The Senate Finance Committee considered five executive branch nominees yesterday, including Darci Vetter, who has been nominated to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) indicated at yesterday’s hearing that, “If confirmed, Ms. Vetter will have the important task of being the lead trade negotiator to take on the tariff and non-tariff barriers that are imposed all over the world on American agriculture exports. The U.S. has an ambitious trade agenda with important agriculture negotiations taking place among the world’s biggest and most dynamic markets. It will be important for the United States to have a skilled hand in these negotiations, and Darci is the right person at the right time.
“Right now, for example, the U.S. is in the middle of important, yet difficult, negotiations with Japan and other Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP] participants regarding America’s most important agricultural crops: wheat, dairy, poultry. We will be relying on Darci to push for the comprehensive and ambitious outcome that our farmers and producers expect and our economy needs.”
In light of this week’s executive branch report on climate change, and the noted emphasis on Farm Bill programs that will be key policy variables in protecting the soil from erosion, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that “emphasis on various conservation programs” was “one theme” at yesterday’s Ag Committee hearing.
More specifically, Mr. Clayton indicated that, “[Chairwoman Stabenow] asked Vilsack about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. ‘This is probably one of the most understated policies in the 2014 farm bill. It has the potential really to transform the face and the future of agricultural stewardship,’ Stabenow said.
“The partnerships are expected to leverage local and private money to broaden conservation efforts. Vilsack said USDA has started a series of listening sessions about the regional partnerships program. The department plans to identify the critical areas that would be eligible for the regional partnerships. Vilsack also said USDA wants to get the program launched in time to highlight the issues of bringing investment capital to rural America as part of the White House Rural Council.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “After years of trying, the potato lobby may have found the votes to break into the government’s premier nutrition program for pregnant mothers and their infants.
“Prominent members of both parties have signed onto an industry-backed letter circulating this week in the Senate, and nutrition groups are clearly alarmed after successfully blocking the powerful lobby in final talks on the farm bill last winter.
“If successful, the industry will gain what it sees as an important marketing tool. But critics charge that the end result will open the door to more special interests and violate a long-standing commitment by Congress to let independent scientists decide what foods are most needed.”
Agricultural Economy: House Ag Livestock Subcommittee Hearing- PEDv, Drought
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Animal-health experts at USDAdon’t know how they are going to implement a plan to require pork producers to report cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus or track movements of animals in herds with the infection.
“Two weeks ago, the department announced new plans to tighten biosecurity and reduce the spread of PED that was first reported in the country nearly a year ago. Since that time, the pork industry has raised a lot of questions about just how USDA intends to implement such a plan. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service doesn’t yet have a strategy to track the movement of hogs from infected herds without putting an undue burden on pork producers nationally.”
A news release yesterday from the House Ag Committee stated that, “Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, today held a public hearing to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.
“Approximately a third of global food production is dependent on animal pollination for reproduction, and managed honey bees are the most important pollinators of those crops. Some regions of the world have increasingly lost their managed honey bee colonies in recent years. Reports of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) surfaced in the United States in 2006. Colony losses are not unusual, but the increase in losses reported in the U.S., some European countries, the Middle East, and Japan are particularly alarming because of the honey bees’ role in pollination and the absence of an easily identifiable cause.”
From The Wall Street Journal, April 29, “Were the recent trade talks between President Obama and Shinzo Abe a wasted opportunity? Japanese economist Heizo Takenaka shares his thoughts with WSJ’s John Bussey.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Virginia apple grower Phil Glaize joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday in demanding Congress finish its work on immigration reform.
“Glaize and his family have been in the apple-growing business for 70 years near Winchester, Va., and he has testified on Capitol Hill about the problems trying to find seasonal workers. Like a high percentage of fruit and vegetable growers, Glaize’s main working season is harvest time, when he needs 115 workers for about two-and-a-half months. Another 50 employees work nine months of the year in the packinghouse and another 15 people are employed year-round. About 75% of all people who apply for jobs are Latino, Glaize said. He noted his farm does I-9 verification on all applicants, ‘However, my suspicion is that some of the workers are here illegally.’
“Glaize and Vilsack held a press call Monday as the Obama administration keeps pushing the House of Representatives to take up an immigration reform measure.”
Tim Devaney reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is looking to crack down on welfare fraud around the country.
“The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service announced Wednesday it is targeting people who sell food stamps for money. Some recipients cheat the system by claiming they have lost their food stamp debit cards so they can request new ones, the agency said.
“To combat fraud, the USDA will require states to monitor the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and be on the lookout for excessive requests for replacement cards. People who request four or more replacements in a year will receive a warning notice.”
Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives needs to solve its farm bill impasse by enacting the Senate’s bipartisan bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday, warning that the Democrat-run Senate will not extend current law again.
“The House defeated its own farm bill last week - the first time such a bill has failed in a House vote – and analysts have said a short-term extension of the 2008 farm law would be the easiest solution.
“On the Senate floor, Reid said ‘the Senate will not pass another temporary farm bill extension.’”
Mr. Abbott noted that, “A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said ‘no decisions have been made on next steps.’”
The Reuters article pointed out that, “House Republican leaders canceled plans for a vote this week on an Agriculture Department funding bill. One farm lobbyist said it would have been ‘round two’ on the farm bill since it covers the same contentious subjects.”
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.