The Cantor-Boehner Farm Bill Two-Step (via Politico)

The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge, signaled  Thursday that she is prepared to make new concessions on food stamps to advance  Farm Bill talks with the Senate.

But having met face to face with Majority Leader Eric Cantor this week,  Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, said she came away more skeptical that the Virginia  Republican is willing to move from his own positions to get a deal.

“He doesn’t want a bill,” Fudge told POLITICO of their Tuesday  meeting. “Just in terms of our discussion, it was clear to me, it was my sense  that he really does not want a bill.”

As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Fudge had opposed the initial  $20.5 billion package of food  stamp savings reported by the panel as part of its farm bill in  June. But she said she was now willing to consider supporting the savings as a  way to get to conference with the Senate, if the Republican floor amendments —  including one promoted by Cantor — are first pulled out.

“I would consider voting for that bill, yes,” Fudge said. “I am willing to  make concessions to get [the farm] bill done. I don’t know how we separate the  nutrition portion from the farm bill portion. However, it is my sense that  [Cantor] does not want a bill for whatever reason. That’s how I feel.”

Fudge’s comments are significant for two reasons. First, because of her  standing among Democrats, she is someone who could genuinely help to shift votes  toward a compromise. Second, the fact that Fudge came away so frustrated — after  seeking out Cantor with the help of Ohio Republicans — adds to the perception  among many farm state Republicans that the majority leader is slow-walking talks  with the Senate.

So much so that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has begun to reach out to the  major players on the farm bill in recent days to assure them that the House will  be prepared to appoint conferees early in September when lawmakers return from  the August recess.

This reassurance is important if the top members of the House and Senate  Agriculture committees are to use the intervening time effectively to begin  exploring compromises. These “pre-conference” talks got off to a rough start  with sniping between the staffs aggravated by Senate doubts over whether the  House will ever go to conference. But Boehner appears to have calmed the waters  — for the moment.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/farm-bill-2013-eric-cantor-john-boehner-94767.html#ixzz2a9tCCmh3

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2013 Farm Bill Update (via Farmdocdaily)

Overview

Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have passed farm bills.  As expected, differences exist.  Some are notable.  This post briefly reviews the current farm bill situation and looks at possible paths forward.  It examines the farm bill situation from three perspectives:  politics, process, and content.

History

The 2008 Farm bill expired on September 30, 2012.  During 2012, the Senate passed a new farm bill.  The House of Representative Agriculture Committee passed a bill, but the House did not debate it.  Instead, Congress extended for one year 2008 farm bill provisions that had baseline spending.  Thirty-seven programs had no baseline, including agricultural disaster assistance, the Wetland Reserve and Grassland Reserve Programs plus three other conservation programs, eight energy programs, and seven programs related to horticulture and organic agriculture.  Thus, these 37 programs are not continued. The direct payment, target price, and ACRE programs had baseline and are continued; however, the budget sequester act led to a 8.5% reduction in direct payments and 5.1% reduction in payments by all other programs administered by the Farm Service Agency.

On June 10, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a vote of 66-27.  Voting for the Bill were 46 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and 2 Independents.  On July 11, 2013, the U.S. House passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act by a vote of 216 to 208.  All 196 Democrats voted against the bill.  The House had rejected an earlier version of the bill, 195 to 234.  Key differences between the accepted and rejected versions are that the version which passed (1) did not contain a food assistance title and (2) replaced permanent farm bill law for farm support programs with the 2013 House farm support programs.

Politics

Recent farm bill debates generally have not been particularly partisan.  Key differences were usually more along regional than political party lines.  The 2013 House farm bill is partisan.  While it is easy to point to the debate over the food assistance title as a partisan issue, a deeper partisan issue is at play:  federal spending.  Generally, more liberal Democrats favor increased spending while conservative Republicans favor lower spending.  Exacerbating this division is the slow growth of the U.S. economy, which means slow growth in government revenue.  When considering the current farm bill situation, it is important to note that most legislation is now partisan, especially if it involves spending.  It is also worth remembering that partisanship marked the debate during the 1950s and 1960s over high, fixed parity support prices vs. market-oriented, lower parity support prices and the associated debate over mandatory supply controls.  As a general rule, Democrats favored high, fixed parity support prices while Republicans favored market-oriented, lower parity support prices.  This debate did not begin to end until the Food and Agriculture Act of 1965 was enacted, foreshadowing that the market-oriented, lower price support position would emerge.

Process

While the lack of a food assistance title in the House farm bill has garnered considerable attention, food assistance has been tied to the farm bill more closely recently than historically.  The Food Stamp program was initiated by legislation outside a farm bill, the Food Stamp and farm support programs have been extended for different periods of time by the same farm bill, and major changes in the Food Stamp program have occurred outside the farm bill.  Moreover, even if its authorization expires, Congress can continue the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – previously called the Food Stamp program), by appropriating money for it.  Thus, both history and the current situation suggest it is possible to write a farm bill without a food assistance title, although farm bills since the 1970s have included food assistance.  Hence, from the perspective of process, like any difference between House and Senate bills, a Conference Committee will be impaneled to try to bridge the difference.

Key date for passing a farm bill is not September 30, 2013, but December 31, 2013.  The farm bill was extended for the 2013 crop year, meaning current crop programs continue until a crop’s 2013 crop year ends.  For example, the corn and soybean 2013 crop year ends August 31, 2014.  December 31, 2013 is critical because the current U.S. dairy price support program ends on this date.  The dairy price support program would then revert to permanent law provisions.  Permanent law provisions are primarily in the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 and Agricultural Act of 1949.  Under permanent law, the dairy support price is likely to exceed $35 per 100 pounds (cwt.), compared with a $9.90/cwt. support price in the 2008 farm bill and a May 2013 all-milk market price of $19.70/cwt.  Congress demonstrated in its 1-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that it will not allow the dairy support price to revert to permanent law.

