The Challenges of Writing a Farm Bill in an Election Year
With Congress back in session and the President’s State of the Union Address behind them, members now turn their attention to the challenges of legislating in an election year. Although there are a number of issues of interest on the horizon for the agriculture sector, none is higher profile than what will happen with the expiring farm bill.
In the waning days of 2011 the leadership of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had agreed to a farm bill draft that would have garnered an estimated $23 billion in savings. With the failure of the “Super Committee” to come to agreement on a comprehensive package of spending reductions and revenue enhancers, details of the joint proposal by the agriculture committees did not see the light-of-day.
The reset button has been pushed and Congress will now return to considering legislation under regular order – the process by which a budget resolution is passed, subcommittee and committee hearings are held, committee markups of legislation are held and there is a vetting and amendment process via floor debates before a final vote before bills are reconciled and sent to the White House.
A new year, however, brings new challenges. As the agriculture committees await baseline spending numbers, it is an open question as to whether agriculture will be asked to do more. Will the $23 billion in savings that had been identified late last year will be enough or will the leadership in the Senate and House expect a higher amount? In addition, 2012 being a presidential election year, one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are up for re-election.
All indications are that the Senate Agriculture Committee will move first on drafting the new Farm Bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) is expected to have a tough re-election fight this year and it is in her best interests to demonstrate to her constituents that her position leading the Agriculture Committee is of value to the state of Michigan. Failing to move a farm bill out of her committee could leave her vulnerable to attacks by her opponents that she is ineffective as a leader and that she was unable to deliver.
There are also practical reasons why the Senate will likely go first; namely experience. In addition to former Secretary of Agriculture on the committee Senator Mike Johanns (R – NE), there are an inordinate number of former Senate Agriculture Committee chairmen, including Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R – KS) who has chaired the House Agriculture Committee. This deep bench and wealth of experience will allow for discussion of proposals without having to account for a steep learning curve.
In addition to the overall challenges of passing a farm bill this year, the House Agriculture Committee continues to be faced with a different dynamic than their Senate counterparts. Experience on the House Agriculture Committee remains an issue, with a number of new members on the committee, as well as new members in the full House.
These challenges not with-standing, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (D – OK) believes that, if the $23 billion number remains in play, the committee “will have the necessary resources to use crop insurance both on the revenue side and on the production side to…provide a functioning safety net.” Mr. Lucas, does however, hold out the possibility that there may be some form of extension or a temporary farm bill before Congress and the Obama Administration will be able to agree on a permanent farm bill.
“I wish I could say that an extension would be the easy way out, but there will probably be certain expectations on savings in an extension proposal, and by the same token if you have an extension can you get a farm bill done in lame duck session? Or if it rolls into the next full term of Congress and the next presidential term, will they demand more savings from us? I just don’t know what to expect” said Chairman Lucas
United Egg Producers/HSUS Legislation Draws Fire
In addition to the ongoing battles between the livestock sector and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at the state level, introduction of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798) has raised the specter that the two stakeholders will engage one another at the Federal level, as well. The looming clash will take place during an election year and while Congress and the Administration work to craft a new farm bill.
The proposed legislation would codify an agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) that would require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space. After the phase-in period, producers would be required to provide all egg-laying hens with environmental enrichments (e.g. perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas) that will allow hens to express natural behaviors.
In addition, the legislation would prohibit feed or water withdrawal during molting to extend the laying cycle (a practice already prohibited by the UEP Certified program), prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses, and institute standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for euthanasia of egg-laying hens.
Consumers would also not go untouched by the legislation. The proposal would require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs and would prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet the above requirements.
In support of the legislation, UEP President and CEO Gene Gregory articulated his belief that the legislation would help egg producers better plan for the future. Mr. Gregory noted that “Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states. That’s where we are heading if we don’t pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers.”
But other livestock groups continue to sound the alarm that the legislation is only the beginning of a “government takeover of farms.” In a recent Op-Ed, National Pork Producer Council President Doug Wolf noted that “This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals”. Mr. Wolf’s Op-Ed can be viewed in its entirety at https://rdlassociates.wordpress.com/.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald has also expressed concerns related to the legislation. “This legislation, while currently only affecting egg producers, could set a dangerous precedent to allow government bureaucrats in Washington to mandate how farmers and ranchers across the nation raise and care for their animals,” said Donald. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production. Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.” In addition to HSUS, there are a number of animal rights groups that continue to oppose modern animal agriculture, leaving little doubt that the livestock sector will have to continue defending themselves against ongoing attacks.
Those in support of animal agriculture will have to find avenues to amplify their message that agricultural producers in rural America raising livestock or growing the necessary commodities for animal feed are critical for producer vitality in the complex global food chain. Support for a vibrant and viable livestock sector and maintenance of consumer confidence in the Nation’s food supply will be critical for the animal agriculture sector in crafting initiatives for livestock and poultry care standards that are based on sound science, sound information and economic feasibility.
The Role of Crop Insurance as a Safety Net for Producers
With elimination of direct payments all but certain due to spending reductions that will be necessary in crafting the next farm bill, there is little question that policymakers will look toward crop insurance to serve as the primary safety net for producers. Given the complexity of the interface between the crop insurance program and budgetary pressures, doing so will not be without challenges.
From a program expenditure perspective, many within the agriculture sector will point out that the crop insurance program has already “given at the office.” The 2008 Farm Bill included reductions to the crop insurance program of approximately $6 billion over a 10-year period and the 2011 Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) that went into effect on July 1, 2010 included an additional $6 billion in estimated funding reductions the crop insurance program over 10 years. Some industry observers have expressed concern that the combined impact of the 2008 Farm Bill and 2011 SRA reductions could lead to consolidation in the industry, thereby leaving producers with fewer risk-management choices.
Crop insurance protects a producer’s yield and price as well as providing collateral and repayment source for operating loans, term loans for machinery, livestock, facilities, and real estate loans. Although an increasing number of producers currently utilize crop insurance as a critical component of their marketing plan, they also continue to face higher input costs. Therefore, a wide range of strong risk-management tools for producers, including a viable crop insurance program, will be front-and-center as Congress determines the best course of action for enhancing the crop insurance program during consideration of the farm bill.
LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign
With 90 percent of registered U.S. voters today actively using social media, the millions of likes and dislikes they share every 60 seconds can make or break a candidate’s race. Co-authored by RDL & Associates President Dave Ladd, the rules of LIKE plainly explain how social media has permanently shifted conversations with constituents. Well suited for the individual with little to no social media experience, LIKE outlines the steps and how to get into the habit of using them whether running for the school board, for the United States Senate, or leading inside any organization. LIKE offers commonsense advice on how to engage with a socially-networked democracy, and deliver your message with confidence. LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign is now available at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/like-seven-rules-and-10-simple-steps-for-social-media-in-your-campaign-(in-politics-business-or-otherwise)/18817332
Copyright © 2012 RDL & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.