2012 Governors and Legislatures Chart (via MultiState Associates)

The 2012 electronic version of the annual Governors and Legislatures Chart – which provides projected session dates, gubernatorial election years, governors, and political party distribution for the House and Senate in all 50 states – is now available by visiting
http://multistate.com/site.nsf/G_L2012?OpenPage

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Reset Button Has Been Hit on the 2012 Farm Bill

The failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (commonly referred to as the “Super Committee”) to come to agreement on $1.2 trillion in spending reductions and revenue enhancements over ten years means that the accelerated process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill within the context of fiscal and budgetary pressures has come to an abrupt stop.  The failure of the “Super Committee” to reach agreement on a bipartisan plan triggered automatic program reductions – including an estimated $15 billion in spending reductions to agriculture beginning January 2013.  There is a chance the automatic reductions for agriculture won’t go into effect if Congress passes the next farm bill prior to expiration of the current legislation in September of 2012.

However, the leadership of the Senate and House Agriculture committees was able to develop a foundation upon which they can construct the next farm bill.  In a joint statement issued by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D – MI), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Representative Frank Lucas (R – OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee noted that the “House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders developed a bipartisan, bicameral proposal for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that would save $23 billion.  However, the Joint Select committee’s failure to reach a deal on an overall deficit package essentially ends this effort.”  The intent of the Senate and House committees is to continue the process of reauthorizing the next farm bill in the months that lie ahead, with public hearings likely throughout the first half of 2012.

As various proposals from the agriculture committee continued to surface throughout the month of November, there was a growing chorus from stakeholders of every stripe that the process being utilized to craft the comprehensive proposal was the least transparent in memory.  There were concerns that, without the opportunity by stakeholders to be fully engaged in the process that the committee recommendations would not reflect the commodity and geographic differences inherent in modern-day agricultural production.

There are positive signs that the work of the agriculture committee leadership was not in vain.  A summary of the proposed recommendations to the “Super Committee” released by the Senate Agriculture Committee in mid-November provides clues as to the direction the committees will go in crafting the next farm bill.  Although not set in stone and open to revision, there were a number of interesting aspects worth noting within the recommendations.

The Commodity Title would have seen substantive changes, with Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments (CCPs), the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) programs would be allowed to expire resulting in an estimated $15 billion in savings.  The crop insurance program would be strengthened and supplemented by a new Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) Program designed to protect against both yield and price losses.  Individuals and entities with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $950,000 would have been ineligible for program payments under the Commodity Title and individual producers would not have received any payments in excess of $105,000 from the ARC programs.

The dairy sector would have also seen significant changes, with two new programs replacing the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP) and the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC Program.  A voluntary Dairy Producer Market Protection Program (DPMPP) would have provided margin-based assistance for producers equal to the difference between the all-milk price and a national feed cost.  In addition, the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP) would provide incentives for producers participating in the DPMPP to scale down production when the market is oversupplied.  In the past the latter has proven to be controversial amongst dairy producers and organizations and is likely to face renewed scrutiny in the months that lie ahead.

Although the Senate and House Agriculture committees now have a chance to hit the reset button, stakeholders across the spectrum will have the same opportunity to rally their troops in support of favored programs and policies.  With the current farm bill set to expire at the end of September 2012, the question now becomes the likelihood of passing the new bill during an election year or if the legislation will be delayed until 2013.

Copyright © 2011 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Livestock Farmers Say Ethanol Eats Too Much Corn

Livestock farmers are demanding a change in the nation’s ethanol policy, claiming current rules could lead to spikes in meat prices and even shortages at supermarkets if corn growers have a bad year.

The amount of corn consumed by the ethanol industry combined with continued demand from overseas has cattle and hog farmers worried that if corn production drops due to drought or another natural disaster, the cost of feed could skyrocket, leaving them little choice but to reduce the size of their herds. A smaller supply could, in turn, mean higher meat prices and less selection at the grocery store.

The entire story can be accessed by visiting http://www.ldnews.com/national/ci_19397282

Joint Statement Released by Senate and House Ag Chairmen

Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, released the following statement in response to the announcement that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has failed to reach an agreement.

