Biden: Could be ‘a few’ new work rules

Work requirements remain in play in the debt ceiling negotiations between the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. It’s still not clear which program might be affected, but President Biden has once again signaled that he might go along with some changes. 

Biden on Wednesday appeared to rule out applying work requirements to Medicaid. “I'm not going to accept any work requirements that's going to impact on medical health needs of people,” he told reporters. 

He also said he wouldn’t accept work rules that “go much beyond what is already” required. But then, he added this: “It's possible there could be a few ... but not anything of consequence.” 

House GOP sets marker on ag spending

Even as the debt ceiling talks with Biden continue, House Republicans are rolling out appropriations bills that are revealing their spending priorities, and USDA comes out anything but well. The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee votes today on a bill that would slash funding for USDA by one-third in fiscal 2024

The total doesn’t count programs that are funded through the farm bill and other laws, including crop insurance, commodity programs, conservation assistance, SNAP and child nutrition programs. 

As expected, the bill would restrict Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s use of the Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority. The bill also would rescind $3.75 billion in clean energy spending that was part of the Inflation Reduction Act, plus $2 billion in loan forgiveness funding. Some $500 million in COVID relief also would be clawed back.  

Tell me what you really think: “The proposal is pathetic, it is punitive, and it is petty,” Vilsack said in a statement. 

Keep in mind: Leaders of the House and Senate Ag committees and staff have talked about some of these provisions as possible sources of funding for a new farm bill. The IRA funding for conservation programs is notably left untouched by the Ag Appropriations bill.

Take note: Two other FY24 spending bills also were released this week: The Homeland Security measure contains a comparatively small cut, while Military Construction-Veterans Affairs would get a funding increase. 

Torres Small nomination advances

The Senate Ag Committee has approved Xochitl Torres Small’s nomination to be deputy ag secretary. The committee action Wednesday came just a week after her confirmation hearing. Torres Small, who is currently serving has undersecretary for rural development, would replace Jewel Bronaugh in the department’s No. 2 post. 

Specialty crops getting House Ag focus

Expanding crop insurance options for fruits, vegetables and other specialty corps is likely to be a priority for the House Agriculture Committee. The chairman of the subcommittee that handles commodity programs and crop insurance, Georgia Republican Austin Scott, told reporters Wednesday that expanding crop insurance is a concern for Democrats on the committee, and he noted that he also has specialty crop producers in his own district who need insurance. 

“It takes money and so we’re going have to have some money to expand the options for those producers,” said Scott. 

By the way: The chairman of the full committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., told reporters his staff has been analyzing options for raising Price Loss Coverage reference prices but isn’t ready to discuss the results. 

Thompson also mentioned automation research as a need for the labor-strapped specialty crop sector. 

UN chief lauds grain deal, warns of outstanding issues

UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed a deal announced Wednesday that extends the Black Sea Grain Initiative by two months, but he also warned that “outstanding issues” remain to be solved. 

Russia, which continues to complain about Western impediments to its ability to export fertilizer, has been threatening to shut down the deal since it was renewed in March. UN officials say they are working to remove those obstacles, including efforts to reopen an ammonia pipeline out of Russia.

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Guterres  still wants to broaden the initiative, which has allowed Ukraine to export primarily corn and wheat from its ports in Odesa despite the ongoing war.

Why it’s important: The Black Sea Grain Initiative not only allows Ukraine to sell its grain to Europe, China and other countries that can afford to buy them, but it also allows the UN World Food Program to acquire and donate Ukrainian wheat. 

Corn growers: We’re ready to help reduce tailpipe emissions

A Kansas farmer used a House hearing Wednesday to make the case that EPA’s plan to slash tailpipe emissions ignores the part that ethanol should play. 

“The agricultural and liquid fuels industry stand at the ready to assist in reducing air pollution. Unfortunately, current and proposed EPA rules prevent us from being a part of the solution and adversely impact low income and rural citizens across the United States,” Josh Roe, CEO of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. 

While electric vehicles will play a vital role in achieving carbon neutrality, “complementary alternatives such as biofuels have a role to play but are being pushed aside,” Roe said.

Fourth poultry processor settles compensation case

George’s Inc. has agreed to pay $5.8 million in restitution to workers harmed by the company’s sharing of compensation information with other poultry processors, under an agreement reached with the Justice Department.

DOJ filed a proposed consent decree and final judgment in federal court in Maryland to settle the conspiracy case against the poultry processor. Similar settlements already have been reached with processors Cargill, Sanderson Farms, and Wayne Farms, as well as with a data consultant, Webber, Meng, Sahl and Co., and its president, G. Jonathan Meng.

The proposed settlement allows DOJ’s Antitrust Division “to inspect George’s facilities and interview employees to ensure George’s compliance with the consent decree,” DOJ said. 

He said it. “That may be an appropriate use for CRP for that land, since we're probably not going to be grazing livestock on there (and) not going to be raising crops on there.” – House Ag Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, when asked by a reporter whether PFAS-contaminated land could potentially be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Bill Tomson, Jacqui Fatka and Steve Davies contributed to this report.