The House Rules Committee convened yesterday and began a discussion relating to the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947).
At yesterday’s meeting, Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) fielded several general questions about the legislation and provided an overview of some key variables of the law.
In an exchange with Rep. Rob Woodall (R., Ga.), Chairman Lucas noted changes contained in the Bill that impact the commodity title, as well as the SNAP program, and indicated that the Ag Committee sought “to achieve a balance.”
“What I think Collin and I and the committee attempted to do on the commodity side was to say that certain policies such as the old direct payment program from 1996, while it might still be the most WTO trade compliant law, was unsustainable in the eyes of the membership and eyes of the popular press, which sometimes doesn’t always get into the details,” Chairman Lucas said.
With respect to the nuances of the changes in SNAP, Chairman Lucas explained that: “Now in some things like ‘Cat El’ that the ranking member alluded to, categorical eligibility, there are a number of states, 40 something, approximately, that use some law from the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 to say that if you qualify for certain federal welfare benefits, you automatically get food stamps. We simply say in the bill you’ve got to apply—demonstrate your income, demonstrate your assets and we’ll help you, but you’ve just got to apply.”
Chairman Lucas added that, “LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] is a program where a handful of states have used the flexibility of the ’96 law to say that if we are helping you with your home heating costs, then you can automatically qualify for a full month’s worth of food stamps. In the bill we simply say, not to take away a state’s ability to decide how they should use their own resources, we simply say instead of sending out one dollar to get a full month’s worth of food stamps, you have to send out $20. That saves about $8 billion.”
An update posted yesterday at the Oklahoma Farm Report Online noted that, “The Chairman of the House Ag Committee, Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas, talked with Farm Director Ron Hays about the latest farm bill developments on Thursday morning.” (A replay of the discussion with Chairman Lucas and Ron Hays is available here).
The Oklahoma Farm Report update added that, “Lucas told Hays he expects the farm bill to come up on the House floor next week, assuming that the whip count shows that they are close to the 218 votes needed for final passage. He expressed his hope that by Monday the Rules Committee would put out a call for amendments – which he expects hundreds of. Lucas says he has had conversations with the Chairman of the House Rules Committee and that he is expecting the Rules Committee will sort through the amendments, realize redundancy isn’t a good use of time and limit the number of amendments on each subject.
“The Lucas definition of an ‘open discussion’ on the floor of the House is not for every one of two or three hundred amendments to be heard and possibly voted on- but for all major points of view to have their concerns aired and voted on. This would result in each of the major areas of the bill to be open for consideration in an open but orderly process and the Chairman believes the House will end up voting on 30 to 40 amendments covering every title- including food stamps, sugar, dairy, conservation and crop insurance.”
Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he would vote for the House’s farm bill, despite reservations.”
At a news conference yesterday, Speaker Boehner had this exchange with a reporter, which was the last question at the briefing: “Would you vote for the farm bill (as it stands) today?
“Speaker Boehner: I’ve got concerns about the farm bills, I told our members. But doing nothing means that we get no changes in the farm program, no changes in the nutrition program. And as a result, I’m going to vote for the farm bill to make sure that the good work of the agriculture committee and whatever the floor might to do improve this bill, that it gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs.”
Mr. Sherman pointed out in his Politico article that, “Passing the farm bill, which will come to the House floor this month, will be one of the toughest tasks for the Ohio Republican’s leadership team. Members of leadership are already working to assuage concerns about several of the bill’s provisions.”
Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., Tuesday said he’s skeptical that House Republican leaders will proceed this summer with two major pieces of legislation — a farm bill and a firearms background check bill.
“He said the farm bill remains too controversial within the Republican Conference to be cleared for floor action, despite the fact that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Monday pledged his support — along with that of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. — for bringing up the measure later this month under an open rule.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “In a strong showing of support, the U.S. Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday morning to close off debate on amendments to the farm bill and move ahead to final debate on the legislation and one more vote likely on Monday to send the bill to the House.
“Thursday’s cloture vote allowed leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee to avoid other possible changes to the legislation and broke the gridlock over just how many amendments warranted debate. Twenty-two Republicans joined 53 Democrats in voting for the bill. All 22 votes opposing the cloture vote were Republicans.”
Mr. Clayton noted that, “The Senate bill would also tie conservation compliance to eligibility for crop-insurance premium subsidies. Following an amendment to the bill, people with more than $750,000 adjusted gross income would see their crop-insurance premium subsidies capped as well.”
Ryan Johnson reported yesterday at The Dickinson Press (N.D.) Online that, “The next five-year Farm Bill is progressing in the House, and representatives could vote on the legislation in the third week of June, Rep. Collin Peterson said Thursday.”
Mr. Johnson noted that, “But Peterson said there are serious questions over the opposition the House legislation will face, both from Republicans who want more spending cuts and Democrats who don’t support the bill’s $20.5 billion in cost savings to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next decade.
From Bloomberg, May 30, “Peter Bishop, deputy CEO at London Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Fredrik Erixon, director at European Centre for International Policy, discuss the politics behind food and agriculture in a U.S.-EU trade deal. They speak on Bloomberg Television’s ‘The Pulse.’”
Ron Hays, of the Oklahoma Farm Report and Radio Oklahoma Network, spoke yesterday with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) about a variety of current policy variables regarding the Farm Bill.
