Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.
Lame Duck Farm Bill
Oct 04, 2012
"We’re going to get it done."
The "it" is the Farm Bill, and "it’s" going to get done in the Lame Duck session following the election November 6. So predicts Jerry Kozak, CEO and President of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
I had the opportunity to sit down with Kozak yesterday here at World Dairy Expo. He believes rational minds will prevail on the Farm Bill debate beginning Nov. 7. The reason is that Congress and the country is facing the so-called "fiscal cliff" next year, and waiting on a Farm Bill makes things that much worse.
The debate over the Farm Bill has little to do with actual farm programs. It’s really a debate about how many dollars come out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—more commonly known as food stamps. John Boehner (R.—Ohio and Speaker of the House) and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party want even deeper cuts to SNAP ($164 billion vs. $23 billion in the Senate and $34 billion in the House Ag Committee). Democrats want no cuts to the program.
But after January 1, both sides could lose as (if) sequestration kicks. Tea Partiers would lose on some of their hallowed programs (Defense, for one) while Democrats could see even deeper cuts to Food Stamps and other social programs. So the incentive is to get a deal done now in the Lame Duck session.
For the first time in memory, says Kozak, the Farm Bill does NOT hinge on dairy policy. The Dairy Security Act, he insists, is a done deal. "We already won in the Senate. The House Ag Committee voted down the Goodlatte amendment (which would have stripped out the market stabilization/supply management component) by a vote of 29-17. And the full committee passed the entire Farm Bill 35-11," he says.
Kozak also maintains NMPF has already done its compromising. The original DSA contained mandatory participation in the stabilization program at the $4/margin level. Only the supplemental portion of the program was voluntary. Now, the entire program is voluntary—but if producers sign in, they also agree to the dairy stabilization program.
So I asked Kozak point blank that if the Farm Bill eventually does get hung up on dairy policy—and yes, it still could happen—whether National Milk would accept the Goodlatte amendment or no Farm bill. "Probably no Farm Bill, because the Goodlatte amendment would be worse," he says.
Under Goodlatte, farms get $4/cwt margin protection insurance but no restriction on production. That could cause surpluses to grow unchecked, depress milk prices for longer periods and cause government expenditures to rise.
In the end, of course, Kozak could still be posturing. He believes he has the votes to pass the Dairy Security Act as it currently stands. And when you’re in that position, why compromise?