Committees argue—somewhat defensively— that they have already taken major steps. Both bills end the current system of direct cash payments to producers—costing about $4.5 billion annually. At the same time, organic and specialty crops gain modest ground. Much tighter payment limits are imposed on future subsidies. More of an effort is made to help only producers who have put seed in the ground, put themselves at risk and experienced a loss.”
Ed O’Keefe reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Next week, Congress is expected to revive an old but increasingly rare tradition that may determine how well and how quickly the institution is able to recover from all the negative fallout of the recent government shutdown.
“More than three dozen members of the House and Senate plan to sit down in a room together and begin sorting out big differences on competing versions of a large piece of legislation.
“Members of the House and Senate agriculture committees announced plans Wednesday to begin meeting to negotiate details of a new Farm Bill. The agriculture conference committee is a back-to-the-future moment for Congress, which in recent years has subverted the once long-standing practice of having conferees from the House and Senate meet to negotiate final versions of legislation passed in each chamber.”
The article noted that, “‘It’s long overdue,’ said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Agriculture Committee.”
“Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.), the House Agriculture Committee chairman, will chair the meetings, which will begin Wednesday afternoon with a format that permits all 41 members to make public statements. From there, the path forward is unclear,” the article said.
“‘I personally believe that we can come up with a consensus bill,’ Lucas said Wednesday.”
A news release yesterday from Senator John Hoeven (R., N.D.) indicated that, “Senators [Hoeven] and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today announced that the House-Senate farm bill conference committee will convene next week. The senators hosted a farm bill roundtable at North Dakota State University’s Agriculture Experiment Station Research Greenhouse Complex to gather input from agriculture association leaders and discuss the priorities the senators will work on as members of the joint Senate-House committee.
“The new legislation in both the Senate and the House versions focuses on enhanced crop insurance. The measure includes a new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), continues the sugar program and provides new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) to help producers through years of repetitive losses. The Senate bill saves $24 billion to help reduce the deficit and debt.”
A report posted at the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) Online (viewed earlier this morning) pointed out that, “Senator Klobuchar says they held the roundtable for a reason. ‘We want to send a clear message that republicans and democrats in farm states are working together on this. It’s time to get it done. We finally see some momentum. Out of the chaos of the last few weeks comes opportunity. Finally people are appreciating the fact that the shift from direct subsidies to crop insurance is going to save a lot of money for the public. It means that people that are not in farm states are much more interested in seeing this as part of a budget deal.’ Senator Hoven says the farm bill conference committee will start negotiations next week. ‘I hope to have it done by year end. Even if you look at the timelines that we put in place for the budget conference committee and for the continuing resolution. The budget conference committee has to have something by December 13. The continuing resolution is up January 15.’ Hoeven thinks nutrition will be the biggest challenge.”
The Red River Farm Network’sMike Hergert provided a report on the Senator’s Farm Bill meeting, and that summary aired on yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program – related audio here (MP3- 1:52).
Ellyn Ferguson reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Millions of low-income people will see their purchasing power fall Nov. 1, regardless of the outcome of a larger fight between Democrats and Republicans over future policies and spending levels for the nation’s largest domestic food aid program.
“That’s due to the end of a temporary boost funded by stimulus money that Congress approved in the months after the financial meltdown of 2008. The assistance comes through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now distributes benefits electronically but is still often referred to as food stamps.”
The Roll Call article noted that, “Under the upcoming change, a household of four receiving a monthly maximum SNAP benefit of $632 will lose $36 a month, or more than $300 in fiscal 2014. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office projects that SNAP spending for fiscal 2014 will fall by $5 billion.”
In his weekly address on Saturday, President Barack Obama reiterated his call for action on the Farm Bill.
After noting that Democrats and Republicans should work together to “pursue a balanced approach to a responsible budget,” and “finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system,” the President indicated that, “Third, we should pass a farm bill – one that America’s farmers and ranchers can depend on, one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need, and one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the longer-term certainty they deserve.”
Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “President Barack Obama, in a rebuke to proposals by House Republicans for steep cuts in food stamps for the poor, urged Congress on Thursday to pass a farm bill ‘that protects children and vulnerable adults in time of need.’
“Obama put the long-delayed bill, more than a year overdue, among three priorities for resolution by end of the year. Also on the list were immigration reform and a budget agreement.”