Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) was a guest on Thursday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on the Farm Bill, trade, and the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule from EPA.
This is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of their discussion.
Mr. Adams: And welcome back to AgriTalk. As we continue with our conversations with members of Congress, we’re happy to have Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar with us. Senator, thanks for taking time. I know it’s a busy time with the budget bill. Give us your thoughts on it.
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, you know, we’re not going to agree on everything, that’s for sure. These budget bills can kind of be both sides fighting it out. But I think in the end what’s important is that we try to work on things where we can find common ground. Certainly that happened with the farm bill. Now I think it’s happening with the implementation of the farm bill.
Senator Roberts and Senator Stabenow working together have had some good hearings, and that appears to be going as smoothly as it can. We’ve got that new program and choices people have to make by the end of March, so that’s where a lot of focus I’ve had on is that, and then trying to do what we can to open up markets for our farmers. Minnesota is one of the top five states for exports of ag products, and we’re really proud of that. We want to keep that up.
Mr. Adams: Good, because I’m hearing resistance from [the Senate].
Sen. Klobuchar: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Adams: How are you doing on getting that through?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I already have three Republicans with me, Senator Flake and Senator Enzi of Wyoming, and then Senator Paul. And then we have some pretty big Democrats on it—Senator Stabenow, the ranking on the Ag Committee, and Senator Durbin, Senator Leahy. So we are pretty excited about the authors that we have. I went to Cuba a few weeks ago with Senator Warner and McCaskill. I was amazed at all the possibility there. Went out to part of the rural areas and see the big possibilities out there as well as people wanting American goods.
Eleven million people just 90 miles off our shore. What a market that can be for us. Not only that, to help the Cuban people. And I truly believe the people are ahead of their government. Just walking around there, everywhere you see the date December 17th. That’s on their artwork. And to us that means nothing. To them, that’s the day that the Presidents, both of them, said they wanted to open relations.
Mr. Adams: I’ve been there, too. I came away with the same impressions. But we’ve heard arguments here saying you can’t trust them to pay, trade isn’t going to help the people there. How do you respond to those things?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I think our 50, over 50 years of a policy that hasn’t worked, that’s how I first respond. Secondly, you know, this is going to go slowly, and this is going to be private investment, just like everything—some works, some doesn’t.
But what we’re talking about is opening up a relation that we have with many other countries. And I figure the only way we’re going to see the kind of human rights improvements is by negotiating some of this, ultimately lifting the embargo. And right now our countries are negotiating on potentially opening embassies, have ambassadors. We haven’t even done that. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
Mr. Adams: Yeah, I’ve always believed we could bring about more good change by doing more with them rather than less.
Sen. Klobuchar: Right, exactly. And they are just thirsty for American culture, and have so many relatives, obviously, people who’ve left in America that they want to see. And the tourism is a huge possibility as well. So I think it’s really exciting. And it was great to see all the old cars and the old buildings, and I know Americans want to see that, but we still have to remember there’s nothing romantic about poverty, and that is the issue there because they just haven’t had any…they’re just starting to have a private sector.
Six hundred thousand people are now in the entrepreneurial sector, starting their own businesses. They literally have their own currency because…they have two currencies because it’s such a mess. So we know that change has to be made. But I think it’s just an example of our farm groups coming behind a policy that’s forward thinking.
Mr. Adams: On the subject of trade, a lot of debate over TPA. How do you feel about it?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I want to see what the proposal is. I know that Senator Wyden is negotiating it. I voted, you know, that’s the Trade Promotion Authority, but when it comes to trade agreements, I voted for some, voted against others, and I really look at them on a case by case basis. The other thing for ag is just we’re constantly fighting those fights regardless of the trade agreements.
When, for instance, H1N1—I won’t call it what the…well, swine flu. But that was such a wrong name. And we see countries that are always trying to shut their borders down for different things. Sometimes they use things as an excuse, as we know. So I figure one of my roles as part of the President’s Export Council and on the Ag Committee and the Commerce Committee is to really push when those things happen so we keep these markets open.
