WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2017 - Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill have now kicked off hearings on the next farm bill. But it could be a year from now before a bill starts moving, at least in the House.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway used a speech yesterday at USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum to outline his plans for the farm bill and the challenges his committee will face.
He said he doesn’t expect to start moving a farm bill until the last quarter of this year or early 2018. The House schedule will be too crowded until then, and Conaway doesn’t want to have his committee act on the farm bill until he knows there is time to immediately debate the legislation on the House floor.
By moving the bill directly from the committee to the floor, Conaway will make it harder for the bill’s critics to organize support for amendments.
Welfare reform complicates farm bill. Conaway also faces another challenge: He expects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the most expensive part of the farm bill, will get “caught up” in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plans to overhaul federal welfare programs next year. Conaway didn’t say how those two legislative efforts would work together.
There has been no sign that the Senate will take up welfare reform.
STAX out, ARC needs ‘fine-tuning.’ Conaway also made clear that the STAX revenue insurance program that was created in 2014 for cotton growers would be eliminated in the farm bill. Doing so would help offset the cost of making cotton eligible for the Price Loss Coverage, which is the top priority for that industry.
The Agriculture Risk Coverage will likely be extended by the new farm bill, even though budget analysts expect it to be far less popular with farmers in coming years than PLC. Conaway said that ARC will get some “fine-tuning” in the new farm bill.
Senate Ag taking online comment. The Senate Agriculture Committee is kicking off its work on the farm bill by soliciting input online. Comments can be submitted through March 2 via a link on the committee’s web site.
The committee held its first field hearing on the farm bill yesterday in Manhattan, Kan. The 10 farmers who testified laid out positions on most of the major issues that lawmakers will face, including dairy, cotton and the Agriculture Risk Coverage program.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., stressed that the new bill has to address the needs of all crops. “All of agriculture is struggling, not just one or two commodities,” he said.
Peterson: Tax breaks backfiring on farmers. The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, told the Ag Outlook conference that he thinks farmers are making poor financial decisions because of two popular tax benefits.
Peterson, who like Conaway is a CPA, said that the Section 179 and bonus depreciation allowances encourages excessive purchasing of new farm equipment. Farmers have been “buying whole new line of equipment because they could write it off.” Peterson addressed the conference by video.
Conaway, Peterson eye RFS reforms.  Conaway told the conference that he and Peterson have had some discussions about changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard. However, Conaway acknowledged that the House Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction over biofuel policy, not the Agriculture Committee. And Peterson’s concerns are focused on the mandates for advanced and cellulosic biofuels, not ethanol.
Conaway said that he and Peterson, and others are “working on the idea that the Renewable Fuel Standard … standards are unachievable.” Conaway said 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels – the amount of renewable fuel the statute calls for in 2022, the final year of the program – can’t be achieved.
Peterson said through an aide that there were “informal conversations” during the last Congress between lawmakers from oil and corn states “about the importance of ethanol to those rural economies and getting past some of the myths about corn ethanol.”
A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told Agri-Pulse that the panel is soliciting “input on near term and potential longer term reform” to the RFS.
Beef, biotech priorities for next ambassador to China. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, President Trump’s nominee to become ambassador to China, said at the Outlook conference that he is determined to reopen the Chinese market to U.S. beef. The ban stems from the finding of mad cow disease in the United States in 2003.
“I want to serve it at the (U.S.) embassy and I certainly want to do what I can to convince the Chinese leadership to do that sooner than later.”
Branstad also says he intends to push China to accelerate its approval process for biotech crops, something the Obama administration was never able to do.
Bannon: Exiting TPP was ‘pivotal.’ Trump’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the Washington area yesterday and provided some insight into how closely Trump’s trade policy is linked to economic nationalism.
Bannon said that withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was “one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history.” He said that getting out of the 12-nation trade deal would help restore U.S. “sovereignty.”
Bannon said the White House already is working in consultation with Congress on pursuing new bilateral trade negotiations.
Trump, meanwhile, needled Mexico yesterday over the North American Free Trade Agreement. In a meeting with corporate executives, Trump said, “We're going to have a good relationship with Mexico. And if we don't, we don’t."
He said it. “No one is going to ask why you need the safety net, it’s going to be really clear.” - House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway on how the downturn in the farm economy should buttress the case for a new farm bill.
Spencer Chase contributed to this report.