House Sets Up Three Options to Extend Farm Programs (via Roll Call)

The Congressional Budget Office estimates it would cost $986 million to renew and extend the 2008 farm law for the rest of fiscal 2013, according to a document issued Sunday night.

House leaders have posted such an extension, along with two one-month bills — all unnumbered — and members could consider any one of them as early as Monday.

The longer-term extension also includes nearly $850 million in disaster aid, and would fund a series of expired programs by trimming projected spending on direct payments by $1.3 billion over 10 years.

The CBO said that direct payments scheduled to be issued in October — the start of fiscal 2014 — would be trimmed to 82.5 percent of costs and account for a savings of $146 million in outlays.

The extension through the remainder of fiscal 2013 also would include several “orphan” programs that were in the 2008 farm bill (PL 110-246) but which lost their mandatory funding.

Leaders may be testing the political waters by floating the options to see which one could garner the votes to pass. All three would put on hold a return to 1949 permanent law, delaying the so-called dairy cliff that is set to occur Jan. 1. If Congress does not extend 2008 law or address the issue in some way, the cost of dairy price supports would double, raising the possibility that milk prices eventually could increase to $8 a gallon.

“Clearly, it is no longer possible to enact a five-year farm bill in this Congress,” House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said in a statement. “Given this reality, the responsible thing to do — and the course of action I have long encouraged if a five-year bill was not possible — is to extend the 2008 legislation for one year. This provides certainty to our producers and critical disaster assistance to those affected by record drought conditions.”

The one-year version actually would run through the remaining nine months of fiscal 2013 and represents an agreement among the House and Senate farm bill writers, according to Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

She said that measure would include an extension of the direct payment program in the 2008 law.

Until now, Stabenow, D-Mich., has steadfastly opposed an extension of current law, pressing instead for enactment of a new, five-year measure that would change the direction of agriculture support programs. But as the year draws to a close, Stabenow says it has become clear that her goal will not be reached in time to avoid the impending disruptions to the dairy market that would occur if 1949 law goes into effect.

“If a new Farm Bill is not passed in the next few days, Agriculture Committee leaders in both chambers and both parties have developed a responsible short-term Farm Bill extension that not only stops milk prices from spiking, but also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy,” she said in a written statement.

“If a new Farm Bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another markup and just keep working until one is enacted next year,” she added.

The one-year option would include a version of the dairy insurance and stabilization programs in the House and Senate farm bills (HR 6083, S 3240). The International Dairy Foods Association has fought the stabilization program as a supply control device to prop up milk prices by encouraging farmers to reduce milk production to avoid price-depressing surpluses.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, who has had little to say publicly about the farm bill, has also criticized the new dairy programs.

Defenders such as Stabenow and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, say past dairy programs have provided inadequate financial protection to dairy farmers, and the insurance program coupled with the stabilization plan would create a strong safety net.

On Sunday, Peterson said he backed the longer extension because it includes the new dairy programs.

“Given House Republican leaders’ repeated opposition to a five-year farm bill, House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership has worked together to write an extension of the 2008 farm bill which includes much-needed reforms to the dairy industry,” he said.

Peterson called the proposals for one-month extensions “a poor joke on farmers that offers no certainty, just more empty promises from the Republican leadership.”

One of the shorter-term bills would extend current farm programs with some exceptions and the other is a one-month extension of current dairy programs.

“The legislation posted is the result of discussions with ranking member Peterson and my colleagues in the Senate,” Lucas said. “It is not perfect — no compromise ever is — but it is my sincere hope that it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president by Jan. 1.”

The one-year extension would also renew and extend agriculture disaster assistance programs that expired on Sept. 30, 2011, a year before most of the 2008 farm bill did.

Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, found the CBO report reassuring although he said he still has questions about the extension’s treatment of two programs.

“While we question the way the bill was drafted, we are delighted it provides 2013 funding for beginning farmers, rural development, minority farmer outreach, specialty crop and organic research, direct farmer to consumer markets, and a variety of other programs,” Hoefner said in a statement. “We are still awaiting word as to whether the bill would also allow USDA to resume sign-ups and sign contracts with farmers for the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program-Transition Incentive Program.”

Dairy Industry Group Says Secretary Can Delay Milk Price Hike (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

The International Dairy Foods Association says that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has options to avoid or delay the effect of a 1949 law that could drastically raise milk prices. It suggests legal options that would forestall the consequences of adopting parity as the basis of milk price supports due to congressional inaction on a farm bill.