Content Differences

Besides the food assistance title, major differences in the 2013 House and Senate farm bills include:

  1. replacement of permanent legislation – The House Bill replaces the 1938 and 1949 farm legislation with the farm commodity title in the 2013 House farm bill.  Thus, the House farm bill proposes that the House farm commodity support programs would exist forever until Congress decided to reconsider them.  The Senate continues permanent legislation.  Its commodity title is an amendment to the permanent laws and expires at a specified date in the future.  For example, commodity programs for field crops expire after the 2018 crop year.   Thus, the Senate farm bill requires that commodity programs be reconsidered.  Reverting to permanent law has been an impetus for continuing dialogue on the farm safety net.  The House version reduces and perhaps negates the need to pass farm safety net legislation in the future, thus likely making it harder to change the farm safety net.
  2. type of multiple-year program – Multiple-year assistance in the Senate bill centers on a revenue program, whose guarantees can drop and increase over time.  In contrast, the House bill contains a more traditional fixed target price program.  Generally, the House Bill makes larger payments to rice and peanuts than does the Senate Bill.
  3. type of dairy program – the Senate bill contains a  supply management program; the House bill does not contain a supply management program.

These differences involve important philosophical questions:  how often should Congress debate the farm safety net and how market oriented should farm safety net programs be.  In addition, concern exists among southern crop producers that the distribution of payments from crop insurance differs notably for peanuts and rice from the distribution of direct payments and target price deficiency payments.

The broader point is that, even if the food assistance title was not an issue, it is not clear that a Conference Committee can bridge the differences that exist on farm safety net programs.

Summary Observations

Many paths forward exist, with these four likely spanning the possible outcomes:

  1. The Conference Committee reaches an agreement that is enacted into law.
  2. The Conference Committee does not reach agreement and the current 2008 farm bill extension is extended for another year.  As an aside, a 2-year extension could occur if Congress wants to avoid a farm bill debate in a Congressional election year.
  3. The Conference Committee does not reach agreement and the 2008 farm bill is extended again but in a different version.  For example, some observers have discussed reducing direct payments if another extension occurs.
  4. The Conference Committee does not reach agreement and permanent law is repealed, ending farm commodity support programs.  This outcome seems unlikely but we do not think its probability is zero.  Should this outcome occur, the farm safety net becomes the insurance program, meaning multiple-year losses would not be covered by the farm safety net.

The interplay of politics, process, and content will determine in part which of these paths or if an entirely different path is taken.  Senate leadership and President Obama have both indicated they will not accept a farm bill without a food assistance title.  A farm bill with a food assistance title would require a very different coalition in the House than the coalition that passed its farm bill.  Specifically, the support of a large number of Democrats would be needed.  Is such a coalition attainable?

Weather and price/revenue trends matter in a farm bill, if for no other reason, than farm program payments are based on production, price, and revenue.  A decline in price/revenue will increase the budget baseline of the ACRE program and the target price programs in the 2008 farm bill.  On the one hand, this consideration could enhance the likelihood of another extension since a higher budget baseline for a 2014 farm bill increases the ability to address legislative concerns.  On the other hand, farm groups may wish to lock in the higher target prices of the 2013 House farm bill.  Groups concerned with Federal spending will not favor this outcome.

The later paragraph highlights one of the key divisions at play in this farm bill debate: the desire on the part of those concerned with the level of federal spending vs. traditional farm bill supporters.  What makes this division even more interesting is that many members of Congress who are most concerned about federal spending are representatives from rural America, an area that traditionally has backed the farm safety net.  Thus, which of these divisions win out could well go a long way to deciding how the 2013 farm bill debate is resolved.

The preceding discussion has noted that there is no necessary reason for a farm bill to contain a food assistance title.  However, not including a food assistance title in a 2013 Farm bill could potentially alter the dynamics of future farm bill debates.  Conventional wisdom is that farm safety net programs are easier to enact when the farm bill includes a food assistance title because more constituencies have a stake in the bill.  Thus, an important decision that all farm safety net supporters will need to consider is the strategic, long term consequences of having or not having a food assistance title in a 2013 farm bill.

A parallel discussion exists for inclusion of the reversion to the 1938 and 1949 permanent laws.  Reversion to permanent law means that farm commodity programs will need to be considered in the future.  Thus, it acts as a catalyst for the entire farm bill.  Many actors that support the farm bill have interest other than commodity programs.  In addition, knowing that the farm bill will be reconsidered in the future probably encourages compromise since policy actors know that the possibility exist that their concerns will be revisited in the not-too-distant future.  Thus, an important decision that all farm safety net supporters will need to consider is the strategic, long term consequences of having the ability to modify farm safety net programs at a known time in the future and the value that this known revision date has to bringing policy actors with other concerns into the farm bill portfolio.

As mentioned in earlier farmdoc posts, the U.S. is currently engaged in a debate about the safety net provided to Americans, a debate that commenced with the extension of medical care to all Americans.  It looks like the farm bill will be the next major confrontation in this broader debate.  The outcome is uncertain but may have importance beyond traditional farm bill concerns.

This publication is also available at http://aede.osu.edu/publications.

Issued by Carl Zulauf Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics The Ohio State University

and

Gary Schnitkey Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics University of Illinois

Anti-GM Attitudes Are Harming The Hungry (via The Sydney Morning Herald)

As reported in The Age last week, GrainCorp chief executive Alison  Watkins criticised the “emotional response” of those who oppose genetically  modified (GM) crops, and argued that the use of such technology was essential if  farm yields were to meet the global food task.  Yet environmental opposition to  GM crops still dominates approaches to policymaking – irrespective of the  increased food and environmental security GM technology can deliver to the  world.