An audio replay and summary of the Chairman’s remarks from yesterday can be found here, while an unofficialFarmPolicy.com transcript of the conversation with Ron Hays and Chairman Lucas is available here.
Chairman Lucas noted that, “May 15’s a go. We’ve not issued the official markup notice yet, Ron, but both Ranking Member Peterson and myself are discussing this in public. I think we have an understanding. Leadership’s been alerted. May 15, I believe that’s a Wednesday, we will mark up the 2013 Farm Bill in the House Agriculture Committee.
“We’ll begin with a draft that essentially is the 2012 document. There have been some adjustments in some points, simply because the various entities like OMB and CBO have rescored some of our expenditures, our savings, and we’ve had to make adjustments to reflect that. But we’re going to have choice, we’re going to save money, we’re going to do it in a bipartisan way, we’re going to have a safety net for all crops in all regions, and we’re going to make sure our fellow citizens who need help have something to eat.”
In the extensive discussion with Ron Hays, Chairman Lucas was asked about crop insurance, in part he noted that, “I think, I believe the Ag Committee will be able to explain and justify everything that will be in the draft of the farm bill when it leaves the committee and goes to the floor, but the floor is where crop insurance will come under assault. It won’t be assaulted in the Ag Committee itself because the membership understand how the program works and why it’s important. And literally, it is becoming, in effect, the safety net of the farm bill as these other programs change so dramatically.”
Biofuels: Gasoline Prices- RINs, and Lawmakers Consider RFS
University of Illinois Agricultural Economists Scott Irwin and Darrel Good indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“High Gasoline and Ethanol RINs Prices: Is There a Connection?”) that, “On March 8 we wrote about the sharp increase in the price of ethanol (D6) RINs since the first of the year. There, we indicated that the E10 blend wall would require RINs credits to be used to meet part of the RFS mandate in 2013 and beyond, increasing the value of those RINs credits. As indicated in Figure 1, the price of 2013 (current year) vintage D6 RINs remains high. The price was quoted at $0.685 per gallon on March 21, 2013, after peaking at nearly $0.90 two weeks ago.”
Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “President Obama on Tuesday signed the continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year, averting a government shutdown.
“The six-month stopgap measure will keep government agencies funded through Sept. 30, maintaining funding at $984 billion. The bill cleared the House last Thursday in a 318-109 vote.”
David Rogers noted yesterday at Politico that, “Congress holds the purse strings, but who holds Congress these days when it comes to farm policy: the meatpackers and Monsanto?”
Mr. Rogers explained that, “Alarmed that automatic spending cuts this month will slow plant operations, the meat lobby won a last-minute Senate amendment that cuts from a new White House-backed school breakfast program in order to ensure there will be enough money to keep food safety inspectors on the job this summer and avoid disruptions.
“At the same time the industry went in the opposite direction, denying funds in the Ag budget for implementing reforms sought in the 2008 farm bill to provide greater protection for less powerful ranchers and farmers who raise the animals for slaughter.
“Money is again denied to proceed with rules favored by Western cow-calf operations in their battle with beef packers. In the case of poultry, the bill goes a big step further, literally ordering [Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack] in 60 days to rescind regulations adopted last year to protect growers under contract with the big chicken processors.”
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, “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.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “A stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown next week and keep agencies operating through September advanced in the Senate Monday night — powered by a renewed bipartisan partnership in the Appropriations Committee leadership.
“On a 63-35 roll call, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to limit further debate on the 587-page package, which seeks to greatly expand on the House-passed version of the same continuing resolution or CR.
“The strength of the vote all but assures passage, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it was his ‘sincere hope’ that this will occur Tuesday. All indications are once the Senate acts, the House Appropriations Committee leadership is prepared to take the modified Senate CR directly to the House floor, possibly as early as Thursday.”
The report provided this brief overview of how agriculture fits into the rest of the U.S. economy, which also has inherent political ramifications: “In the 1920s, farm households accounted for more than 25 percent of the U.S. workforce and generated approximately 8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Today they account for only 1.6 percent of the work force and generate approximately 1 percent of GDP. Over the same period, the rural share of the population has fallen far less, from 49 percent to 19 percent, suggesting that rural areas are less dependent on farming’s contribution to the rural economy (Table 8-1) . The agricultural sector is still vital to our country, but because of growth in other sectors of the economy and rapid gains in agricultural productivity that have lowered the relative prices of agricultural products, it has become a smaller share of the U.S. economy.”
In reference to U.S. farm policy the report indicated that, “Highly volatile agricultural commodity prices can create significant income risk for farmers. At the same time, the current farm safety net is inefficient and unfair, creating distortions in production and crowding out market-based risk management options.”
“Adding provisions that make lands that have not previously been used to grow crops ineligible for crop insurance or other Federal benefits would help protect the nation’s prairies and forests from being converted into marginal cropland,” the report added.
Also, the report noted that, “For example, the increasing reliance of farm families on income earned from sources other than their farms and a shift toward market-oriented farm policies have made farms and commodity markets less vulnerable to adverse price changes than before. These changes imply that moving away from traditional commodity support programs would have a much smaller impact on farm household income than in previous decades. Nonetheless, substantial government support of agriculture remains.”
And, the report also pointed out that, “One-third of beginning farmers are over age 55, indicating that many farmers move into agriculture only after retiring from a different career.”