Damian Paletta and Mark Peters reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “A large number of Republican governors are pushing to reshape social-welfare programs with drug testing or other requirements, arguing that the new rules better prepare recipients for employment and assure taxpayers that the benefit money is well spent.
“Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fresh off his re-election, said he would propose his state join several others in mandating drug screening for people seeking nutrition or cash assistance. Utah Republicans want to require that certain residents allow the state to assist them in finding a job if they want to collect benefits through Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income and disabled Americans. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is proposing Medicaid recipients kick in at least a few dollars a month as a condition for receiving benefits.”
The Journal writers noted that, “The drug-test push is part of a wave of changes that Republican governors are eyeing for Medicaid, cash assistance, unemployment and nutrition assistance, programs run jointly by federal and state governments.”
Paletta and Peters also explained that, “Drug-screening rules, though they have disqualified relatively few people from benefits, have proved to be the most contentious. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court struck down a 2011 Florida law that required drug screening for people seeking benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, saying the requirement was unconstitutional and that the state hadn’t demonstrated that recipients have more of a drug problem than the general population.
“This year, the U.S. Agriculture Department blocked a drug-screening requirement in Georgia for the state’s food-stamp program, which it oversees.”
Agricultural Economy- Trade Issues- Biotech, and Transportation News
Anthony Faiola reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “On a velvety green patch of the French countryside, organic farmer Jean Cabaret gave a little shudder. A looming trade deal with the United States, he fears, may make his worst culinary nightmare come true: an invasion of Europe by American ‘Frankenfoods.’
“‘Hormone-boosted beef. Chlorine-washed chicken. Genetically altered vegetables. This is what they want for us,’ warned Cabaret, standing before his majestic herd of free-range cows. ‘In France, food is about pleasure, about taste. But in the United States, they put anything in their mouths. No, this must be stopped.’
“In Europe, this is a season of angst — even paranoia — over a historic bid to link the United States and the 28-nation European Union in the world’s largest free-trade deal.”
The Fifth District (Richmond) noted that, “Some growers planned fewer equipment purchases relative to a year ago;” while the Tenth District (Kansas City) indicated that, “Farm income expectations fell sharply since the last survey period as above- average corn and soybean yields were not expected to fully offset low crop prices. District contacts reported current levels of farm income that were significantly lower than last year despite some support from crop insurance and strong profits in the livestock sector. Although reduced income for crop producers had contributed to a rise in the need for short-term loans to the farm sector, agricultural bankers reported that sufficient funds were available for qualified borrowers. Following several years of very strong growth, District cropland values declined slightly in recent months and were holding just above year-ago levels.”
And the Ninth District (Minneapolis) pointed out that, “Farm incomes continued to be affected by lower crop prices; in contrast, livestock and dairy producers benefited from lower feed costs and high output prices.”
Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Illinois farmer Darrel Gingerich harvested a huge corn crop this autumn thanks to near-flawless weather. Now, he is stashing it away.
“‘I didn’t sell any more than we had to in order to cover our costs for this year,’ the 53-year-old said.
“Mr. Gingerich is one of many Midwestern farmers who decided to hold on to their crops as they watched prices languish over the summer. Their collective strategy has since paid off, helping to fan a 15% rise in corn futures and a 10% jump in soybean futures since September that is also the result of a slow U.S. harvest and gains in other agricultural markets. Corn’s gain over the roughly two-month harvest period of October and November was its largest for that span in eight years and second largest in more than three decades, while soybeans’ climb was the biggest in five years.”
Ashley Parker reported in today’s New York Times that, “Congressional Republicans returning to Washington on Monday found themselves facing a treacherous 10 days as they try to balance their desire to fight President Obama’s executive action on immigration with the political imperative not to shut down the government.
“Congress must pass a broad spending bill before Dec. 11 to prevent a government shutdown. But Mr. Obama’s executive action last month, which could allow up to five million people now in the country illegally to live and work without threat of deportation, has inflamed Republicans and complicated their calculation over what has often been a routine spending fight.”
Helena Bottemiller Evich reported yesterday at Politico that, “[‘Top Chef’ judge Tom Colicchio] is part of a growing army of chefs across the country looking to channel their growing celebrity to influence food and agriculture policy in Washington, from school nutrition to the farm bill to animal welfare and even fisheries management. Their number is legion, their ranks full of names like Rachael Ray and Mario Batali along with scores of local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs — and their increasingly organized effort backs up some of the Obama administration’s sweeping food policy agenda right as it faces down an adversarial Congress.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) updated its 2014 Farm Sector Income Forecast yesterday, and noted that, “Net farm income is forecast to be $96.9 billion in 2014, down 21.1 percent from 2013’s estimate of $122.8 billion. The 2014 forecast would be the lowest since 2010, but would remain $16 billion above the previous 10-year average ($80.8 billion) [related graph].”
Brian Knowlton reported earlier this week at The New York Times Online that, “President Obama, in an interview broadcast on Sunday, said he rejects Republican criticism that he has exceeded his authority in moving to spare millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, adding that he has been ‘very restrained’ in his use of executive authority.
“Angry Republican lawmakers have accused Mr. Obama of unconstitutional, even imperial, overreach. They have pointed to past remarks in which he himself suggested that his powers to act were limited.”