Green attitudes to GM technology represent at best a quaint conservatism and  at worst green cultural imperialism.  Opposition to change is, of course,  inherently conservative.  But those who seek to limit the developing world to  ancient production methods and crop varieties, even if they are not particularly  profitable or productive, exhibit an inexcusable  cultural condescension.

Stewart Brand, described by some as an “ex-environmental ideologue”, neatly  summarises this in his book Whole Earth Dis-cipline: “The environmental  movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than any  other thing we’ve been wrong about.  We’ve starved people, hindered science,  hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”   The green movement must now decide whether it wants to use the best of science  and technology to deliver real human and environmental outcomes.

Meeting the current world food task means adequately feeding 870 million  people who are “chronically undernourished”.  The vast majority of these people  live in southern Asia (304 million), eastern Asia (167 million) and sub-Saharan  Africa (234 million).  To feed a predicted global population of 9 billion by  2050, farm productivity must increase by 50-70 per cent of current levels.  In  other words, cereal production, which underpins global food supply with rice,  maize and wheat, will need to increase from a current 2.3 billion tonnes per  annum to 3-4 billion tonnes per annum.  Yet productivity gains have stalled.   The remarkable plant-science based revolution that saw cereal production rise  from about 700 million tonnes per annum in 1960 to 2 billion tonnes in the  mid-1990s has since climbed to just 2.3 billion tonnes.

The modest improvement of cereal crop productivity in recent decades has  coincided with two significant policy factors: shamefully reduced global  investment in agricultural research and development, and the rise of green  propaganda that has rejected the science and technology based gains of the  plant-science revolution and the benefits of GM technology.

The green agenda has tried to convince the world – and particularly the  developing world – that organic agriculture or “agroecology” is the only  acceptable form of food production.  This is, of course, the same organic  agriculture that for 10,000 years delivered famines and constant food  instability.  Nobel laureate  Norman Borlaug, who led the 1960s plant-science  revolution, observed that organic agriculture could only feed 4 billion people  and therefore asked which 2 billion people would volunteer to die?

This is not to say past decades of scientific developments were perfect.   They weren’t.  But they did feed double the population on just 11 per cent more  land.  Arguably the only way to deliver urgent productivity and environmental  gains, on the same amount of land, is through GM technology.  There is no  guarantee that GM will ensure we can meet the future global food supply task.   But the human and environmental benefits cannot be ignored.

This is also not to say GM is the only answer.  A diversified food supply is  a responsible food supply and provides individual farmer and consumer choice.   Free and informed choice is the key in the developed and the developing world.   Do we want agriculture that delivers greater global food security and environmental sustainability?  Or do we want to cling to  well-worn arguments such as that the world already produces enough food, it just  doesn’t distribute it effectively?  This may be true, but people are still  starving.

Extensive research exists proving the safety and environmental benefits of GM  crops based on scientific fact, not emotion.  Significant reductions in  pesticide use, soil disturbance and damage, fossil fuels and carbon emissions  have already been achieved with crops such as Bt cotton and Roundup Ready  canola.  An ever increasing range of productive crops delivering health,  environmental and food security benefits are achievable.  Another  “ex-ideologue”, Mark Lynas, agrees.  His book The God Species records  that his anti-GM “approach was unsupported by science and largely founded in  ignorance about genetics in general”.  Lynas who was once so motivated as to  destroy GM crops, now considers his previous ignorance akin to that of the  climate change sceptics he scorns.

History reminds us that great harm is inflicted on individuals not just  through obvious acts of violence, but also through ideological stealth.  We are  currently faced with an environmental movement that rejects a key technology  that could deliver food and environmental security to the world.  If green does  not want to be synonymous with mean, then opposition to GM must be reconsidered.  As  Lynas says,  “there can be no more important task than feeding people while  protecting the planet.  We must use the best of science and technology to help  us achieve this vital aim.”

Nicolle Flint is a PhD candidate at Flinders University where she is  studying the political representation of Australian farmers in the context of  environmentalism and animal activism. She is a regular Age columnist  and a member of the Liberal Party.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/antigm-attitudes-are-harming-the-hungry-20130703-2pc2u.html#ixzz2Z7Zu0UbY

House Approves Farm-only Farm Bill (via Feedstuffs)

The U.S. House of Representatives managed to pass a modified farm bill by a vote of 216-208, which included 11 of the 12 titles and all 60 amendments previously approved by the House earlier this summer. The bill was an attempt for Republicans to send a bill to conference with the Senate in negotiating comprehensive farm bill legislation, but sets up unchartered territory.

The bill made two significant changes to the bill which narrowly was defeated 195-234 on June 20. The first, was eliminating the nutrition title, which House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said was the most difficult to reach consensus.

The other significant change in the bill is a repeal of 1938 and 1949 permanent law provisions which call for policy to revert back to commodity price parity and government quotas, which has always been used as a hammer to force Congress to act. It instead makes the 2013 Title I permanent law going forward.

The 608-page rule was introduced Wednesday night and no amendments were allowed on the floor, which upset Democrats. Democrats used several procedural moves during the floor debate. In the end, not one Democrat voted in favor the bill.

Splitting the farm bill by stripping the nutrition title is unprecedented and sends the House in “unchartered territory with more landmines than usual,” said Dave Ladd, president of RDL & Associates. “I don’t know how you can get a bill out of conference that can pass again out of both bodies.”

