UPDATED - House to Vote Next Week on One-Year Farm Bill Extension, Linked with Livestock Ag Disaster Aid

July 27, 2012 10:36 AM
 

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Rules panel to consider rule on Tuesday | More questions than answers 

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


The House of Representatives as expected next week (Wednesday) will vote on a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, linked with an extension of disaster aid for livestock producers. Link to 48-page draft of the bill.

 

Preliminary estimates indicate that the new disaster spending will cost $621 million over 10 years. This cost would be more than offset, with a net savings of $399 million over the same period.

 

The bill would cut the 10-year funding baseline for direct payments by $261 million to help fund the disaster aid, according to an initial score by the Congressional Budget Office, but the reduction would not start until Fiscal 2014 (2013 crop) -- direct payments would be paid on 84.5 percent of base acres; for 2012, payments are made on 85 percent of a farm's base acreage. Spending on four conservation programs would be cut by $759 million over 10 years, with most of that coming from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, according to CBO.

 

The bill would revive several expired disaster programs, including the Livestock Forage Program at a cost of $441 million, according to CBO. It would also include authorization for several other programs, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, renewable-energy incentives and others. Funding the programs would be left to appropriators.

 

More details on cuts. For Fiscal Year 2013, no cuts in direct payments – those would be made in FY 2014. But for FY 2013, the bill would cut 1.8 million acres from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), $50 million from the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP), $350 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and $40 million from the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), while eliminating the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP). Proponents of these programs say farmer demand for them exceed even the current supply of dollars and acres by more than 2:1.

 

The proposed bill would provide no mandatory money for several programs, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentive Program (CRP-TIP), Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR), Renewable Energy Assistance Program (REAP), Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), or Voluntary Public Access (VPA) program. Each of those programs would be funded under one or both of the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill and the House Committee-passed 2012 Farm Bill.

 

The Rules panel will meet Tuesday to consider the draft bill – initial reports signal the extension would be offered under a closed rule, meaning that leadership would not allow members to offer amendments. It would extend the 2008 Farm Bill provisions for one year and would renew for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013 expired disaster assistance programs for ranchers and fish, tree, honey bee and nursery plant producers. The aid would be available for losses incurred by Sept. 30, 2013, because of disaster, adverse weather or other environmental conditions.

 

 

Several hurdles are evident in trying to get the linked measure approved. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has repeatedly stated there should be no farm bill extension unless it could serve as a shell to allow negotiations on the House committee bill and Senate-passed bill (S 3240). That approach was used to produce a final highway bill (PL 112-141) after House GOP leaders could not find needed votes on the floor to pass a separate transportation bill.

 

Contingent support from Peterson. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), ranking member on the House Ag Committee, offered support for the House GOP move, but with a contingency. "Congress should not be playing politics with the rural economy, one of our nation’s economic bright spots," Peterson said in a statement July 27. "I am against an extension and will remain opposed until I receive assurances that this is the path to conference a five-year farm bill with the Senate."

 

But veteran sources do not expect House GOP leaders to play the "shell game" with a new farm bill conference because, as several contacts noted, the proposed new farm bill approaches $1 trillion in spending and more than a few House members want to offer key amendments to the farm and food stamp measure.

 

Stabenow said a farm bill extension without a roadmap toward a conference for a new farm bill is an endorsement of the status quo. "They want to extend the farm bill for another year with no deficit reduction, no reform, no certainty for farmers and with policies extended another year that don’t work for a lot of industries and then just do some disaster assistance," Stabenow said, referring to the House during a July 26 Senate floor speech. "Instead of having a full five-year farm bill policy, they are talking about kicking the can down the road one more time."

 

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) will support the extension as an interim step to provide some certainty for producers after Sept. 30. "It is critical that we provide certainty to our producers and address the devastating drought conditions that are affecting most of the country and I look forward to supporting and advancing this legislation," the chairman said Friday.


Comments: What Democratic lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle fail to mention, or recall, is that during the 2008 Farm Bill process, they were in control of both the House and Senate and they agreed to truncate livestock disaster programs, the controversial Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) and the conservation programs detailed previously, in order to fit the budget parameters of the 2008 Farm Bill.