In a letter to Vilsack today, IDFA President Connie Tipton says that the secretary has authority to circumvent the law’s immediate impact on milk markets and give the new Congress time to finish a farm bill after it convenes Jan. 3. Expiration of authority in the 2008 farm bill Dec. 31 require USDA to “revert to outdated, underlying laws that don’t reflect current market conditions or international trade in dairy products,” IDFA said.

Tipton sent Vilsack a memorandum from long-time IDFA counsel Steven J. Rosenbaum of Covington & Burling that provides a legal basis for the procedures described earlier this week by Cornell agricultural economist Andrew M. Novakovic that would require several weeks for USDA to implement provisions of the Agricultural Act of 1949 before it would affect prices.

First, USDA would need to withdraw current regulations that support the prices of cheese, butter and non-fat dry milk at levels established by the 2008 farm bill. It next would have to issue new regulations to describe which products that USDA would buy to maintain milk prices at 75 percent of parity – now estimated at $39.08 per 100 lbs, Rosenbaum says. He also suggests that Vilsack “should explore power to reduce 1949 act milk support” under authority of a later statute that provides for reduction in the farm price of milk for commercial use.

“Because the USDA does not have regulations on the books to implement the old law, the agency will need to develop new ones using a process that could take several weeks or months,” IDFA says.

“Although a sudden and unpredictable increase in milk prices may result in a short-term financial windfall to dairy producers, the immediate implementation of the 1949 Act would dramatically increase government spending, would force consumers to pay significantly more for dairy products and would impose long-term damage to the dairy industry,” IDFA’s letter says.

“In the event that no action is taken by Congress prior to the end of the year, we urge you to consider other legal authorities that are available to mitigate the impact of the 1949 Act. If you conclude that you are required to proceed with implementation, we urge that you proceed in a thoughtful and deliberate manner using the formal rulemaking process,” it adds. IDFA points out that such a schedule would allow producers, processors, food manufacturers, retailers, consumers and others to give USDA their ideas before implementation of a new rule.

“The secretary of agriculture has ample authority to postpone and even avoid any negative impact of a delay in passing a new farm bill, and we expect USDA will take careful and deliberate actions to avoid short-term market disruptions,” Tipton writes.


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If Congress Doesn’t Avoid ‘Dairy Cliff’, Milk Prices Could Double (via The Washington Post)

Add another, more prosaic item to the list of things Congress has left until the last minute to resolve this year: the price of milk.

Distracted by dealing with the Bush tax cuts, lawmakers are running out of time to pass the latest version of the country’s sweeping farm bill and avoid what’s become known as the “dairy cliff.” If Congress misses the Jan. 1 deadline, the price of milk could rise significantly — some say by more than $3 a gallon — as the country’s farm policy reverts back to laws dating from 1949.

The Department of Agriculture said prices would not jump immediately in 2013 and that the agency is exploring all options for heading off a mess. But hopes are diminishing that lawmakers will deal with the farm bill in time to avoid throwing the nation’s farm policy back more than six decades.

“The best outcome would be for Congress to do its job and pass a five-year bill,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last week. “The worst outcome is for us to continue to see Congress do nothing and for permanent law to come into effect.”

It’s not just milk that’s in limbo. The farm bill also includes disaster relief for farmers and foreign food aid that expired Oct. 1 because of inaction by Congress.

And if Congress does not pass the bill by March, when it’s time for farmers to start planting crops, the antiquated laws could begin to roil production for other products, from peanuts to corn, by applying quotas discarded years ago.

“It would be an administrative nightmare,” said James Dunn, professor of agricultural economics at Penn State. “The farmers would lose a lot of flexibility in what they produce.”

The milk situation is immediately dire because milk is produced throughout the year.

At the heart of the trouble is an old provision designed to create a floor for how much dairy farmers are paid for milk — a kind of minimum wage. The formula for calculating that price, however, is based on assumptions that are a century old, predating the improvements in dairy farming. That old formula, if not replaced by a new farm bill, would push prices higher.

How much higher is difficult to determine because of the complexity of milk pricing. There are middlemen who help determine the price of the supermarket gallon, including processors and companies such as Dean Foods that market dairy products to consumers.