He explained that House leadership has already had some significant embarrassments in guiding the farm bill. Now it seems even more difficult to come out of conference committee that has no statement from the House on the level of nutrition cuts and pass without significant level of Democratic support.

The urban and rural coalition has helped pass farm bills since 1965. Last week over 500 organizations voiced opposition to splitting the bill, including powerhouse groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union. After the House proceeded anyway, some groups reluctantly backed the House’s move to get a bill to conference with the Senate.

National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said the “strictly partisan vote to pass the farm bill apart from the nutrition title undermines the long-time coalition of support for a unified, comprehensive farm bill which has historically been written on a bipartisan basis. Any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions and include meaningful safety net protections for both family farmers facing difficult times and the food insecure.”

AFBF president Bob Stallman, noted that although the next steps are unknown, AFBF will be working with both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress to ensure passage of a new five-year farm bill.

“While we were hopeful the farm bill would not be split, nor permanent law repealed, we will now focus our efforts on working with lawmakers to deliver a farm bill to the president’s desk for his signature by September.”

Peterson voiced strong opposition on the floor to the bill, and said the whole process turned him partisan, which is hard to do for the Blue Dog Democrat who is known for working across party lines.

“I repeatedly expressed a willingness to work with the Majority on a path forward. I firmly believed that if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now all that is in question,” Peterson said following the vote.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) called the bill passed out of the House, “not a real farm bill” and an “insult to rural America” as it was strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups.

“We will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive Farm Bill that was passed in the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs, but also saves billions more than the extremely flawed House bill.”

Lucas said, “I look forward to continuing conversations with my House colleagues and starting conversations with my Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President’s desk in the coming months.”

This article can be accessed by visiting http://feedstuffs.com/story-house-approves-farm-farm-bill-45-100251

Commentary: In Defense of Food Security (Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates)

As media reports abound regarding the inability of the United States House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill, it appears that the paradigm for passage of such legislation could soon become a thing of the past.

The most recent proposal by the Republican leadership to salvage a farm bill from the carnage of the failed floor vote a few weeks ago would split the farm bill and nutrition provisions into two separate bills.

Whether or not the House GOP can garner enough votes for such a maneuver remains to be seen.  Even if they are successful, the issue of reconciling the disparate House bills with the Senate’s version would mean an interesting conference committee – to say the least.  And then there is the question if both chambers would have the votes to pass a “reconstructed” farm bill.

But these political maneuvering bely a more substantive question; the role of agriculture within the national security construct, and the continued viability of the urban – rural coalition that has been the linchpin of farm bills since the early 1970s.

Throughout history the need for an abundant, reliable and affordable food supply has been at the heart of social and political stability as governments continue to recognize food security as a national security priority.  The challenges of feeding a growing world population on a fixed land base, as well as well as increasing competition for water and other natural resources, will have significant ramifications for food security – both domestically and abroad.

These factors point to a credible case for preservation of the urban – rural coalition that has been instrumental in ensuring a safe and affordable domestic food supply for American consumers – as well as the coalition’s unsung contributions to political stability.

The recent failure by the United States House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill in a bipartisan fashion has called into question both the political and policy paradigms which have been in place for the past 40 years.  The polarization that was prevalent during House consideration of the 2013 farm bill casts doubt upon agriculture and nutrition spending going forward.

This brings to the forefront two essential issues: the economic impact of agriculture and the strength of political coalitions.  Both hinge upon the willingness of the American taxpayer to make continued investments on their own behalf via Federal, state, and local governments.

It is worth noting that the economic impact of agriculture on the economy of the United States goes beyond the production and marketing of traditional commodities.  It also includes the retail and foodservice industries which are utilized by consumers in accessing their food supply.

Without question, the U.S. food and fiber system as a whole remains one of the nation’s largest economic sub sectors.  Food distribution, a sub sector that includes transportation and foodservice – as well as wholesaling and retail – adds significantly to the total value of food and fiber products.

The consumer is a critical part of the equation in regards to agriculture’s impact on the overall economy.  Americans spend billions on food via retail grocery outlets and foodservice establishments.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in 2011 Americans spent over $654 billion for home consumption (e.g. food stores, home delivery/mail order, farmers, manufacturers and wholesalers).  The American consumer spent an additional $641 billion away from home (e.g. eating and drinking establishments, hotels/motels, schools and colleges).

The role played by modern agriculture in the economy, the shifting demographics of rural America, the decline in rural population, and the advancing age of producers have made the formation of coalitions increasingly critical for agriculture and related stakeholders.  These shifts have changed the way coalitions are developed and maintained, bringing about partnerships that are urban and rural, as well as regionally by commodity.

Since 1973, farm bills have passed Congress is due to the broad support created by urban and rural coalitions.  Farm state members of Congress have leveraged votes on issues such as minimum wage or consumer protection – viewed to be critical to urban constituencies – in return for support of agriculture legislation.  To make farm bills more palatable to a broader constituency, domestic food programs such as food stamps and food aid have become an integral part of the agriculture budget.

The strength of this coalition buckled during House consideration of the 2013 Farm Bill due to a philosophical divide, partisan pressures the desire to need to reduce federal outlays.  This was due, in large measure, to members of Congress and stakeholders who advocate for domestic food programs being unwilling to accept reductions to outlays for nutrition programs that were in proportion to those under consideration for program commodities.

Coalitions are also regional and oriented toward specific commodities.  Southern members of Congress who represent cotton, rice, peanuts and tobacco have often leveraged votes for their commodities of interest with Midwestern and Northern members who represent corn, wheat, and soybeans.

However, regional and commodity-based coalitions have also been stressed during consideration of the 2013 Farm Bill.  Reductions to commodity payment mechanisms that disproportionately impact cotton and rice will be met by resistance from Southern members of Congress, who have joined forces to ensure that these commodities continue to receive support.