 

As for the next steps in the House, without significant votes from Democratic members, including must-have support from Rep. Peterson, there would not likely be enough Republicans to get the 218 votes needed for passage. If that is the case, a separate ag disaster bill would likely be the next move in both the House and Senate.

 

Even if the pending House farm bill extension/ag disaster bill would be approved, any conference between House and Senate lawmakers on a new farm bill would be very murky due to the significant hurdle of food stamp funding. The pending House farm bill cuts food stamp funding by $16.1 billion, with several House GOP conservatives wanting a higher number and most Democratic members wanting far less. The Senate-passed farm bill cuts food stamp funding by around $4.5 billion, with some Democratic senators saying that is even too much of a cut, and some Republican senators saying that is not nearly enough of a cut. The question then would be, how is this thorny issue resolved? One way, contacts signal, would be to work out a new farm bill deal after Nov. 6 elections, in a lame-duck session, and have that compromise be part of a must-pass measure before Congress adjourns for the year.

 

If a stand-alone ag disaster bill is the route eventually taken, even that could be troublesome. When Joplin, Mo., was leveled by tornadoes and Hurricane Irene slammed the East Coast last year, Republicans insisted any aid be offset with spending cuts elsewhere. The same search for budget offsets could ensue this year because the current House GOP plan would pay for the ag disaster provisions by cutting direct farm payments and conservation spending, but those are tired to a one-year farm bill extension.

 

And in the Senate, Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said "Our position is that there’s no good reason for the House not to take up and pass the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill. The House should not let petty politics get in the way of passing this important, bipartisan bill."

 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday to discuss aid options as the drought has significantly impacted Kentucky as well. "Kentucky farmers and livestock operators are very concerned they don’t have the tools readily available to enable them to manage the risk caused by the drought," McConnell told him, according to a release. The Senator also urged Vilsack to "look at all legal authorities and budgetary options to assist Kentucky farmers."

 


More Questions Than Answers Regarding Ag Disaster Aid and New Farm Bill

Lingering issues confront political leaders on both sides of political aisle

Covering the U.S. weather is easy. It either rains or not. And you simply have to go outside to see how hot the temperatures are, and whether they linger. If farm policy outlook could be so simple. Ditto for the US Congress.

The farm policy meanderings in Washington this week have given even veteran observers cause to think that no one knows what's going to eventually happen. But talks with veteran watchers say the following are key issues ahead. And whatever the answers are to the following questions, they have one very strong factor at play -- the decisions are being made with Nov. 6 elections very clearly in lawmakers' minds and whatever transpires, each side believes they will have something to use with farm and non-farm voters. That's why they call it farm politics.

– Will GOP leaders conclude they have the needed 218 votes to link ag disaster aid language with a one-year farm bill extension?

– How many Democratic votes will be needed to get those 218 votes?

– How many conservative Republican House members will want to vote on a separate, nearly $1 trillion farm bill and offer amendments, rather than linking it with ag disaster aid language?

– What will be included in a forthcoming House GOP ag disaster aid package and what are the costs?

– Should the disaster aid/one-year farm bill extension fail, will House GOP leaders still push forward a livestock-only disaster plan?

– Will the Democratic-led Senate succeed in efforts to get the House to pass a drought aid, farm bill extension bill and then insert the Senate-passed farm bill and call for a House-Senate conference?

– What other ag-related funding will the Senate add to their version of the measure?

– Would House GOP leaders allow a completed farm bill conference before Nov. 6 elections?

– Would House GOP leaders more likely prefer to use farm bill savings as budget offsets for spending in a lame-duck session after elections and include a new farm bill with an omnibus spending package or some other must-pass bill during the lame-duck session?

– What will be used for budget offsets for ag disaster aid?

– Couldn't some of the direct payments to be paid in Oct. 2012 be used to help offset the cost of ag disaster aid?

– While the House ag disaster aid language is not expected to include resurrecting the lapsed Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE), will the Senate include that in their ag aid package once the House bill gets to that chamber? If so, what are the costs of resurrecting SURE?

– Wouldn't the cost of resurrecting SURE for 2012 crops be huge whereby scores of producers who did not go into the program before would jump at the chance this time, especially with payments likely being made on a more accelerated basis than the prior program, and because there is a separate payment cap for this program?


 

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


 


 

 

 

 

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