“House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders developed a bipartisan, bicameral proposal for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that would save $23 billion. However, the Joint Select Committee’s failure to reach a deal on an overall deficit reduction package effectively ends this effort. We are pleased we were able to work in a bipartisan way with committee members and agriculture stakeholders to generate sound ideas to cut spending by tens of billions while maintaining key priorities to grow the country’s agriculture economy. We will continue the process of reauthorizing the farm bill in the coming months, and will do so with the same bipartisan spirit that has historically defined the work of our committees.”

Members Oddly Shy in 2012 Endorsement Race (via Roll Call)

Unsure of the field and hesitant to endorse a loser, Congressional Republicans are remaining noticeably neutral in their party’s 2012 presidential primary.

Just six weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa, only 66 GOP Members have publicly backed a candidate, compared with 111 at this point four years ago.

In interviews, Republican Members and GOP strategists credited low participation in the primary to Congress’ poor approval ratings, a general lack of enthusiasm for nominal national frontrunner Mitt Romney and minimal confidence that any of the former Massachusetts governor’s opponents can beat him.

“I want to wait and see who appeals to the grass-roots conservatives, and so far, that hasn’t happened. I’d like to be able to say I’m supporting conservatives around the country with this candidate,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, an influential Republican who announced earlier this month that he would not endorse in the primary. DeMint’s backing is coveted for both his national reach and his position representing South Carolina, a key early state.

DeMint, who endorsed Romney in 2008, is not alone among his Senate Republican colleagues from early primary and caucus battlegrounds. Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also decided not to endorse in the race, as did Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) said he doesn’t endorse as a matter of policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and outspoken conservative Rep. Steve King (Iowa) are on the fence, and neither seems in a hurry to weigh in. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) seemed hesitant to pick sides in an interview with Roll Call last week but then endorsed Romney over the weekend.

That Congress is held in low regard — with a job approval in single digits in some surveys — has made Republican presidential candidates less eager to seek and tout Member support. The feeling is mutual, with Members lukewarm on anchoring their political fortunes to a White House hopeful. Romney is the only contender with a concerted whip operation, led by Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo

One GOP Member said that most Republicans on Capitol Hill expect Romney to be the nominee but that there “is not the same enthusiasm” for him as there has been for frontrunners in the past. Republican strategists with relationships in the House and Senate said Members have been equally indifferent about the rest of the field.

Whether they are concerned that Romney’s moderate image could generate friction with conservative activists back home or are worried that other candidates aren’t viable, Members have felt more comfortable standing pat. “Members who backed [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry are now in a difficult position of defending him and no one wants to repeat that kind of mistake,” said one GOP operative who is not affiliated with a candidate.

Once considered a frontrunner, Perry has seen his star fade as he has continued to make embarrassing blunders during primary debates. “I think we just need to let the whole primary process play out, so I’m not planning on endorsing anybody anytime soon,” explained Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), who was elected last year on the strength of tea party support. “There’s still a lot of information I need to see play out here. We still have debates, we’ll see how some of the voters respond; there’s no reason to jump to a conclusion right now.” Recent national polls show former Speaker Newt Gingrich joining Romney in the lead, even though the Georgian’s campaign appeared on the verge of collapse in June following high-profile defections of his campaign staff. Georgia businessman

Herman Cain still polls near the top, but his trend is negative in the wake of sexual harassment charges and foreign policy gaffes. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) is also surging in some of the latest surveys, including polls gauging support in the early-voting caucus and primary states. The fluid race has seen Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) poll well early in the summer only to drop off. Perry also tanked after entering the race in mid-August as the candidate to beat. The RealClearPolitics.com average of all national polls issued Nov. 8 to Nov. 15 showed Romney with 22 percent, Gingrich with 21.6 percent, Cain with 18.6 percent, Perry with 8.2 percent, Paul with 7.8 percent and Bachmann with 5.4 percent. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of many high-profile Republicans to consider and then decide against running for president in 2012, said the failure of the contest to solidify, or for a consensus candidate to emerge, has added to Members’ uncertainty about whether to endorse.

“I want to have somebody who’s a principled conservative and who can articulate our vision effectively. But I also want to make sure that we’ve got somebody who can win in ’12,” said Thune, who was active for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. House Republicans have been more willing than their Senate counterparts in the endorsement sweepstakes, but only slightly. Lawmakers who usually relish being intimately involved in a presidential campaign are staying mum.