Mr. Adams: Do you like what you see or hear about TPP so far?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, again, I really listen to all the groups in our state. And a lot of the ag groups in the past, we still, you know, things still get negotiated, and they want to change, and the [pork] people like this, so I want to talk to everyone and then look at the agreement.
Mr. Adams: There’s a lot of discussion here certainly with Farm Bureau members, concerns about Waters of the U.S. How do you feel about—will Congress, you think, take action to stop the Waters of the U.S. rule?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well, I have concerns about that rule. I’ve expressed them to the EPA. I’ve been part of a letter. I voted today to…[pretty much] the budget is kind of sending a message to the EPA that they need to make some changes to that rule. I do want to see what the rule is. But I think that there’s been some major problems, not just from farmers, but also from our counties.
Mr. Adams: Senator, I know you have to go. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
After a decade of writing the daily, comprehensive, early morning reports, FarmPolicy is ending publication on Friday, April 3.
Since February 2009, the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson and Miller has provided financial support to FarmPolicy.com. I am very grateful for the support McLeod has provided during this time.
Additionally, I would like to thank the Champaign, Il based law firm Bartell Powell for providing an excellent work environment and office accommodations for the past year.
I will be spending more time with my five children (15, 12, 9, 6 and, 10 months) and continue my role as their primary caregiver.
Christopher Doering reported on Monday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The food stamp program is being unfairly targeted by Republican lawmakers despite evidence it helps children, the elderly and other Americans, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.
“Vilsack, speaking before anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps lower poverty rates and improves childhood health and education. He rebuffed critics who said the program is fraught with abuse and fraud, noting that the SNAP error rate is among the lowest in government and its fraud rate is only 1 percent.
“‘Why is it that (lawmakers) are picking on the SNAP program? Because it works,’ Vilsack said. ‘If these people were really serious about reducing SNAP and helping folks why wouldn’t they consider raising the minimum wages?‘”
Mr. Doering added that, “Last week, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to review SNAP and explore how to improve the program.
“‘While the economy has changed and other welfare programs have adjusted to meet changing needs, it does not appear that SNAP has,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. ‘I believe there is a role for SNAP, but we need to have a complete and clear understanding of its mission and purpose.'”
Arthur Delaney reported today at The Huffington Post Online that, “Vilsack said food insecurity and childhood hunger remain problems, with 15.8 million children living in households that struggled to afford food at some point in 2013.
“‘I don’t think there’s any understanding or appreciation of the depth of child poverty in many rural areas in this country,’ Vilsack said.”
A news release from USDA today stated that, “In a speech at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference today about the extent of childhood hunger in America and the impact of USDA programs on reducing food insecurity, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger. The announcement was part of USDA efforts during National Nutrition Month to focus on poverty and food insecurity among children, especially in rural areas. These projects will be tested in Kentucky, Nevada, and Virginia, as well as the Chickasaw and Navajo tribal nations.”
Bob Aiken, the chief executive officer of Feeding America, and Jim Weill, the president of the Food Research and Action Center, noted in a column on Monday at The Hill Online that, “The federal nutrition programs are examples of public policy at its best and have a long history of holding the line against the most devastating impacts of poverty and hunger. Investing in ending hunger is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do with a large return on investment. Hunger increases illness and health care costs, lowers worker productivity, harms children’s development, and diminishes children’s educational achievement. Were it not for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), schools meals, afterschool and child care food, senior meals, WIC, commodity programs and other safety net programs, hunger and its impacts in our nation would be far worse.”
Aiken and Weill added that, “First, Congress must make hunger a priority in our nation’s budget and maintain its historic bipartisan commitment to protecting the structure and funding of programs that provide food assistance to vulnerable low-income households.
“And it must build on success with adequate funding and positive policy initiatives for the programs that help feed our children in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which includes school, after school, child care, and summer meals.”