Although the makeup of Congress is increasingly urban in nature, agriculture continues to have a handful of options politically.  In the United States Senate (a chamber that functions by unanimous consent), every senator represents agriculture and rural interests, regardless of the size of the state or the types of commodities produced.  In addition, the rules and precedents of the United States Senate afford the minority the right to protect and advance commodity provisions and funding for agriculture programs that otherwise might not achieve broad majority support.

It is in the House of Representatives where the dynamic has changed – at least for the foreseeable future.   Because members in the House of Representatives must seek re-election every two years, those who represent rural districts having traditionally been reluctant to stray too far from their constituency.  With the rise of third-party expenditures, there are new players on the field.

Leading up to, and during consideration of, the 2013 Farm Bill in the House, conservative groups pressured Republicans representing agricultural districts with radio ad campaigns to oppose the five-year $940-billion bill, calling the proposed $20.5 billion reduction in spending for nutrition programs too little.  Conversely, Democrats, whose districts mostly encompass urban areas home to food-stamp recipients, refused to budge on cuts they considered too deep. Each party was fearful of angering their core base of support.

As Congress seeks as path forward on the 2013 Farm Bill valid arguments will once again be made as to the sector’s importance to the economy, the shifting demographics of rural America, an aging producer base, and the necessity of government involvement in agriculture.

These arguments will come face-to-face with the desire to achieve budgetary savings.  What must not be lost in the ensuing debate is the need for an abundant, reliable and affordable food supply as a means toward ensuring political stability and domestic food security.

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment and is a co-author of the book, “LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign”.  His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials and their staff.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Leaders Struggle to Find Votes for Farm Bill Without Food Stamps (via Roll Call)

House GOP leaders’ plan to strip food stamps from the farm bill ran into trouble Tuesday when it failed to win over conservative groups who helped tank the measure three weeks ago.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has been quietly pushing to separate food stamps from the farm provisions for two weeks in an effort to find 218 Republican votes.

A House GOP leadership aide said Tuesday that Republican leaders had decided to drop food stamps and proceed with a farm-only portion of the bill this week. The new bill would include a repeal of the 1949 law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill as a carrot to conservatives. The nutrition portion of the bill, the aide said, would be dealt with later. But GOP leaders have yet to announce an official way forward as they struggle to line up the votes.

Cantor’s idea to split the farm bill in two was meant to win support from conservatives who abandoned the measure the first time around. They criticized the farm bill as a “food stamp bill,” noting that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program accounts for $743.9 billion of the estimated $972.3 billion cost of the House bill over the next 10 years. Many wanted far deeper cuts.
Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., came up with the plan to split the bill more than a year ago. But Needham released a statement Tuesday criticizing the latest effort as a ploy.

“This is nothing more than a naked attempt to get to a conference committee with the Senate,” Needham said. “The end result of such a conference would be a perpetuation of subsidies and government intervention that will continue to harm consumers and taxpayers alike.”

Needham, along with 20 other conservative group leaders, signed an open letter to Speaker John A. Boehner that applauded the Republican leader for splitting the bill but implored him to bring the legislation to the floor under an open rule.

“The purpose of splitting the agriculture and nutrition pieces was to change the political dynamics that conspire to prevent true reform,” read the letter, which was signed by notable conservatives including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Chris Chocola of Club for Growth and Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “If the House pushes through agriculture-only language taken directly from the combined bill that failed on the floor last month without amendment, it will not only fail to change those dynamics, it will actively preserve them.”

Opposition from groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth helped sink the measure 195-234.

But it also failed because of a lack of Democratic support. Only 24 Democrats voted for the farm bill after Republicans adopted a number of amendments unpalatable to the other side, most notably one from Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., backed by Cantor that authorized state pilot programs creating work requirements for able-bodied adult recipients of food stamps.

Democrats reacted with fury over the plan to drop food stamps from the farm bill, although leadership had not yet mounted a counter-whip operation to keep its members in line. Democrats will have to weigh the possible fruits of a conference with a Senate bill that has a more robust food stamp program.

Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said nobody consulted him about the move.

“We’re heading into uncharted water here,” Peterson said Tuesday. “Nobody has talked to me at all except some Republicans who do not like what their leadership [is doing]. They do not want this split thing either.”

Peterson said he thought the best way forward for farm bill passage was not to proceed with a partisan bill but to take away the Southerland amendment and give the farm bill another vote.

“I want them to take the Southerland amendment out and put the bill back on the floor,” Peterson said. “That’s what I told them … before they had the vote, I told them that.”

“They’re the ones that screwed this up, not me,” Peterson added. “I had the votes until they put those amendments up.”

Republican aides say if they can’t find the votes for a split bill, the conference has two options: Do nothing or try to hash out the differences with Democrats.

To avoid that, they are relentlessly whipping the vote.

As evidence of that whip operation, House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas was quoted as recently as Monday saying he opposed splitting the bill. By Tuesday morning, however, with the writing seemingly on the wall, Lucas said he was open to the idea.

“I’m willing to do what it takes to get a farm bill done,” Lucas said as he exited a Republican Conference meeting Tuesday morning. “If that means doing it unconventionally, maybe we’ve got to give it a try.”

Asked whether it was fair to say he supports splitting the farm bill, the Oklahoma Republican replied: “It’s fair to say that Chairman Lucas is at a point where he has got to look outside the box, and splitting the farm bill is certainly outside the traditional box.”

Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas was coy about when his panel might take up the farm bill.

“The success of a rain dance has a lot to do with timing,” he said.

But Peterson predicts that Republicans will soon have to face the reality that they do not have enough Republican support for passage.