The government’s dated mechanism for controlling the price of milk is also remarkably indirect. The USDA in effect offers to buy bulk butter, nonfat dry milk and cheddar cheese in blocks and barrels in order to alter the price of milk. (The government bought so much cheese in the early 1980s that it had to give it away to families.) Such a process wouldn’t cause prices to spike overnight.

The Senate has already passed a farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee approved a version earlier this year, but the House leadership has not allowed the bill to be debated by the entire House. And there are no signs the bill will surface ahead of the year-end deadline.

The office of Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) referred questions about the House schedule to majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose office did not respond to a request for comment.

Farm bills typically are passed every five years but their provisions are in effect for a fixed time. Just like the “fiscal cliff,” the high stakes surrounding the farm bill’s expiration — and the consequences of throwing the law back to its 1949 version — are designed to force Congress to act.

Farm subsidies have drawn controversy over the years, with some questioning their necessity. Dairy program subsidies have cost $4.9 billion from 1995 to 2011, ranking ninth among farm commodities, according to data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group. Corn has received the most, with $81.7 billion during the same period.

The price of milk, however, is largely determined by market forces. In fact, many farmers have been pushing for more financial support from the government as the number of farms has plummeted in recent decades.

Dairy farmers have faced a brutal year, with the country’s historic drought driving up the cost of feed for cows and the price of milk staying too low to help their margins.

“If this doesn’t turn around, then we won’t have a dairy industry as we think of it in the United States,” said Loren Lopes, a 66-year-old dairy farmer in Turlock Calif. Lopes’s farm milks about 500 cows. Many dairies are shutting down, said Lopes, and his son, who is 40, isn’t sure if the business is right for him anymore.

“We’ve been at it and struggled through it,” Lopes said. “My son is really getting discouraged . . . . We’re getting older and he’s looking at what future is left.”

This article can be accessed by visiting

Leahy Warns: Cheese, Milk Powder Filling Closets at USDA (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24, 2012 – Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., warned the Senate Friday that milk “market chaos will erupt” if Congress fails to stop a permanent 1949 law from taking effect in January, setting off a chain of events that could double the prices of milk and dairy products.

Without a legislative fix before Jan. 1, USDA will be required to implement provisions of laws based on the parity ratio that have been suspended by successive farm bills since the 1960s. “The secretary of agriculture and his staff have been – quite literally – dusting off old paper files and mimeographed notes from the 1940s and 50s to review the Agricultural Act of 1949,” he says.

Because of House inaction on its own farm bill and “obstruction of the Senate bill,” Leahy adds, an “archaic law will force the federal government to spend billions of dollars to buy and store dairy products to help raise the price of fluid milk for dairy farmers.”

The law would require USDA to announce a support price for milk at no less than 75 percent of parity – the ratio of milk prices to production costs in 1910-14. With November parity at $52.10 for 100 pounds of milk, 75 percent would be $39.08, nearly four times the current support rate and about double today’s market price. The goal of the program would be to raise the price paid to the farmer with USDA’s offer to buy butter, cheese and milk powder at specified prices.

Higher prices not only would stimulate milk production but also draw “an influx of imported dairy products as processors in other countries would divert products to the U.S.,” Leahy says. “Economists at the USDA say that implementation of permanent law for dairy would cost at least $12 to $15 billion per year,” he adds, not including the cost of storing the products. “USDA may not have enough storage space, and once USDA fills every warehouse at its storage facility in Kansas City, it will have to bring the rest to Washington and fill every closet at the Department of Agriculture’s sprawling South Building with cheddar cheese and powdered milk.”

Leahy says the House leadership “has driven us straight to the edge of this dairy cliff and now is refusing to turn the wheel or put a foot on the brake. This is a pointless and dangerous game of chicken, dragging all Americans along for the ride. So rather than pass the Senate farm bill that saves $23 billion, the House is choosing to put the secretary of agriculture on a path to having to spend billions of dollars on dairy products, paying to store those products, and driving the price of milk through the ceiling for consumers. This is not even to mention the effects this could have on world prices and the harm it will cause for the vulnerable millions worldwide who rely on dairy products for their basic nutrition. That, in summary, is what the dairy cliff is all about.”

While Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said that he will do what the law requires, several procedural steps could postpone or mitigate the market apocalypse Leahy describes. The first step is to announce the support level. The second is to announce the offer prices at which USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation would buy cheese in barrels and blocks, butter and non-fat dry milk. The third step is to actually invite offers. Until then, “nothing happens to markets, other than perhaps rampant speculation,” says Andrew M. Novakovic, the Cornell agricultural economist who chaired Vilsack’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee in 2010. “USDA could take a while to get all that machinery in motion,” he writes in a September paper [] speculating about the result of congressional inaction.

