House Agriculture Committee passes new farm bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 15, 2013- After several long hours of debate, the House Agriculture Committee passed a new five-year farm bill, H.R. 1947, late tonight by a 36-10 vote margin. The measure reforms or eliminates more than 100 programs, including the elimination of direct payments that have been the mainstay of the farm safety net for almost two decades.

The full day of debate covered more than 90 amendments, including passage of an en bloc amendment by voice vote, the committee passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) of 2013. Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Lucas, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., managed to keep their draft bill mostly intact throughout the day.

This bill is largely similar to the bill passed through the committee last year by a 35-11 margin, with larger cuts in the nutrition title and minor changes in farm safety net programs. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) gave the draft FARRM a preliminary score of $39.7 billion in savings over ten years, which includes $6.4 billion in cuts already required by budget sequestration. Direct spending authorized by the draft legislation would total $940 billion over ten years.

In 2012, the House Agriculture Committee passed a farm bill with $35 billion in savings, which CBO later scored about $10 billion lower. The areas of most significant savings in the draft bill released last week include $20.5 billion from the nutrition title, $6.9 billion from the conservation title and $13.8 billion from the commodity title and crop insurance title combined.

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“No one on this committee is going to like everything in this bill,” Lucas noted. “But farmers, ranchers and the American taxpayers are counting on us to pass a farm bill.”

Peterson expressed his optimism that, unlike last year, the farm bill passed through committee today would make it to the House floor for a vote. “Today is hopefully the beginning of the end of a process that's gone on far too long,” he said, noting that the first reauthorization hearing for a new five-year farm bill took place on March 21 of 2010. 

SNAP reforms remain

Committee members engaged in a lengthy, emotional, and religious, debate about the proposed $20 billion in reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) included in the nutrition title after Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., offered an amendment to remove the reductions. Ultimately, the committee voted to keep the savings accomplished largely through eliminating categorical eligibility and a purported loophole in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Last year's bill sought $16.5 billion in reductions.

“I think we're better than this. These are not thoughtful, innovative cuts. They're just cuts. They're going to hurt people,” McGovern said, adding that the changes make it more difficult for people to enroll in the SNAP. He also emphasized that the committee should have held hearings on SNAP reform before including them in the farm bill. 

Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., opposed the amendment, noting that SNAP participation increased at a far faster rate than poverty has increased, and SNAP enrollment rose although unemployment numbers dropped over the past two years. 

“The government has not provided the solutions. It's failing,” commented Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif, in opposition to removing the SNAP reforms.

The amendment failed with a17-27 vote. Democrats Peterson, Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., and Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., voted against McGovern's motion. Peterson represented a compromise stance on several issues, including SNAP reform. “I think we need to get past the ideal on this issue on both the right and left to be realistic,” he said.

Dairy Security Act maintained

In the commodity title, Gooodlatte's amendment to replace the Dairy Producer Margin Protection and Dairy Market Stabilization Programs with a new Dairy Producer Margin Insurance Program failed with a close vote of 28-26.

The Goodlatte bill, supported by processors and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) was cosponsored by Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., and would have provided dairy producers with the option to annually enroll in a new margin insurance program.

Goodlatte maintained that his reform bill would provide a higher likelihood of a farm bill being passed in the House. “I know colleagues been pressured into thinking supply management in the commodity title would be the only way to get farm bill passed,” he said, but he noted House Speaker John Boehner's, R-Ohio, opposition to the margin program last year. 

However, Peterson noted the DSA included in the bill is the culmination of four years of deliberations. He argued Goodlatte's bill would actually put taxpayers at more risk than the stabilization program.

The ranking member also indicated that Boehner may be more accepting of the revised DSA, which provides voluntary participation.

“He's told me he wants to get this done and to get it done before the August recess,” Peterson said of Boehner and the farm bill.

In favor of the DSA, Lucas commented, “A farm bill is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, many pieces have to fit together. I have to move that puzzle forward. I think this base text is best opportunity to do that,” he said. “Vote your conscious, but remember we have to have a farm bill move to the floor.”

Organic checkoff

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., succeeded in including an amendment under the horticulture Title to allow USDA to create an organic checkoff program, if the organic industry chooses to establish and pay into one. Schrader noted that the Senate Agriculture Committee added similar language to its farm bill and that USDA confirmed no barriers to his amendment.

“American agriculture's future depends on value-added crops,” he said. “It's important for us to recognize that if we're going to compete going forward.”

However, Lucas questioned the feasibility of developing a checkoff program for a process-based commodity, since promotion orders are traditionally provided for individual commodities. “I sympathize, but I'm still uncomfortable with the language,” he said.

Lucas worried that the promotion of one organic product would also result in “disparaging” the same conventional product.

After an unexpectedly heated discussion, the committee voted to approve Schrader's amendment with a 29-17 vote. Republicans voting in favor of the potential for USDA to establish an organic checkoff include: Ribble, Reps. Scott Tipton, R-Calif., Eric Crawford, R-Ark., Christopher Gibson, R-N.Y., Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Richard Hudson, R-N.C., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

According to Schrader's language, the amendment would grant USDA the authority to consider an application for a promotion order by the organic sector by defining organic as a commodity for purposes of research and promotion orders. It also would provide organic producers a choice should an organic promotion order be approved by USDA in the future, to select either the relevant conventional order or the organic order.

GIPSA loses

In the final miscellaneous title, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, with the support of Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., passed an amendment to prevent the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from doing any further work on the GIPSA rulemaking that resulted from the 2008 farm bill.

Peterson declared his unlikely support for the amendment, because he said USDA overreached its authority intended for GIPSA. He added that this amendment may “overreach too far in the other direction,” but he ultimately granted his support.

Other committee actions to note include: 

Goodlatte withdrew his reform bill regarding the nation's sugar policy.

The commodity title retains the same optional coverage plans, with a choice for producers between Price Loss Coverage (PLC) to address deep losses and Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) based on county-wide losses. Both PLC and RLC apply to planted acres up to total base acres on a farm.

Provisions adopted by voice vote as an “en bloc” amendment include amendments from Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, to prohibit USDA from releasing personal private information and require an annual report of the effects of PLC and RLC program.

In a victory for some Democrat panel members, the committee approved Rep. Marcia Fudge's, D-Ohio, amendment to fund a Healthy Food Financing Initiative with $125 million. The vote passed with a 21-19 vote. Lucas voted against the provision, while Peterson supported it.

Under rural development, McIntyre offered an amendment, which failed with a 22-23 vote, to provide $50 million in mandatory funding to address the water and wastewater backlog at USDA.

Gibson's motion to reauthorize RUS Broadband Loan and Grant programs also failed on a vote, 17-28.

In the research title, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., withdrew a motion to create a Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, which is included in the Senate's farm bill. He noted the proposal for the foundation focused on agricultural production research “will emerge later in the [farm bill] process.”

After several minutes of debate, Rep. Steve King's, R-Iowa, amendment to assert that one state cannot deny the trade of an agricultural product from another state based on that product's means of production, passed on a voice vote. King aimed to counter efforts by the Humane Society of the United States, which has worked to establish livestock production standards in some states and, in the process, make interstate commerce of meat and poultry products more difficult.  

Hartzler achieved passage of her amendment to repeal the USDA catfish inspection program, particularly due to a duplicative program within FDA.

Rep. Michelle Grisham, D-N.M., pushed to prohibit slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States but pulled her amendment from consideration.

For a copy of the FARRM bill, click:

http://agriculture.house.gov/sites/republicans.agriculture.house.gov/files/farm%20bill/HR1947FARRM2013.pdf

 

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