House Rules Chairman David Dreier was an influential backer of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and he was an early, active supporter of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2008. But the California Republican is neutral in this contest. In a brief interview last week, Dreier said his previous involvement in presidential primaries occurred “back when the endorsement of a Member of the United States Congress was a positive.” But announcements of support could begin to accelerate in December. McCain said he’s been taking more calls from fellow Members asking advice on getting involved in the primary, and Blunt said he’s begun to see movement in his bid to gather Capitol Hill support for Romney.

 But the Missourian noted that his whip operation has virtually no competition. Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.) endorsed Romney on Friday. A Republican strategist with House and Senate clients said institutional support has increasingly gravitated toward Romney as donors and high-level operatives conclude that he is positioned to win the nomination. According to Roll Call’s endorsement list, Romney has received the backing of 42 Members; Perry has garnered 14, including eight Texans; Gingrich has 6, among them four Georgians; and Paul has three, including his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Rep. Dan Benishek (Mich.) is Cain’s single supporter. Bachmann has no publicly announced backers.

“Everything has been a little slower this time,” Blunt said. “I think Members are legitimately figuring how much of their own political capital they can transfer, and that is a post-2010 phenomenon in my view.”

A Strange Way to Pick Presidential Candidates (Stuart Rothenberg)

Presidential debates, says NBC News Political Director and Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd, are now part of the winnowing process. Instead of going to a small state and wooing caucus-goers, Republican presidential hopefuls are going on national cable to see if they can resonate with the voters.

With 26 GOP debates currently scheduled between May 5, 2011, and March 19, 2012 (17 of them before the Iowa caucuses), the fight for the party’s nomination is now played out in living rooms and dens around the country as much as in diners, candidate coffees and small events in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The full story can be accessed at http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_61/debates_strange_way_pick_presidential_candidates-210390-1.html?ET=rollcall:e11394:80065042a:&st=email&pos=epol

 

The following joint press release relating to the commodity title and payment mechanisms was issued by the USA Rice Federation, the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the National Cotton Council of America, National Sorghum Producers and the U.S. Rice Producers Association:

Commodity Groups Call for Balanced and Equitable Farm Bill

 MEMPHIS, TN – Commodity groups representing cotton, rice, peanuts and grain sorghum are urging the development of a farm bill that maintains equity among all of U.S. agriculture.

“The leadership of these commodity organizations is pleased with efforts by the Agriculture Committees to craft a responsible set of farm programs that maintains balance and ensures that deficit reduction is equitably shared across commodities and regions,” said NCC Chairman Charles Parker, a Missouri cotton producer. “All of us in agriculture need to work together to achieve the best possible policy. Policy must be crafted to recognize differences in costs of production and avoid the disproportionate impacts of a one-size-fits-all policy.”

The commodity groups reiterated support for a farm policy structure that recognizes the inherent differences in production practices across the major crops and urged the Committees to develop a set of programs that will best serve all commodities. While supporting policy that promotes market-oriented and flexible cropping decisions, the groups urged the Committees to be mindful of the potential imbalance and disproportionate effects of payment limits.

Parker said the NCC leadership has been working hard to assist in the development of a farm bill that’s balanced among all of agriculture, as well as fiscally responsible, because that’s the type of legislation that will best serve this nation.

Linda Raun, USA Rice Producers’ Group chairman and a Texas rice producer, said, “The U.S. rice industry appreciates the strong effort by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to develop sound, fiscally responsible farm policy that serves the needs of all farmers in all regions. We support the concept of a true producer choice option that recognizes the unique differences by crop and region rather than forcing a one size fits all approach. In developing a choice of policies for producers there must be equity between the options so as to minimize any discrimination against certain crops or regions, and the equity should account for the current differences in crop insurance availability and impacts of payment limitations across different commodities.”

Ray Stoesser, a rice farmer and chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association, said, “Rice producers from the Mid-South to Texas and California appreciate the effort and initiative of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership and staff to develop a safety net for rice producers in all growing regions.”