USDA has not been buying surpluses under the Dairy Product Price Support Program for several years, so it would take some time to gear up. Novakovic suggests that one time-consuming step would be to publish a proposed rule with a comment period on several technical matters. Such a rule also could stall at the Office of Management and Budget, known to move slowly. The animal identification rule that Vilsack announced last week languished in OMB since April.

“If the 1949 act really does come back into effect, I think that between USDA delays and industry sensibility about screwing up commercial markets, there won’t be any wild market effects before Congress comes back to its senses and stops the implementation of a new DPSP,” Novakovic says in an email. “There could be some heavy waves on the beach but no tsunami.”


Collin Peterson: Fighting to Pass a Farm Bill (via Minneapolis StarTribune)

WASHINGTON – Collin Peterson, the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee, sits in his private office in the Rayburn Building.

A huge window on the room’s north side frames the Capitol like a post card projecting national power. But just inside the suite of rooms where the Democrat and his staff conduct business, a small sign sends a different message:

“This office belongs to the people of the 7th District of Minnesota.”

If one thing characterizes those people, it is farming, and Peterson’s knowledge of that subject explains why he has served in Congress since 1991. This year, he devoted himself to negotiating a new five-year farm bill that was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2013.

But election-year politics and now fiscal cliff negotiations involving House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama have kept the new farm bill off the House floor, even though a version passed in the Senate.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Peterson evaluated one of the most contentious years in his time on Capitol Hill.

Q What effect did the politics of the 2012 election have on the farm bill?

A It didn’t affect us on the [agriculture] committee. We had hostility from Republican leadership and some rank-and-file before the election. We had it after the election. I don’t think much changed. The problem now is that they’ve run us out of time. To get this bill done by the end of the year, the only way to do it is to put it in whatever they come up with [for a deficit deal]. That has shifted the power from us to Obama and Boehner, which makes us very nervous … They’re both fixated on just cutting money without regard to the long-term policy implications. … There’s talk that they’re going to eliminate direct payments [subsidies to farmers] and extend the rest [of the expiring farm bill].

Q What does it profit the Republican leaders in the House to do it this way?

A They’re placating the right wing of their caucus that doesn’t like spending money on anything. Some of them don’t like the farm bill. Boehner and [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor don’t like the farm bill.

Q How does this compare with the process you’ve been through in the past?

A I’ve never seen anything like this other than 1996 when we had a big budget problem … [House Speaker Newt] Gingrich was blaming [President Bill] Clinton for raising taxes and not cutting spending and so forth. So they did a [budget] reconciliation in 1996, and the farm bill was put in the reconciliation. [House leaders] basically brought us a farm bill one morning at 9 o’clock that nobody had ever seen that was going to phase out farm programs … We ended up spending $64 billion in ad hoc appropriations to bail people out. It was significantly more money than what we saved.

That shows you what happens when you get hijacked by ideologues. We’re in that kind of situation again. Prices are high. They’ve been high. Farmers [are] making a lot of money … These prices will go down. The only question is when … We don’t think the government should be paying people money when they’re doing nothing. So we’re getting rid of direct payments. But we want to go to a system that is based on what you actually plant … It puts in some kind of a floor under these prices in case they collapse … It’s not enough to distort the marketplace. But it’s enough to keep [farmers] in business for a year or two if things really collapse.

Q Do the delays in passing the farm bill make farmers vulnerable?

A As long as they have crop insurance, they’re going to survive … I’m talking about the guy who has 1,500 acres to 2,000 acres. A lot of time that’s a kid who just started five years ago. The only reason he’s farming is because he’s got crop insurance and he’s got these other safety nets he can take to the bank. And the bank can see, well, if the crop fails or the prices collapse, this guy’s going to have enough to pay back his operating loan. You eliminate that and the only people who will be able to farm are people with deep pockets. And you will consolidate agriculture like nothing you have ever seen. And that’s not a good thing.

Q What can farmers in Minnesota and across the country look forward to?

A We’re in a good position because the world population is growing and in a lot of the world these people are a lot more affluent than they were 10 years ago. So their diet is changing and that is creating opportunities in agriculture and in some case shortages, which are driving up prices. If we [in Congress] don’t screw things up, I’m pretty optimistic about the future.

