Do High-Level Democrats Want A Farm Bill Election Issue?

January 9, 2014 03:20 AM
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They may have one with dairy policy skirmish

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Farm bill conferee Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) thinks farm bill negotiators should call what he labels House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) bluff regarding his insistence that no dairy supply language be included in the final farm bill conference report. If it is, Boehner reportedly told dairy supply language proponent Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) that he would not bring up the farm bill conference report on the House floor for consideration.

House Ag Chairman and conference chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) was also on the Friday three-way telephone call. The sensitivity of the topic is evident from a quote Lucas gave Congressional Quarterly when he said, “I am dealing with forces that are so diametrically opposed with such intensity, who are operating from positions of personal knowledge and experience. Between your ranking member (Peterson of Ag Committee) and your speaker (Boehner), that's a tough position to be in a conference committee.”

The will of the House. But dairy policy watchers recall that both Democratic and Republican members soundly approved a provision during the House farm bill debate that deleted dairy supply management language from the dairy policy provisions.

As for Costa, he said that dairy insurance without supply management controls would lead to surplus production, which in turn would trigger more costly insurance payouts to farmers and higher costs to taxpayers. “I think we’re all concerned about the budget impacts of all we do legislatively," he said.

But would Costa and especially Peterson argue the same need for supply management regarding potentially more budget exposure for corn, soybean and other commodity taxpayer subsidies relative to proposed changes to farmer safety net programs? Acreage reduction control programs of the past were found wanting, so much so that USDA is now prohibited from offering them.

US dairy production is no longer just a domestic affair, what with growing exports. Thus, some argue, Congress should allow the open market as much as possible to determine supply and demand factors – and not the artificial hand of government bureaucracy.

As for Boehner, sources say if anyone doubts his opposition to dairy supply management, then they don't know him at all.

As for election-year politics, some sources are wondering whether or not some House Democratic leaders may privately be hoping that Boehner has to thwart calling up any farm bill conference report. Doing so, the reasoning goes, would give Democrats an election-year wedge issue. Some Democratic lawmakers continue to say that the lack of a farm bill during the 2012 elections helped some Democrats win office – a conclusion not shared by most Republicans and some election experts.

Bottom line: One Washington farm policy veteran said, “If this were about cost containment and curbing exposure to taxpayers, why is this proposed dairy gross margin program being administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). It ought to be administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA), where every other margin insurance program is administered to be actuarially sound.”

Another source said, “Dairy will get worked out. The issue really is why was dairy left until the end to address? SNAP/food stamps is done, Title I is basically done – both weeks ago. And just now dairy comes up?”

One farm bill veteran said it is Peterson and some dairy interests that would take the blame for any failed farm bill, not Boehner. Peterson, the contact noted, “would never have allowed his ranking member to include a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill that then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposed.”

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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