“We believe strongly that the Committees and the Congress need to act with care to ensure that cuts to our current safety net programs and the design of any new program treat all commodities and regions equitably. The unique production attributes and high production costs of rice, in particular, need to continue to be accommodated in any safety net ‘choice’ options, crop insurance availability and design, and payment limit and safety net eligibility restrictions. The U.S. Rice Producers Association looks forward to continuing to work with the Committees and other farm organizations to maintain a farm safety net that is workable and equitable across commodities and production regions.” 

Armond Morris, representing the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission, commented, “We appreciate the House and Senate Agriculture Committees working with our farm organizations to achieve a farm bill that is fair to all commodities and regions of our country. With our current economic environment, it is critical that all farm organizations pull together to support legislation that is fiscally responsible and strives to keep Rural America healthy.”

“It is very important we recognize the unique differences between commodities,” said Terry Swanson, chairman of the National Sorghum Producers and sorghum farmer from Walsh, Colo. “Producers must be able to choose a policy that allows them to effectively manage risk on their individual operation.”

# # #

November Legislative Report

Intricate Dance of Crafting Farm Policy Continues

As the old saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.”  The same can be said for politics and the crafting of public policy, as members of the Senate and House agriculture committees – as well as agricultural organizations – await details of a proposal that will have significant ramifications for the 2012 Farm Bill.  In an effort to retain control of agriculture’s policy destiny, last month the leadership of the Senate and House agriculture committees pledged to submit to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (aka “The Super Committee”) a package with at least $23 billion in savings over ten years.  Specifics where initially slated to be sent to the Super Committee by November 1, 2011 but that timeline has slipped as members continue to negotiate a number of sensitive policy issues.

The lack of a written proposal, however, has not tempered the enthusiasm of members and stakeholders from sharing their opinions as to the direction farm bill policy should take.  Regional and sector-specific differences have also resumed their traditional role in the policy debate, as key members of congress and those they represent strive to ensure their voices are heard.  For example, at a time when almost every other program within the farm bill is slated to see reductions, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) continued to advocate for an additional $1 billion for specialty crops – an important segment of Michigan’s agricultural sector.

Although there appears to be general agreement amongst committee leadership on a handful of farm bill titles, even those will not be without controversy.  For example, proposed dairy provisions are likely to remain highly controversial.  A margin insurance program will essentially be funded via elimination of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) and Dairy Product Price Support (DPPS) programs and a market stabilization/supply management component will be part of the overall package.

Not all titles, as currently constituted, are likely to “make the cut”.  For example, sources have indicated that the Livestock Title (Title XI) is likely to be eliminated but that programs providing disaster assistance to the livestock sector will be retained elsewhere in the bill.  It is also likely that the Energy Title (Title IX) will also see major revisions, with at some programs being reauthorized (e.g. the Biomass Crop Assistance Program) but not funded.

The Conservation Title (Title II) will also see major revisions, with reductions for both land retirement and working lands.  A cap for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is likely to be lowered from the current 32 million acres to approximately 25 million acres and a number of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) program will be consolidated and streamlined into groups – perhaps four or five – that focus on their respective functions.

Most notably, it appears as though the nutrition title, which accounts for ¾ of farm bill spending, will again emerge essentially unscathed.  According to Capitol Hill sources, policymakers have decided not to tackle the politically sensitive spending engendered by nutrition programs.  Instead, it is likely these programs will be reduced by $4 billion via reductions in administrative costs.

As is usually the case, great scrutiny has been allocated to proposed revisions to the Commodity Title (Title I), with a number of options having emerged, including at least one version of a revenue guarantee program and countercyclical payments based on higher target prices for key commodities that would be coupled with a shallow-loss program.  Target prices would be established in relation to operating costs, with payments tied to planted acres rather than being decoupled.  In order to retain direct payments, they would henceforth be tied to a price trigger mechanism.

According to Agri-Pulse, one of the commodity title options under consideration would set target prices for wheat at $5.50/bushel and rice at $14.00/cwt., which would be a significant increase from the current target prices for counter-cyclical payments of $4.17.bu for wheat and $10.50/cwt., respectively.  Although target prices for corn and soybeans have yet to be released, the issue of equity and potential market distortions has emerged.  Growers of these crops have expressed concern that market distortions could result when market prices are at or below the target prices that would be implemented as part of a “recoupled” program.  They also note that operating costs are not a determinate of crop prices.  Therefore, weighting such costs in the setting of target prices would likely result in negative impacts vis a vis corn and soybean production.

For organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), there are concerns regarding shallow revenue loss programs that would be coupled with crop insurance but would not address a broad systemic failure.  There is also concern related to multiple program options that have been proposed for program crops – options that the AFBF views as a major step in the wrong direction when it comes to developing a policy blueprint for agriculture. The organizations continues to advocate for a strong safety net that does not engender more World Trade Organization (WTO) problems for the United States or that favors one commodity over another, thereby impacting planting decisions.

As members and farm organizations fill the rhetorical vacuum, one thing is certain.  The pending November 23rd deadline for the Super Committee to forward a comprehensive deficit reduction proposal will be the ultimate determinate in what cards agriculture and rural interests have to play in determining the best path forward.

Both Sides of Deficit Reduction Committee Seek the “High Ground”

As noted on numerous occasions, the fate of the 2012 farm bill is intertwined with the work currently being undertaken by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  With little more than a week remaining to craft a “grand compromise, the impasse over a comprehensive agreement continues and all indications are that committee negotiations will continue until the last feasible moment.  By law the “Super Committee” can produce a plan of any amount but, at the very least, it must provide a framework of $1.2 trillion over ten years to avoid a sequester that would result in approximately $500 billion in defense reductions, as well as deep reductions to domestic programs.

It is unlikely the committee will be granted an extension beyond November 23rd deadline for issuing a deficit reduction package to the full Congress and both sides have been engaging in efforts to position themselves as the rational ones in the debate.

Balancing revenue enhancements, spending reductions and entitlement reform have proven to be every bit the high-wire act that was envisioned when the “Super Committee” was formed.

Last week (and over the weekend) both Democrats and Republicans of the “Super Committee” issued the most partisan statements seen to date.  As reported by Roll Call, a $1.2 trillion plan floated by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) was attacked for not being a “serious” effort to raise revenue, even though it contained $500 billion in revenue enhancement – including $250 billion in tax code reform.  Conversely, Republicans countered that Democrats were not conceding enough on entitlements – even though their plan included reductions of $350 billion in Medicare and $50 billion in Medicaid.

According to Capitol Hill sources, there appears to be two paths that might lead the “Super Committee” forward.  They could choose to forward a larger plan that significantly addresses entitlements and revenues or a modest plan that barely touches either.

There are differing views as to what would be the best scenario for agriculture.  According to Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), it is best interest of the agriculture community for a Farm Bill to be agreed upon this year – provided it is a defensible, well-crafted policy rather than simply put together to meet a deadline.  Others believe that agriculture would be better off under sequestration, where a number of programs would be exempt.  Regardless of which side is right, it is clear that the next Farm Bill will be transformational rather than transitional.

Copyright © 2011 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

House Overview: What’s In Play (Stuart Rothenberg)

Aside from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) prediction to ABC News back in early June that her party had “a very good chance of winning the House,” national Democrats have been cautious about predicting a takeover next November.

That’s the way it should be, of course, given that redistricting has yet to be completed and considering President Barack Obama’s job performance ratings.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), for example, has talked only about “putting the House in play,” a far lower ­— ­and more reasonable — bar.

The full article can be accessed at http://www.rollcall.com/features/Election-Preview_2011/election/house-overview-whats-in-play-210218-1.html?ET=rollcall:e11349:80065042a:&st=email&pos=epol

Senate Overview: A Battle to Break Through (via Roll Call)

Committees Alter Spending Strategies to Adapt to New Climate

The 2012 Senate battleground is pretty much set one year before voters go to the polls, but the parties’ spending strategies are evolving in uncharted territory.

With an unprecedented level of spending from the presidential campaigns and outside groups expected next fall, the Senate campaign committees are preparing to adjust how they spend their limited resources in the fight for 51 seats.

The full story can be accessed at http://www.rollcall.com/features/Election-Preview_2011/election/Senate-Overview-A-Battle-to-Break-Through-210216-1.html?ET=rollcall:e11349:80065042a:&st=email&pos=epol