Lucas Announces New Leadership Team for the Agriculture Committee (via House Agriculture Committee)

WASHINGTON – Today Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma named five members to serve as Subcommittee Chairmen of the House Agriculture Committee for the 113th Congress.

“I am pleased to announce the Committee’s leadership team for the next Congress. Our Subcommittee Chairmen have demonstrated a commitment to ensuring the success of American agriculture and rural economies. I look forward to working with them as we address the important issues our agricultural producers and rural constituents face,” said Chairman Frank Lucas.

Chairman Lucas designated the following Subcommittee Chairmen and their jurisdictions:

 Rep. Steve King (IA-5):  Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition  Jurisdiction:  Agency oversight, review and analysis, special investigations, food stamps, nutrition and consumer programs.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, (TX-11):  General Farm Commodities and Risk Management  Jurisdiction:  Program and markets related to cotton, cottonseed, wheat, feed grains, soybeans, oilseeds, rice, dry beans, peas, lentils, the Commodity Credit Corporation, risk management, including crop insurance, commodity exchanges, and specialty crops.

Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-5):  Conservation, Energy, and Forestry  Jurisdiction:  Soil, water, and resource conservation, small watershed program, energy and biobased energy production, rural electrification, forestry in general and forest reserves other than those created from the public domain.

Rep. Austin Scott (GA-8):  Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture  Jurisdiction:  Fruits and vegetables, honey and bees, marketing and promotion orders, plant pesticides, quarantine, adulteration of seeds and insect pests, and organic agriculture, research, education and extension, biotechnology and foreign agriculture assistance, and trade promotion programs, generally.

Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1):  Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit Jurisdiction: Livestock, dairy, poultry, meat, seafood and seafood products, inspection, marketing, and promotion of such commodities, aquaculture, animal welfare and grazing, rural development, farm security and family farming matters, and agricultural credit.

(Note: A final committee membership list will be released when available.)


Agriculture Committee Press Office

Boehner’s Stand Dims Farm Bill Hopes (via Politico)

Hopes of salvaging a long-term farm bill in this Congress are fading fast as Speaker John Boehner continues to resist including any such legislation in a year-end budget deal with President Barack Obama.

Both the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have said savings promised from commodity subsidies could be part of a deficit reduction down payment this year. And as recently as last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged farm bill negotiators to work “24/7” so they could be the “caboose” on any legislative train leaving before New Year’s.

But sources familiar with the deficit talks paint a very different picture: of the speaker digging in, saying he can’t include the farm bill in any package for fear of losing more Republican votes.

The House and Senate bills promise savings between $24 billion and $35 billion over 10 years, chiefly from food stamps and crop subsidies. But Boehner believes adding a farm bill is too cumbersome at this stage and it is better kicked over to a new Congress.

“We can’t drop a farm bill in the middle of whatever is negotiated. A 1,000-page bill on top of whatever is negotiated will just make our vote situation harder,” a Boehner aide told POLITICO. “If we can agree on a top-line number, we suspect the committees will have a much easier time getting to a bill next year under regular order.”

This rankles farm bill supporters, since it was Boehner who blocked the House Agriculture Committee from even bringing its five-year plan – which was 594 pages, not 1,000 — to the House floor before the election. And Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is still rooting for a “Christmas miracle.”

But if Boehner is her favorite target — or Grinch — this is also a bill dying of a thousand cuts and a certain measure of indifference by the White House and even farmers grown content with high prices. Stabenow may have hurt herself last week by so aggressively – and publicly — criticizing a House offer on the commodity title. And having stayed out of the farm bill debate for much of this year, it is harder for Vilsack to assert himself now.

“There is enormous frustration that nothing is getting done. The biggest problem is the system really is broken,” one commodity lobbyist complained to POLITICO. But he admitted, too, that “$7-a-bushel corn doesn’t ring the phone as much.”

What will ring now is a holiday season fight now over a threatened spike in milk prices when the current dairy program expires Jan. 1.

Indeed, if a deficit deal is reached with the White House, the best hope for farm bill supporters may be to have the Ag Committees included in an expedited deficit reduction and tax reform package to be completed next summer. This path has not been ruled out by Boehner and would likely set an August deadline for action.

But beginning in May with winter wheat, farmers will have their own calendar to follow. And another layer of extensions will be needed to bridge this gap as early crops are harvested and new ones planted. If August becomes the new deadline for action, it also raises fresh questions about the fate of direct cash payments to producers due in October.

