WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 -Emotions will be running high when the 46 members of the House Agriculture Committee gather Wednesday morning to debate and amend the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM). With more than one-third of these lawmakers working on their first farm bill, members and staff met Monday evening to discuss the game plan for going through the 557-page legislative text of H.R. 6083 ‑ title by title ‑ with amendments and votes offered for each section.
About 100 amendments have been offered, ranging from Rep. Jean Schmidt’s, R-Ohio, proposals that deal with medical marijuana and bed bugs, to Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s, R-Va. far-reaching “Sugar Reform Amendment. For a list of all of the amendments we’ve collected thus far, click HERE.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, made it clear during an American Soybean Association meeting Tuesday that he’s no fan of the target price provisions included in the commodity title, and he’s offered language that would trim target price levels by 5 percent and require proof of a loss before receiving payment. Rep. Leonard Boswell, R-Iowa, has a slightly different amendment with proof of loss language.
Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., backed by ranking minority member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., appears to have enough votes to protect his target price provisions, but with attacks coming from both the left and right during what is expected to be a marathon day of votes, his job won’t be an easy.
The biggest and most politically divisive fights are expected over reforms in the sugar and dairy programs, along with funding for food stamps. Several Democratic House members gathered outside the Capitol on Tuesday to oppose $16 billion in cuts over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the House farm bill draft. Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., made an appearance to call the proposed cuts “an abomination.” However, he indicated he is open to discussions regarding the bill.
House Republican leaders insist the SNAP reductions represent only two percent of the program’s ever-expanding baseline, and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., plans to elevate the already explosive nature of the debate by proposing even deeper cuts.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., claimed the cuts would cause two to three million people to lose access to the program entirely and “nearly 300,000 children would lose access to the free school meals they need to thrive and develop.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said that, if the package arrives on the House floor with the suggested reductions, “We are going to do everything in our power the defeat this bill.”
Whether or not the bill will actually arrive on the House floor before the current bill expires on Sept. 30 has been the subject of speculation for weeks. House leadership signaled to members that they want to pursue a laundry list of other issues before the November elections, including repeal of the health care bill, appropriations, permanent normal trade relations with Russia, regulatory relief and tax reform. If that’s the case, the clock will run out before the FARRM bill reaches the floor. After this week, there are only 25 legislative days before the election.
Another potential scenario follows the route of the transportation bill and avoids a House floor vote until after conference with the Senate: If the House Agriculture Committee approves the measure, as expected, they could seek approval for an expedited process from the Speaker of the House and the House Rules Committee to conference with the Senate and then return for approval by the full House.
Yet, another scenario has the House conferencing with the Senate, while seeking a short-term extension until after the election. That’s when Congress faces the potential for a new “fiscal cliff,” just as Congress faces a host of politically sticky issues, including whether to extend President Bush’s tax cuts, extension of unemployment benefits, sequestration cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling.
If nothing happens, CBO predicts the Gross Domestic Product could fall by 4 points or more, raising concerns about another recession, pointed out Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, during a speech to the American Soybean Association Tuesday.
“My prediction is that this may be the lame duck that is not the lame duck. Not because they want to do it, but because they have to do it rather than wear the scarlet letter of ‘R’ for recession,” Conner said. “This could be agriculture’s opportunity to fight a little bit above our weight class and include the work that we’ve done on the farm bill as part of that economic package.”
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