“They’re whipping right now, and my guess is in a few days they’ll figure out they don’t have the votes and then we might get back to reality,” Peterson said.

“Hopefully,” he added.

This story can be accessed by visiting http://blogs.rollcall.com/goppers/dropping-food-stamps-from-farm-bill-a-tough-sell-for-gop/

Agriculture at Crossroads in Congress (via Politico)

After two seasons of failure, American agriculture is at a genuine crossroads  in Congress.

Will it continue to be whittled down by the left and the right? Or  can it go up the middle with compromises that revive the urban-rural coalition  so important to past farm bills?

Embarrassed by last month’s collapse, House Republican leaders  have raised the stakes greatly with their proposal to split the five-year  package and require separate votes on the nutrition title and food stamps. Commodity and conservation  groups are almost uniformly opposed. But as lawmakers return this week,  agriculture is under pressure to stretch itself and embrace new ideas.

Nothing illustrates this better, perhaps, than the on-again, off-again debate  over updating the $2,000 asset test for food stamps, set first in the 1985 farm  bill.

Ronald Reagan was still in the White House, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) a power  in agriculture. Corn sold near $2.55 a bushel. Farmland in Iowa cost less than  $1,000 an acre. John Deere would soon introduce its best-selling 4450 tractor at  a list price near $54,000.

Twenty-eight years later, the whole political and agriculture landscape has  changed. But the $2,000 asset test remains, ignored by most states but now  resurrected by House Republicans to wring savings from food stamps — retitled  the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Hundreds of thousands of households, who that otherwise qualify for food aid,  would no longer be eligible. Parents, wanting to preserve some savings to meet  unanticipated housing or medical costs, would have to spend down their cash  reserves to below $2,000 to get back SNAP benefits for their children.

Among all the contradictions in the farm bill, this stands out the most,  because of the impact on the working poor and because assets are something all  farmers understand — given the fickle nature of their livelihood and the bankers  who control the loans needed to plant each year.

Indeed, corn is now selling at better than twice the price it commanded in  1985. Iowa farmland can fetch $8,000 an acre. The latest descendant of Deere’s  workhorse 4450 lists just under $200,000.

If adjusted for inflation, a $2,000 asset test in 1985 would be about $4,300  today. Do farmers expect that their target prices will be adjusted by the same  farm bill that is silent on an asset test for the working poor?

Yet, when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)  attempted to address this issue last year, he was pushed back by fellow  Republicans. The House Rules Committee blocked the only real attempt to go there  again on the floor: an amendment by freshman Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), which  included a provision to double the allowed assets from $2,000 to $4,000 and  exempt family cars needed to get to work, for example.

The same leadership rule did make in order a far-reaching Republican food stamp amendment that  helped to bring down the larger farm bill.

Backed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the 17-page measure opened the  door for states to toughen work requirements for food stamp recipients and share any savings that might  result from culling the rolls. The partisan vote — just minutes before a vote on  the final bill — drove off Democratic support. And with 62 Republican nays, the  farm bill ended up 20 votes short of what was needed to get to conference with  the Senate.

Over the past week, there have been Republican discussions of simply striking  this amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). That would almost  certainly exacerbate tensions on the right. And it’s not clear that it would be  enough to bring back angry Democrats.

The alternative two-bill approach — promoted by Cantor prior to  the Fourth of July recess — remains on the table and has been cheered by The  Heritage Foundation and editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal.

But Cantor’s own camp admits the risk is more failure. That’s doubly  dangerous for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was stung by last month’s  defeat and badly wants to get the farm bill behind him, given the bigger fight  ahead over immigration reform.

Finding some compromise through the food stamp asset test poses its own  challenges: An update could require as much as $5 billion in new offsets to keep  faith with the House’s 10-year goal of $40 billion in new deficit reduction.

But the House only narrowly rejected far bigger cuts from crop insurance  subsidies last month. And there is the potential that a reform amendment could  draw back support from both parties for passage.

Republicans would still have $15 billion in SNAP savings — far more than they  can expect to get through the Senate. Democrats would have moved the needle back  toward the center and opened up the door to some discussion of crop insurance  costs.

No modern safety-net program has proved more important to agriculture than  crop insurance. But success is double-edged: As commodity prices have improved  for the farmer, premium costs have steadily increased because of the greater  liability to be insured.

At one level, it is a shared commitment by producers and taxpayers to protect  food production. But the government now shoulders 62 percent of the premium  costs on average — or about $7 billion in 2012.

Moreover, 62 percent is just that: an average. It belies a far more complex  subsidy structure than is outwardly apparent.

As a general rule, farmers pay a greater share — sometimes over 50 percent of  the premium cost — as they buy more protection. But for a standard 75 percent  coverage revenue policy, producers can pay anywhere from 45 percent of the premium cost to as  little as 23 percent depending on how the policy is structured.

Changes made in the 2008 farm bill added to this trend. Yet, for all the new  products available, there has been no serious attempt to go back and reexamine  the so-called CAT, or catastrophic policies, for which producers pay only  administrative fees.

An early crop insurance model dating to 1995, CAT coverage is more bare-bones  protection. But in 2012, taxpayers absorbed 100 percent of the premium cost,  $264 million, to cover almost $7.8 billion in liability for sometimes large,  wealthy operations. CAT would almost certainly have to be included in any  attempt to find savings from crop insurance.

Both with food  stamps and crop insurance, the White House has been surprisingly  unhelpful in generating reliable data to guide Congress. But President Barack  Obama’s 2014 budget estimates that $4.2 billion could be saved over 10 years by  asking all farmers to pay 3 percentage points more on any premium that is now  subsidized at a rate of more than 50 percent. Together with changes in CAT, this  would go a long way toward offsetting the cost of updating the food stamp asset test.