A recent update at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicated that, “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) is the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, reaching nearly 47 million people nationwide in 2013 alone. These fact sheets provide state-by-state data on who participates in the SNAP program, the benefits they receive, and SNAP’s role in strengthening the economy.”
Meanwhile, an update on Monday at the USDA Blog by Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, stated that, “We all want our children to succeed. It’s an important value and one the entire country can rally around. This March we’re redoubling our efforts to that commitment by celebrating National Nutrition Month and the importance of raising a healthier generation of kids.”
Undersecretary Concannon also addressed the Food Research and Action Center policy conference today.
Also today, Lydia Wheeler reported at The Hill Online that, “Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is introducing legislation to relax the rules for healthy school lunches.
“At the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 2015 Legislative Action Conference at the JW Marriott Monday, Hoeven announced the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act to give schools more flexibility in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations when it comes to whole grains and sodium levels.”
The Hill update added that, “The bill would allow schools to revert back to 2012 standards, which require at least half of all grains served in school breakfast and school lunch to be whole grain rich. The standard now is for 100 percent of all grains offered to be whole grain rich.
“The bill also prevents USDA from requiring further sodium reductions in school meals below the current level, which took effect July 2014.”
Laura Stevens reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “West Coast ports are finally working at full speed again—for the most part— but it will likely take months for the backlog to clear, port officials and logistics experts said.”
The Journal article added that, “Port and logistics experts estimated it could take anywhere from about two to six months to get the U.S. supply chain—which makes sure T-shirts end up on shelves and auto parts are available for manufacturing—back on track.
“Port problems have been causing widespread pain for shippers, retailers, meat and poultry companies and manufacturers across the country. Farmers couldn’t get produce to Asia, leaving some fruit rotting in containers, and some auto manufacturers were forced to fly in parts to keep plants running.”
Today’s article noted that, “Farmers producing crops including oranges, potatoes, Christmas trees and soybeans have all been hard hit, as cargo arrived spoiled in Asia or couldn’t get there at all, said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. U.S. farmers are already competing with similar crops being grown around the world as the dollar strengthens, and the slowdown has been a tough blow, he said.
“Farmers may have a hard time winning back customers lost over the past couple months, he said, adding, ‘People who are sourcing these products can’t afford a lack of dependability.'”
Michael A. Memoli reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Republicans were hammered over the 1995-96 government shutdowns, losing House seats in the next election and boosting President Clinton’s sagging approval ratings.
“They shot themselves in the foot again with the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 over Obamacare, although their record-low public approval ratings rallied in time to dominate the 2014 midterm election.
“Now it appears the party is heading toward another budget-related standoff, this time over immigration policy and the Homeland Security Department, which is scheduled to run out of funding Saturday.”
The article noted that, “But buoyed by a Texas federal judge’s order last week to temporarily halt the president’s immigration plan, other Republicans are betting heavily that this time things will end differently for the party.
“They predict Democrats will shoulder the blame if the Homeland Security Department runs out of money and see no reason to drop their demand that renewed funding include amendments blocking President Obama from implementing his program to defer deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.”
Kristina Peterson reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “In one of the first signs of movement, Senate Republicans, still mulling their options, are most likely to end up supporting a short-term extension of the agency’s current funding, potentially for one or two months, according to GOP aides. But that would meet some conservative opposition in the chamber, and a short term deal also could face hurdles passing the House, where many Republicans are demanding legislative steps to block the president’s immigration policy.”
Today’s article added that, “Many Senate Republicans would like to avoid a lapse in national-security funding at a time of high-profile global threats from Islamic State militants, cybersecurity concerns and other unrest. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, speaking on Sunday morning news shows, raised concerns about the funding impasse coming amid fresh terrorism threats, such as a video from Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab purportedly calling for an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota.