The milk crisis is more immediate and stirs enough passions that it could spill back on the deficit deal.

Without an extension by Jan. 1, dairy policy reverts to a 1949 law that prescribes a post-World War II vision of a more muscular government buying up dairy products directly to boost prices. The Agriculture Department would pay producers $38.54 per hundredweight compared to a market now running near $16.22. The result could be havoc — many estimate a doubling in consumer prices for milk.

“I will do what the law requires me to do,” Vilsack said at a press conference last week. “It’s fair to say milk prices will increase, and that’s an unfortunate circumstance … Consumers shouldn’t have to have higher milk costs because Congress can’t get its work done.”

This raises the question of some interim action. And just as important, will that stopgap include new dairy security provisions, including a controversial milk stabilization program, as part of any such extension?

Boehner has strongly opposed the stabilization language because of his own home state’s dairy interests in Ohio. But in this case, House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has thrown in with Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the committee’s ranking Democrat and the chief architect of the dairy security reforms.

Peterson has adamantly opposed any extension because he wants to keep the pressure on for a five-year farm bill deal. But he told POLITICO Tuesday that he believes that goal is “dead for this session” and his focus is on getting an extension acceptable to the producers with whom he has been aligned.

That would have to include his dairy security act with supply management tools to try to stabilize milk prices — a major priority for many producers, including some large dairy co-operatives, but strongly opposed by processors, such as companies like Kraft and Dean Foods.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that is it’s dead for this session,” Peterson said of the five-year farm bill he and Lucas reported from their committee in July. But the Democrat said he also warned the White House that any farm bill extension — without the dairy language — risked a backlash from him and dozens of House lawmakers.

“I told the White House that if the dairy bill is not in, I will oppose the debt deal,” Peterson told POLITICO. “I think I have 40 to 50 people who will follow me on that. I basically told the White House that you’d better be careful.”

Lucas told POLITICO that he had had a brief conversation with Boehner on Monday in which the speaker assured the chairman, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

“That can mean anything. That can mean nothing,” Lucas said. “If I were a speculating person, I’d say by definition that means an extension. And it has to address dairy in some fashion.”

“Neither I nor the committee has been asked for specific language. You have to believe that leadership can’t write a farm bill by themselves, they can’t write an extension by themselves. They will need information.”

Looking ahead to the new Congress, the Oklahoma Republican says he is already planning to start anew with a House farm bill markup in late February.

“If I had a bill I could agree with the Senate on, there would be a lot more options. But I don’t have that document yet,” Lucas said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place. I’m squeezed in the middle.”

This story can be accessed by visiting


$8 Milk After Farm Bill Expiration? (via NECN Business)

(NECN: Jack Thurston – Colchester, Vt.) – “It just creates some chaos people are worried about,” said Deputy Vt. Agriculture Secretary Diane Bothfeld, describing the uncertain future for the federal Farm Bill.

Bothfeld told NECN the nation will revert to a more than 50-year old system for pricing milk if Congress does not pass a new five-year Farm Bill to replace the one expiring Dec. 31. Bothfeld said under that antiquated system, three to five months into 2013, the price farmers would get for essentially forfeiting their milk to the government could be nearly twice what they make today on the open market.

Some may think farmers would welcome higher milk prices, but Bothfeld said one prime fear among members of the farming community is that a jump in prices could end up turning consumers off of dairy, by also creating spikes in the prices of things like yogurt and cheese. Some predictions are that a gallon of milk could cost $6 to $8 dollars at the grocery store if the old pricing system is not lifted with a new Farm Bill, Bothfeld said.

“That’s a big jump,” she noted. “It’s around the high three dollars to four dollars a gallon right now. Families may make different choices. And if people aren’t buying a gallon of milk, that adversely affects farmers as well.”

The Farm Bill also covers federal food support for the hungry, environmental programs, and more. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., told NECN he is frustrated with the Republican majority leadership in what he’s called a “dysfunctional” Congress, for not advancing the Farm Bill.

“This is an indictment of Congress,” Welch said. “We passed a Farm Bill in the Senate, and we did it in the House Agriculture Committee, on a bipartisan vote. It’s really the one area where there tends to be continued bipartisanship in Congress. The House leadership won’t put it on the floor for a vote. My view? If they put it on the floor, we’d pass it.”