Farm and crop insurance lobbies are sure to resist. Already the  Senate and House farm bills cut commodity programs by doing away with the  current system of direct cash payments. Protecting crop insurance has become  almost a battle cry. The great fear is that Congress will keep going back to the  same well whenever it needs more savings.

That said, many in agriculture would have to consider the move if the end  product is a bipartisan farm bill. A closer look at data collected by the Risk  Management Agency, which oversees the crop insurance program, suggests the impact on  a farmer’s operating costs is manageable.

Calculations by POLITICO show that in 2012, the producer’s share of premiums  for 75 percent revenue protection coverage ran about $21 per acre for corn and  $17.20 for wheat. That translates into about 13 cents per bushel for corn and 39  cents per bushel for wheat based on recent yield trends.

In both cases, a 3 percentage point drop in the subsidy rate would be about a  9 percent increase for the farmer, but still a matter of pennies per bushel.

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Southern black Democrat and a member of  his party leadership, has been a go-to person for agriculture in the past for  farm bill support. But Clyburn is vehement now in his opposition to a two-bill  strategy.

“They may have the votes over there to pass it, but I don’t think you’ll get  much support out of Democrats,” he told POLITICO. “It is their way to do a  two-tier support system. I think we ought to treat low-income subsidies the same  way as we treat high-income subsidies. That’s all this is.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/07/farm-bill-two-tier-approach-93788_Page3.html#ixzz2YSjtAWLb

Commentary: The Buckling of the Urban-Rural Coalition (Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates)

Throughout history the need for an abundant, reliable and affordable food supply has been at the heart of social and political stability as governments continue to recognize food security as a national security priority.  The challenges of feeding a growing world population on a fixed land base, as well as well as increasing competition for water and other natural resources, will have significant ramifications for food security – both domestically and abroad.

These factors point to a credible case for preservation of the urban – rural coalition that has been instrumental in ensuring a safe and affordable domestic food supply for American consumers – as well as the coalition’s unsung contributions to political stability.

The recent failure by the United States House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill in a bipartisan fashion has called into question both the political and policy paradigms which have been in place for the past 40 years.  The polarization that was prevalent during House consideration of the 2013 farm bill casts doubt upon agriculture and nutrition spending going forward.

This brings to the forefront two essential issues: the economic impact of agriculture and the strength of political coalitions.  Both hinge upon the willingness of the American taxpayer to make continued investments on their own behalf via Federal, state, and local governments.

Economic Impact of Agriculture

It is worth noting that the economic impact of agriculture on the economy of the United States goes beyond the production and marketing of traditional commodities.  It also includes the retail and foodservice industries which are utilized by consumers in accessing their food supply.  Without question, the U.S. food and fiber system as a whole remains one of the nation’s largest economic sub sectors.  Food distribution, a sub sector that includes transportation and foodservice – as well as wholesaling and retail – adds significantly to the total value of food and fiber products.

The consumer is a critical part of the equation in regards to agriculture’s impact on the overall economy.  Americans spend billions on food via retail grocery outlets and foodservice establishments.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, in 2011 Americans spent over $654 billion for home consumption (e.g. food stores, home delivery/mail order, farmers, manufacturers and wholesalers).  The American consumer spent an additional $641 billion away from home (e.g. eating and drinking establishments, hotels/motels, schools and colleges).

Urban and Rural Coalitions

The role played by modern agriculture in the economy, the shifting demographics of rural America, the decline in rural population, and the advancing age of producers have made the formation of coalitions increasingly critical for agriculture and related stakeholders.  These shifts have changed the way coalitions are developed and maintained, bringing about partnerships that are urban and rural, as well as regionally by commodity.

Since 1973, farm bills have passed Congress is due to the broad support created by urban and rural coalitions.  Farm state members of Congress have leveraged votes on issues such as minimum wage or consumer protection – viewed to be critical to urban constituencies – in return for support of agriculture legislation.  To make farm bills more palatable to a broader constituency, domestic food programs such as food stamps and food aid have become an integral part of the agriculture budget.

The strength of this coalition buckled during House consideration of the 2013 Farm Bill due to a philosophical divide, partisan pressures the desire to need to reduce federal outlays.  This was due, in large measure, to members of Congress and stakeholders who advocate for domestic food programs being unwilling to accept reductions to outlays for nutrition programs that were in proportion to those under consideration for program commodities.

Coalitions are also regional and oriented toward specific commodities.  Southern members of Congress who represent cotton, rice, peanuts and tobacco have often leveraged votes for their commodities of interest with Midwestern and Northern members who represent corn, wheat, and soybeans.  However, regional and commodity-based coalitions have also been stressed during consideration of the 2013 Farm Bill.  Reductions to commodity payment mechanisms that disproportionately impact cotton and rice will be met by resistance from Southern members of Congress, who have joined forces to ensure that these commodities continue to receive support.

Although the makeup of Congress is increasingly urban in nature, agriculture continues to have a number of options politically.  In the United States Senate (a chamber that functions by unanimous consent), every senator represents agriculture and rural interests, regardless of the size of the state or the types of commodities produced.  In addition, the rules and precedents of the United States Senate afford the minority the right to protect and advance commodity provisions and funding for agriculture programs that otherwise might not achieve broad majority support.  Finally, the Electoral College strengthens the hand of agriculture and it can be argued that this provision enhances rural America’s political position.

It is in the House of Representatives where the dynamic may has changed – at least for the foreseeable future.   Because members in the House of Representatives must seek re-election every two years, those who represent rural districts having traditionally been reluctant to stray too far from their constituency.  With the rise of third-party expenditures, there are new players on the field.

