Pro Farmer Extra
- From the Editors of Pro Farmer newsletter -
December 6, 2013
Pro Farmer Associate Editor Meghan Pedersen was in Washington D.C. last week at the Farm Journal Forum and filed this report:
Farm bill end zone slipping into 2014
Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas), farm bill conferee and chair of the House Ag Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, kicked off the 2013 Farm Journal Forum with an optimistic tone. Conaway joked that he scrapped a previous, fiery version of his speech after the four farm bill principal negotiators made progress at a mid-week meeting. Conaway also expects more progress this weekend, but warns there are many issues still being negotiated.
There has been very little partisanship during the farmer safety net negotiations, according to Conaway, though this was less the case when it came to food stamp negotiations. In an AgriTalk interview following the event, Conaway noted that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) budgeting is still the No. 1 hurdle and that Title I farm program safety net issues remain a contentious area.
Regarding the timeline, Conaway agrees with Conference Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) who says the farm bill will likely be completed in January due to the mechanics of the process, including scoring, paperwork and getting the bill passed in both the House and the Senate.
Conaway is optimistic the compromises made by the conference committee will be enough to attract the votes needed to pass the farm bill in the House, especially since the leadership in the chamber backs its passage. Conaway says Lucas has been “bending over backward” to accommodate the Senate counterparts. He also says the House has not drawn hard lines on contentious issues such as shallow-loss programs or nutrition spending cuts and remains open to compromise. Also, sources signal agreement has been reached to base safety net payments on base acres rather than planted acres.
In reference to the food stamp cuts, Conaway says focusing so much on the numbers in terms of cuts is like trying to fit a “square peg in a round hole,” especially since the Congressional Budget Office is essentially making an educated guess on projected spending.
Conaway stands firm on the need for a work requirement to gain food stamp eligibility and says the success of food stamps should be gauged by how quickly people get off the support program, rather than the reverse.
Addressing talk that some Democrats are willing to “blow up” the entire farm bill rather than make cuts to food stamps, Conaway says that makes little sense for rural America and production agriculture and therefore would make little political sense for lawmakers who represent those parts of the country.
Regarding crop insurance, Conaway says he personally opposes adjusted gross income (AGI) limits on payments and will continue to fight against them. He says AGI limits to crop insurance eligibility artificially restrain this risk management tool and punishes farmers based on size. In addition, with massive tax reform efforts underway, there is much uncertainty as to what impact this will have on farm income.
Conaway also opposes conservation compliance to be eligible for crop insurance and says the farm bill principals are working to keep crop insurance as strong as possible.
Conaway fielded a number of questions about dairy policy and a possible reversion to the permanent 1949 law. Conaway says he does not support an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill to avert a reversion to permanent law as he feels this threat keeps pressure on lawmakers to complete a farm bill.
Follow Pro Farmer Editor Chip Flory on Twitter: @ChipFlory
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