The Times article added that, “Mr. Obama has framed his action not as an amnesty for some undocumented immigrants but as a directive, in part, to federal agencies to focus their attention on those with criminal records, not on law-abiding, taxpaying, longtime immigrants. In all, about five million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would be protected.”
Kristi Boswell, Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, was a guest yesterday on the AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on immigration issues (audio replay here, MP3- 10:18). An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of yesterday’s discussion is available here.
Chris Casteel reported yesterday at The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) Online that, “Rep. Frank Lucas spent several years working his way to the top spot on the House Agriculture Committee. Once he became chairman, in 2011, he fought for three years to get a sweeping farm bill passed; it was arguably the most significant legislation in the past two years that made it through both houses and got signed into law.
“The western Oklahoma rancher will lose his chairmanship in the next Congress, which begins in January, because of the term limits House Republicans impose on those positions. But he isn’t bemoaning the loss of power and prestige. He said his blood pressure has improved considerably.”
The article added that, “As for the Agriculture Committee, Lucas said that he’ll remain active but won’t bug the next chairman, Texas Republican Mike Conaway.
“‘I would like to give my successor an opportunity to develop his own perspective,’ Lucas said.”
Tennille Tracy reported yesterday at the Washington Wire blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas), the newly appointed chair of the House Agriculture Committee, is pledging to undertake a ‘thoughtful’ review of food stamps.
“Mr. Conaway, a certified public accountant, has been critical of the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. He defended Republican-led efforts to eliminate billions from the program and supports tougher work requirements for able-bodied adults without children.
“‘The committee will conduct a thoughtful review of all programs under its jurisdiction,’ Mr. Conaway said in an e-mail. ‘It’s only natural for much of that review to focus on nutrition programs as they account for almost 80% of the spending within the jurisdiction of the committee.’”
Bill Tomson reported yesterday at Politico that, “‘It’s never too early to start on the next farm bill,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
“The Texas Republican, whose position in the top agriculture post was confirmed Tuesday by the House Republican Steering Committee, told POLITICO in an exclusive interview Friday that he’s already thinking about the 2019 farm bill, planning an in-depth review of the food stamp program and ready to help get an immigration reform bill done to help farmers.
“It’s too early to judge the major new subsidy programs in the 2014 farm bill — the five-year, $500 billion blueprint for U.S. agriculture policy that was only signed into law in February — but the next House Agriculture Committee chairman said he expects to begin drafting the next bill by 2017 or 2018 at the latest.”
A news release yesterday from Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) indicated that, “[Congressman Conaway] issued the following statement after the House Republican Steering Committee selected him as the 50th chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.
“‘I am humbled and honored to be selected as the 50th chairman of the storied House Committee on Agriculture. The work that farmers and ranchers do is part of our country’s foundation. They feed, fuel, and clothe our nation. I look forward to building on the bipartisan work of the chairmen who have led this committee for the past two centuries.
“‘I represent, and love, rural America. It’s the backbone of our country. The values and concepts that make America great are stored in rural America, and I want to protect that. There are fewer and fewer voices representing rural America, and I am honored to be one of those voices. That is my overarching drive as the Committee moves forward.’”
Joby Warrick reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The Obama administration has no intention of backing down on major environmental initiatives to fight climate change and improve air and water quality, EPA chief Gina McCarthy said Monday, dismissing Republican threats to thwart proposed regulations by starving the agency of money.”
The Post article noted that, “McCarthy appeared to be rejecting statements by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the presumptive Senate majority leader in the next Congress, who last week accused President Obama of waging war against the coal industry and vowed to fight the administration’s environmental proposals ‘in any way that we can.’”
“McConnell joined other key Republican lawmakers in suggesting that the new Congress would use its budget authority to block controversial proposals intended to scale back greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce pollution levels in air and water,” today’s article said.
“The average price of ‘quality’ farmland in the St. Louis Fed’s district, which includes parts of Illinois, Kentucky and Mississippi, gained 11.8% from the second quarter to its highest level since the bank launched its survey of agricultural conditions two years ago.
“The findings contrasted with reports Thursday from other Fed banks in the Midwest that showed declines in their districts’ farmland values in the third quarter, as falling U.S. crop prices pinched demand for cropland.”
Jesse Newman reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Farmland values declined across much of the Midwest in the third quarter, continuing a slowdown driven by two years of lower U.S. crop prices, according to Federal Reserve reports on Thursday.
“The average price of farmland in the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s district, which includes Illinois, Iowa and other big farm states, fell 2% from the second quarter, the largest quarterly drop since the end of 2008, the Chicago Fed said.”
Legislative Agenda: Keystone, Budget- Immigration Link, and Trade
Ashley Parker and Jeremy W. Peters reported in today’s New York Times that, “As newly victorious and recently vanquished members of Congress descended Wednesday on Capitol Hill, defeated Democrats trudged in for some of their final votes, ebullient Republicans toured their new digs, and the denouement of Election Day continued to play out as the House and the Senate scheduled dueling votes to try to influence the outcome of the lone unresolved Senate race in Louisiana.
“But Wednesday’s activities — or lack thereof — after a six-week absence from the Capitol underscored how much inertia still rules. Despite larger fights over funding the government, operations in Syria, and executive action on immigration, the only votes in the Senate on Wednesday were procedural steps on a pair of federal court nominees.”