Welch said he believes the Farm Bill could be discussed amid the Fiscal Cliff debate, but as of right now, no vote is scheduled.

This article and the accompanying video can be accessed by visiting

Looking Back on 2012 Cycle’s Long and Winding Road (via Roll Call)

By Stuart Rothenberg

Wow, what a political cycle. It was filled with twists, turns and surprises.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses — until he didn’t (almost two weeks after the actual balloting, when former Sen. Rick Santorum was certified as the winner).

After finishing a distant fourth in Iowa and an even more distant fifth in New Hampshire, former Speaker Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary convincingly and briefly looked like a very serious contender for his party’s nomination. Then the Romney campaign obliterated him.

And eventually, the race for the GOP nomination boiled down to a duel between Romney and Santorum (Rick Santorum!), with Illinois’ late March primary and Wisconsin’s early April primary turning out to be the decisive contests.

The Republican race was a roller-coaster ride for Romney and for political handicappers, who saw a party that didn’t really want to nominate the former Massachusetts governor but didn’t have a serious alternative.

As I expected, some of the political commentary and analysis during the presidential cycle proved to be misguided or meaningless.

All the coverage of the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll was a waste of time, since the winner of that non-event, Rep. Michele Bachmann, finished sixth in the 2012 caucuses — ahead only of those Republicans who didn’t actively participate.

The suffocating attention focused on Romney’s selection of a running mate was largely meaningless, politically that is. Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan had no effect on the results of Nov. 6.

All of the chatter about the president replacing Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate was foolish, as was the speculation about a “white knight” riding into the GOP race to give Republicans a stronger nominee for the fall. And Clint Eastwood’s shtick in Tampa, Fla., had no effect on the election’s outcome.

But some events and outcomes certainly surprised me or proved me wrong.

I assumed the national party conventions would have little effect on swing voters. So I didn’t anticipate the impact of Bill Clinton telling a national television audience that since even he couldn’t have fixed the economy in a mere four years, certainly President Barack Obama couldn’t have been expected to pull off that miracle.

I expected the last three jobs numbers (those reported the first week of September, October and November) to have significant impact on the general election. They did not. Instead, the August numbers were overshadowed by the Democratic convention, while the September numbers were overshadowed by Obama’s abysmal first debate performance, which I also did not expect.

I didn’t expect the Obama organization to be as effective as it was in turning out voters. I remember the Democratic hype in 2004 about ACT (Americans Coming Together), which was supposed to swing Ohio into John Kerry’s column, and I figured that the Obama campaign’s confidence in its turnout program this year would be another re-run of 2004. It wasn’t.

I never expected voters ages 18-29 to constitute a larger percentage of the electorate this time than they did in the previous presidential election. Democratic strategists talked repeatedly about their efforts on college campuses to get the Obama vote out again, but I remained skeptical right up until I saw the exit poll on election night. And I was wrong.

I was surprised by how off some of the GOP’s best pollsters were in some of their surveys. In 2010, Republican pollsters caught their party’s wave much earlier and more accurately than did the Democrats’ pollsters, but this time things definitely were reversed. Republican pollsters were overly optimistic (from their perspective) about the makeup of the 2012 electorate, which contributed to overly rosy predictions.

I also was surprised that Democrats won all of the closest House races, most of the tossup Senate races and all of the swing states in the presidential race. No, 2012 wasn’t a partisan wave election, but, either because of turnout, late- deciders or possibly candidate quality, Democratic candidates caught a slight late breeze.

Finally, I was surprised that both Romney and his top strategist, Stuart Stevens, seemed so clueless about why Romney lost. Stevens’ Nov. 28 Washington Post op-ed was amazing in its whistling past the graveyard reflections about the 2012 election and about the problems facing his party.

Would the November results have been different without Superstorm Sandy or with more efficient TV time-buying by Romney’s campaign? Would a different Republican vice presidential nominee have affected the outcome? Would the election cycle have been different without Todd Akin and Richard E. Mourdock? Would Romney have performed better with non-whites had he offered a different tone on immigration during the GOP primaries? Would he have even been nominated?

Every election result leads to dozens of questions. That’s certainly the case this year. Unfortunately, the answers to those questions are harder to come by.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (

Pacelle: Projecting a Moderate Face on Animal Rights (via Roll Call)

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, recently took a break from his long-running battles with livestock producers to set up a new branch of the Humane Society in India, an occasion that included the presence of the Dalai Lama.