“If funding were to lapse, though, Mr. Johnson said most of the agency’s 240,000 employees, including airport-screening and border-control agents, would still have to work because they are considered essential. He said 30,000 employees would be furloughed, and he said none of the employees would be paid until an agreement was reached.”
Christian Berthelsen reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The rebound in the cotton market is showing signs of wear.
“Cotton prices have gained 13% since touching a 5½-year low of 57.30 cents a pound in late January as the U.S. had been selling more of the fiber overseas. But prices faltered Friday after weekly government data showed a large number of orders for U.S.-grown cotton were canceled.
“The news came one day after federal forecasters said growers would likely plant more acres with cotton this spring than an industry group had previously projected.”
And Mitsuru Obe reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Japanese agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa abruptly resigned over a fundraising scandal Monday, depriving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of his point person on widely anticipated agriculture reforms only months after he was chosen for the job.
“Mr. Nishikawa’s resignation comes as Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is expected to submit legislation to parliament next month that would drastically scale back the political power of small farming co-operatives, helping pave the way to the sector’s overhaul.”
Robin Harding reported today at The Financial Times Online that, “Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has lost an important ally on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after his agriculture minster resigned in a scandal over political donations.”
The FT article added that, “The resignation matters because Mr Nishikawa is a longstanding member of the LDP’s ‘agricultural tribe’. He acted as a firewall for Mr Abe against internal party critics on trade deals and farm reform.
“Negotiators are near a deal on the huge TPP agreement, and agricultural reform is one of Mr Abe’s top priorities this year, so the loss of Mr Nishikawa is a blow to the prime minister’s agenda.”
From the House Ag Committee- Today, members of the House Committee on Agriculture met to formally organize and adopt the Committee’s rules for the 114th Congress.
“We have a very talented team of proven leaders whose impressive and diverse backgrounds will be a great asset in the Committee’s work this Congress,” said Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R., Tex.), who began his first term as Chairman this month. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to promote a strong production agriculture system and maintain a vibrant rural America.”
The Chairman’s full statement can be viewed here. Supporting documents can be viewed here.
From USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS): U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 19 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher seed prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2014, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, reached 96 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 93 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart comes from the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2014.
The Need-To-Know Memo (Email update from National Journal) stated Friday that, “The farm bill isn’t dead, but it’s fading fast after senators left town without agreement on how to deal with hundreds of proposed amendments. Senate Democratic aides now predict defeat under this scenario: Without an amendment deal, which isn’t expected, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)] will file cloture on the bill next week, possibly on Tuesday. Backers probably ‘don’t have the votes’ to overcome the cloture hurdle, a Democratic leadership aide said. Though the vote might split both parties, most opposition would come from Republicans, many of whom will cite Reid’s blocking of amendments to oppose the bill on procedural grounds.”
“The Republican response to that Friday announcement has a good chance of playing out particularly loudly in the Senate. The upper chamber is planning more behind-the-scenes work on a farm bill, so Republicans will have plenty of time to fill the empty stage of the Senate floor with complaints about the immigration decision.”
The Hill update noted that, “The immigration decision undoubtedly makes tougher what was already tough, like the farm bill, which was already starting to get attacked by Republicans as a $400 billion increase in spending. Or cooperation on moving judicial nominations — Senate Republicans had already decided not to move any more circuit court nominees until the November elections.”
Bay City Times (Michigan) reporter Andrew Dodson indicated yesterday that, “In anticipation of a possible government shutdown, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has postponed a weekend hearing in East Lansing.
“The hearing, ‘Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,’ was to feature two area farmers and focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
“In an email to the Times, Stabenow’s press secretary said the postponement deals with the possible government shutdown and that ‘there might be a session in (Washington, D.C.) over the weekend at this point.'”
Recall that last month, on November 23rd, Philip Brasher reported at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack today said that he won’t be the next agriculture secretary, ending speculation that an Iowan would snag the post important to a large swath of the state’s economy.
“In an e-mail, Vilsack said he had never been contacted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama about that position or any other.”