Farm bill faces attacks from every direction
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, JUNE 18, 2013 - Advocates for passage of a 2013 farm bill are increasingly worried that the House floor debate - expected to begin this evening - will look more like a circular firing squad, with traditional supporters lining up to attack each other in ways that could lead to defeat of the overall bill.
That's despite the fact that House Agriculture Committee Chairman is making the case that passing a farm bill is the best path forward for both advocates and those interested in reforms such as elimination of direct payments.
“This has been an accumulation of work…written in an open process,” he told members of the Rules Committee who met for the first time yesterday to start the process of winnowing down a list of over 200 farm bill amendments. Yet, he faces a barrage of criticism - both from members of his own party who want even more reform and Democrats who are unwilling to make changes in programs targeted at the neediest Americans.
Farm and nutrition interests, who have historically been allies pushing for farm bill passage, are at odds over the $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts over the next ten years. For some conservative GOP lawmakers, the cuts contained in H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, aren't nearly enough.
But for many Democrats - whose votes will be needed to pass the bill - they remain adamantly opposed to reductions they say will bump two million Americans and 200,000 hungry children out of food and nutrition programs.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is leading the charge to restore food stamp cuts and, along with 39 others, offered an amendment taking funds out of the crop insurance program to make up the funding difference. His amendment is one of over three dozen dealing with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition issues.
“I don't want to support a farm bill that makes hunger worse. And I think this bill, as written, would do that,” he told Agri-Pulse after the Rules Committee meeting last night. The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet again at 2 p.m. today to narrow the list of amendments.
“I wish that poor people would be treated as well as sushi rice in this farm bill, but they are not,” he said in reference to the higher price supports for short, sticky japonica rice, which are included in the $940 billion legislative package.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., is among the House members who want to separate SNAP funding from the farm bill altogether and submitted an amendment that would do so.
“I believe that we need to split the farm bill. It's a farm bill in name only because about 80 percent of it is spending going to food stamps,” he explained during a conference call sponsored by the Heritage Foundation last week. “When the American people believe this to be a farm bill, and in actuality it is not, it's insulting.”
When asked about also trimming crop insurance subsidies - as a Heritage spokesperson discussed during the press call - Stutzman was more reserved but not outright opposed.
“Now is the time to wean ourselves off of government programs,” he said, while noting that he was one of the first farmers in Congress to talk about eliminating direct payments.
“Crop insurance is the next conversation. I think we take this a step at a time. Eliminate direct payments and reform programs in other titles first,” he added.
Several farm bill amendments target crop insurance. Reps Richard Hanna, R-NY, Chellie Pingree, D-ME, and Ron Kind, D-Wisc., offered an amendment that would reduce crop insurance premium subsidies by 15 percentage points for those farmers with an adjusted gross income of over $750,000. Another amendment, by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, would eliminate premium subsidies altogether for growers with an AGI over $750,000.
Other crop insurance related amendments would place a $50,000 cap on all crop insurance subsidies, require farmers who purchase crop insurance to meet conservation compliance requirements, eliminate the harvest price option, and require the disclosure of anyone receiving crop insurance subsidies - including members of Congress.
Even though most commodity organizations oppose changes in crop insurance, groups representing corn, soybean and canola partnered with Rep. Ron Kind -one of the key crop insurance subsidy critics - in an attempt to modify a program important to rice and peanut producers.
Rep. Kind and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, offered an amendment to change the price loss coverage (PCL) program in the commodity title, which would set reference prices at a percentage of recent average market prices. The amendment also would provide for payments on historical crop acreage bases rather than on current-year plantings.
“These changes would make the PLC program more market-oriented and significantly reduce the risk of distorting planting decisions and production,” the groups said.
They would also reduce the likelihood of the program violating U.S. commitments under the WTO. Moreover, the groups said the change would achieve an estimated $10 billion in savings in addition to the committee bill.
Southern lawmakers fired back, offering amendments to challenge the payments corn growers receive as a result of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers who would like to reduce the annual RFS requirement based on USDA data on stocks to use.
Goodlatte will also be leading the fight, along with David Scott, D-Ga., to remove the supply management portion of the dairy provisions. It's a change also supported by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and many believe his confidence in securing enough votes for the Goodlatte/Scott amendment is one reason he offered support last week for the farm bill.
Keeping the dairy provisions intact is a key goal for ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., but during he Rules Committee meeting, he seemed resigned to accept the will of his fellow lawmakers in an effort to advance the bill.
“Boehner feels strongly…I feel strongly. Either of us could kill this bill, but we won't. One of us won't like what happens.”
For a complete list of amendments: http://rules.house.gov/bill/hr-1947
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