House takes another step toward farm bill conference

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2013 - The House approved a motion Friday, by voice vote, to head to conference with the Senate to resolve differences between the chambers' farm bills.

In addition, the House approved, by voice vote, a non-binding resolution instructing conferees to limit premium crop insurance subsidies to farmers earning more than an adjusted gross income of $750,000 annually.

The House is expected to vote today on two other non-binding motions to instruct conferees: one on sugar policy and one involving both permanent law and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The motion to go to conference clears the way for House leadership to formally announce their conferees. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said he expects conferees to include 12 Republicans and nine Democrats.

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Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said, that after years of work on a new farm bill, he was “overjoyed at being on the verge of sitting down with the other chamber.”

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., applauded the House action.

“Senators worked across the aisle to overwhelmingly pass bipartisan farm bills the last two years in a row,” Stabenow said. “If that same bipartisanship endures in the conference committee, we will cut tens of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending, make major reforms to improve crop insurance and strengthen other risk management tools, streamline and strengthen conservation and nutrition programs, and create jobs by investing in rural America.”

Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., also welcomed the House action on moving to conference.

“The table will be for us to work on a long-term farm bill that is equitable to all producers in all regions of the country,” Cochran said. “The task before us is urgent. I am ready and optimistic about working with our House counterparts to resolve significant differences and put in place policies that work well for the agriculture industry.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., called the House action “a positive step forward.”

“Since I took office, I have worked tirelessly to draft and pass a long-term farm bill to give our producers certainty they deserve,” Heitkamp said. “It is my hope that conferees will quickly work together to negotiate a compromise, and we can soon get a new farm bill signed into law.”

The resolution on crop insurance (H. Res. 379) was offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who called it reasonable to reduce premium subsidies, by about 15 percent, for farmers and agri-business companies earning more than $750,000 in annual adjusted gross income.

Lucas opposed the resolution, saying, “We need to encourage participation in crop insurance and increase premiums into the insurance pool.”

More than 20 groups, including the National Farmers Union, wrote a letter today to the House urging lawmakers to oppose Ryan's resolution.

“In the spirit of compromise and in the interest of completing a 2013 farm bill this year, each of the groups has committed to not support amendments that might weaken the crop insurance program or conservation compliance,” the letter said. “A meaningful farm and natural resource safety net as provided by crop insurance and conservation compliance must be available to all producers across the nation.

In addition, the House is expected today to vote on a resolution (H. Res. 378), offered by Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., to instruct conferees to give the agriculture secretary authority to increase sugar imports year-round, rather than just during the current six-month window.

Pitts argued his resolution seeks to return authority the secretary had before the 2008 farm bill, and would protect manufacturing jobs.

Peterson called the resolution unnecessary because “it's not going to be considered by the conference.”

Phillip Hayes, director of media relations at the American Sugar Alliance, said his organization is working against the resolution.

“Regardless of the outcome of this resolution, we'll focus our attention on ensuring the conference report contains a strong sugar policy,” Hayes said. “With today's low price environment caused by subsidized Mexican sugar, it is essential that a strong sugar policy continue.”

Further, the House is expected to vote today on a motion to instruct conferees to support permanent law provisions in the Senate bill and a five-year reauthorization of SNAP benefits.

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