But having Pacelle on the other side of the world — about as far away from Capitol Hill as possible — still gives the U.S. farm lobby reason for heartburn. Beyond India, Pacelle has his eyes on establishing similar organizations in other countries that are major agricultural producers and markets for U.S. exports, including Brazil and Russia.

That puts the beef, pork and poultry industries squarely in the cross hairs of consumers around the world concerned about the treatment of animals bred and raised for food.

“They are going to these other countries to also add that international pressure on producers in the U.S.,” said Kay Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a livestock industry group.

“It’s the same tactic, just a difference audience that they’re trying to approach,” she said.

Under Pacelle’s leadership, the Humane Society has used a powerful combination of ballot initiatives, social media, undercover videotaping and corporate arm-twisting to force some of the biggest players in the meat industry to end farming practices the producers maintain are sound and ethical.

The pork industry was essentially forced to phase out the use of tight-fitting stalls to confine sows after McDonald’s and Safeway announced plans to phase out purchases of pork produced in those stalls.

Meanwhile, the egg industry is asking Congress to do what would be unthinkable for many industries: impose the very regulations sought by its critics.

The United Egg Producers, stung by the Humane Society’s ability to pass state laws regulating livestock housing — including a 2008 ballot measure in California — reached a deal with the society to set national standards for cages that will force farms to end the use of the small “battery cages” that have long been the industry standard. Animal rights supporters say larger “enriched” cages, which would be mandatory under the proposed national standards, give hens space to perch, nest and move around.

Pacelle has been able to convince the egg industry that things could get worse if it doesn’t get behind the new regulations.

According to the United Egg Producers, a proliferation of state standards is creating chaos for producers, who often ship throughout the country. The Humane Society agreed to stop pursuing additional state measures as part of the deal with the egg producers. But, if federal standards are not enacted, the deal is off. Then, as happened with pork producers, pressure is likely to increase on the egg industry from retailers and restaurants.

“If this agreement in Congress is not codified, you will likely see efforts in the food retail sector that mirror those on the pork issue,” Pacelle said. “We would be forced to resume that effort.”

Producer Backlash

Cattle and hog producers fear hen standards would set a precedent for regulating their industries, too. Federal law is largely silent on how livestock is treated, except for regulations requiring that hogs and cattle be slaughtered humanely, and those industries are fighting the egg producers over standards for hen housing.

Egg producers must still get Congress to write the standards into law, and so far they’ve had little success. The effort is likely to resume next year, assuming Congress doesn’t pass a farm bill in the lame-duck session.

Democratic leaders wouldn’t allow the standards to be proposed as an amendment to the Senate-passed farm bill (S 3240). Egg producers then pinned their hopes on getting the standards debated on the House floor as an amendment to the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill (HR 6083), but that measure won’t be brought to the floor now.

House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders now are trying to write a compromise bill behind closed doors that could be passed as part of an agreement to avert the fiscal cliff. In the event that happens, there is unlikely to be any chance to add the egg standards, a prospect that would be just fine with other livestock sectors.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, sees the standards as giving in to the Humane Society even though egg producers in Iowa want them: “It comes down to, ‘Do we want the animal rights activists telling the food producers how to produce food?’”

The egg industry remains unbowed.

“Whether it’s now — during the lame duck — or whether it is next year due to an extension of the farm bill, we’re absolutely, 100 percent committed to getting the egg bill passed,” said Chad Gregory of the United Egg Producers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., have introduced bills (S 3239, HR 3798) that would amend federal poultry law with the provisions of the agreement reached between the egg producers and the Humane Society. No action has been taken on either bill, although Senate Agriculture did have a hearing on Feinstein’s bill in July.

“This legislation protects restaurants, bakers, food processors and American consumers from unnecessarily high egg prices. It protects egg producers from having eggs they can’t sell,” Feinstein said in a floor speech in May. “This legislation is a reasonable, widely supported solution to a real, costly and growing problem.”

Meanwhile, Pacelle, as the India trip shows, sees no end to his group’s influence. Pacelle took over the Humane Society of the United States in 2004, ramped up its fundraising and gave the animal rights movement a moderate face that had been lacking under the leadership of groups such as PETA that relied on the campy and outrageous to gain attention.

He is particularly interested in expanding to countries where sufficient money can be raised to support operations. India is one of those.  “I do believe that every country should have a group,” he said.