Leading up to, and during consideration of, the 2013 Farm Bill in the House, conservative groups pressured Republicans representing agricultural districts with radio ad campaigns to oppose the five-year $940-billion bill, calling the proposed $20.5 billion reduction in spending for nutrition programs too little.  Conversely, Democrats, whose districts mostly encompass urban areas home to food-stamp recipients, refused to budge on cuts they considered too deep. Each party was fearful of angering their core base of support.

As Congress seeks as path forward on the 2013 Farm Bill valid arguments will once again be made as to the sector’s importance to the economy, the shifting demographics of rural America, an aging producer base, and the necessity of government involvement in agriculture.  These and related arguments will come face-to-face with the desire to achieve budgetary savings.  What must not be lost in the ensuing debate is the need for an abundant, reliable and affordable food supply as a means toward ensuring political stability and domestic food security.

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, is a frequent guest commentator regarding public policy and the political environment and is a co-author of the book, “LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign”.  His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and interaction with elected officials and their staff.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Once a bastion of cooperation, farm bill vote shows partisanship eroding urban-rural alliance (via the Washington Post)

For decades, country and city interests had come together every few years to pass the farm bill, a measure that provided billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers and businesses in rural areas and food stamp money for urbanites.

No more.

The recent defeat of this year’s farm bill — traditionally a sturdy, albeit lonely pillar of cooperation in Washington — highlighted how the country-city political marriage became yet another victim of partisan politics in polarizing times. The divorce throws into doubt the future of sweeping agriculture and nutrition spending.

Here’s how the breakdown of a longtime coalition happened: Newly emboldened conservative groups pressured rural-state Republicans — many representing agricultural districts — with radio ad campaigns to oppose the five-year $940-billion bill, calling its proposed cuts to food stamps too little. Hardly faultless, Democrats, whose districts mostly encompass urban areas home to food-stamp recipients, refused to budge on cuts they considered too deep. Each party was fearful of angering their core supporters.

It was the height of partisanship over a measure that long had been devoid of it.

“That kind of thing wouldn’t have happened at another moment in time,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat who opposed the measure.

Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., voted for it, and bemoaned the result of House failure to pass it: “Doing nothing is worse than doing something.”

Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans have worked closely together to pass farm bills.

Long ago, conservative rural lawmakers whose numbers in Congress were shrinking became aware that they alone couldn’t muster enough votes to pass a measure paying for farm programs. So they agreed to include food-stamp money in the farm bill in exchange for support from their more liberal urban peers.

It was a mutually beneficial relationship. Conservative lawmakers were mindful that the measures included subsidies for farm-growing regions home to their core constituents, while liberal lawmakers were keenly aware that they contained dollars for food assistance that largely went to their bedrock voters in big cities. Each party needed the other to pass the measure that melded both farm and food money, and it almost always passed with bipartisan support.

But this year, when House Speaker John Boehner urged lawmakers to support the bill and put it up for a vote, it failed to get enough support, shocking longtime congressional observers and lawmakers alike. Tea party-backed conservatives refused to budge in their demands for even deeper cuts to the food stamp program, which has doubled in cost over the last five years to almost $80 billion annually and now helps feed 1 in 7 Americans.

The House version already had proposed slashing the $955 billion version of the bill that the Democratic-controlled Senate had passed by $20.5 billion in food-stamp cuts. That wasn’t enough for some Republicans and their allies, who were looking ahead to the 2014 midterm congressional elections and worried about the impact of supporting the measure.

“I can’t imagine being a Republican and asking primary audiences for their vote when you just voted for this debacle,” said Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips. “It’s impossible to justify, no matter where you are from.”

Lawmakers like Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who voted for the $600 billion farm bill in 2008, were clearly mindful that they would be inviting this type of criticism if they backed this year’s measure. The congressman, who often talks about his district’s tobacco, cotton and soybean production, chose not to take that chance. He voted against the bill after Americans for Prosperity targeted him with radio ads and an email push to contact his office.

Jones explained his “no” vote this way: “At a time when America is over 16 trillion dollars in debt and running massive deficits, we simply cannot afford this.”

Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey, who has represented rural Georgia during his decade in Congress, also voted against it. One of his advisers argued that the measure didn’t do enough to benefit farming. But the adviser, Chip Lake, also noted the increased pressure from outside groups, saying, “That activity between the last farm bill and this farm bill has increased exponentially.”

For example, the conservative group Heritage Action urged constituents to call lawmakers like Rep. Tom Latham, a 10-term Iowa Republican, to pressure him to oppose the measure. Latham, as a result, received calls from constituents angry about the bill’s food-stamp spending. Latham aides said the calls frustrated the congressman. He had argued that, without the cuts, food-stamp spending would be unchecked.

If no bill passes, Congress would likely adopt a short-term resolution to continue spending at current levels.

Democrats, meanwhile, were fearful of backlash from liberals who warned them against voting in favor of deep food-stamp cuts.

“They are worried they will be challenged in a primary if they don’t fight tooth and nail on food stamps,” said Rep. Colin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat and former Agriculture Committee chairman.

Since the vote, leading Republicans have said the days of binding food-stamps with agriculture programs should end.

“We should treat the food stamp program on its own, as its separate program,” said Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the budget committee chairman, who opposed the bill.

Should that happen, Republicans and Democrats alike say the outcome also bodes poorly for the future of passing farm and food-stamp measures — and appeasing each side’s core supporters.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/once-a-bastion-of-cooperation-farm-bill-vote-shows-partisanship-eroding-urban-rural-alliance/2013/07/02/b6b48ff0-e2f2-11e2-8657-fdff0c195a79_story.html