U.S. House appoints farm bill conferees

October 14th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — After months of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives has named its appointees to conference a new farm bill. The 2008 farm bill expired in September after a nine-month extension.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced the appointees Oct. 12, commending House members for working to cut spending and help strengthen the nation’s agriculture and food stamp programs.

“The Farm Bill extension measures passed by the House include much-needed reforms that cut spending and help strengthen our agriculture and food stamp programs,” he said in a released statement.

Related: Amid shutdown, what about the farm bill?

Some background

The House approved a separate farm-only bill July 11 and a nutrition-only bill Sept. 19, breaking the marriage between the two measures for the first time since they were combined.

The House nutrition bill seeks a $40 billion cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over five years, a contentious issue among Democrats and some Republicans, who said the cuts were too deep.

The Senate approved sending its version of the $500 billion comprehensive farm bill to conference July 19, and has been waiting for the House to name its conferees.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he is “pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process” where negotiations with the Senate are about to occur.

“This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture all across the country,” he said in a released statement.

Moving ahead

Farm groups across the nation called the House appointment of conferees a sign of progress. But, at the same time, there’s a strong feeling that it’s overdue.

“Appointing conferees might be a sign that, after repeatedly delaying and undermining the agriculture committee’s work, Republican leaders are finally getting serious about the farm bill,” said Ranking House Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

He said he’s still hopeful Republicans and Democrats can get a new five-year farm bill finished by year’s end, but, he’s also concerned, because some of the House’s appointments as conferees are outside the agriculture committee.

“Conferees are committed to working together and getting a farm bill done but bringing divisive resolutions to a vote and appointing conferees outside the (House) Agriculture Committee has made our jobs a lot harder,” he said.

Who they are

The House’s Republican appointees are: Representatives Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael Conaway of Texas, Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson of Pennsylvania.; Austin Scott of Georgia, Rick Crawford of Arizona, Martha Roby of Alabama, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jeff Denham of California, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Steve Southerland of Florida, Ed Royce of California, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Dave Camp of Michigan, and Sam Johnson of Texas.

House Democrat appointees are: Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Costa of California, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Suzan DelBene of Washington, Gloria Negrete McLeod of California, Filemon Vela of Texas, Eliot Engel of New York, and Sandy Levin of Michigan.

Amid shutdown, what about the farm bill?

October 4th, 2013 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — All the Washington talk lately has been on the shutdown, which began Oct. 1 after Congress failed to reach a budget to fund the federal government.

But buried within that battle is an issue with significant implications for rural America: the farm bill. The last bill, the 2008 farm bill, was extended to run through September, 2013.

Now that the extension has expired, uncertainty is the one thing farmers can be certain about.

As far as actions go, the Senate has appointed its conferees to conference the Senate version with members of the House. The Senate re-affirmed its appointees Oct. 1 and said it’s ready for a conference.

Uncertainty abounds

Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., said the recent shutdown has created “a double whammy of uncertainty for the economy and for the 16 million Americans who work in this country because of agriculture.”

Stabenow said the Senate has twice passed a comprehensive, bipartisan farm bill that will create jobs, reform agriculture policy and reduce the deficit by tens of billions of dollars.

“It’s time to finally get this done,” she said.

The Senate conferees for the majority include: Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Michael Bennet, D-Colo.

It is unclear what the U.S. House of Representatives plans to do, or whether they plan to appoint conferees. House members passed separate pieces of the traditional farm bill, one to fund the farm titles (July 11), and a seperate bill to fund the nutrition programs (Sept. 19), while cutting food stamps by nearly $40 billion.

Tamara Hinton, communications director for the House Agriculture Committee, said the next step is for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to name his farm bill conferees.

She said she is “uncertain when that will take place, but it’s expected to be done in short order.”

Immediate action

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, and other farm group leaders, say it needs done now.

In an Oct. 2 letter to Boehner, Johnson said it’s up to the speaker to name his appointees and get the bill conferenced.

“The fate of the farm bill is now in your hands,” Johnson wrote. “This is an opportunity for you and the House to demonstrate that Congress is still able to get things done.”

Johnson, like most other farm organizations, said the farm bill is an important issue for the nation’s farmers, ranchers, fishermen, consumers and hungry citizens.

 Dates that matter?

Although Sept. 30 was the official farm bill expiration date, the end of the year could be more important, when milk policies could potentially revert back to the 1940s-era, causing a major price spike.

As for crop farmers, their funding is on a crop-year basis, so the current year’s crop is covered by last year’s farm bill extension.

Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economics professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, said we could see a bill that combines many different things.

“Based on what I am hearing and reading, it looks increasingly likely that we will see a bill that encompasses the spending resolutions for the 2014 (current) fiscal year and the debt ceiling increase,” he wrote in an email to Farm and Dairy. “It is therefore likely that we will see other items of legislation merged into this bill.  This farm bill could be one of those pieces of legislation.

“I think if this happens, the farm bill will likely be a one- or two-year extension (not a new farm bill) and I would expect some cut in the farm program spending baseline in order to help meet budget constraints, such as a reduction in direct payments. It would be hard, but not impossible, to write a new farm bill in this short of time, and given the other pressing aspects of such an encompassing legislation. If a farm bill extension is not included in the encompassing legislation, then I am not sure what to expect in regard to farm policy.”

Shutdown’s effect

Andrew Novakovich, agricultural economist and farm bill expert at Cornell University, said the shutdown itself does not affect passage of the next farm bill, but he said the shutdown does “add toxins to a political environment in which compromise feels almost impossible.”

There will, inevitably, be consequences from the shutdown.

“A large number of federal workers will get unpaid leave, visitors to D.C. and national parks will find doors barred shut, and all kinds of folks and businesses will find out how much we rely on a myriad of federal reports that are easy to take for granted,” he said.

“Retirement programs that calculate benefits based on changes to the Consumer Price Index won’t have a new estimate of changes to consumer prices. CME futures markets that cash settle against a federal estimated price won’t have a cash price announced. Farmers that had planned to finish that paperwork in their local FSA office will find the door locked.”

House passes nutrition-only bill, but clock’s still ticking on farm bill

September 24th, 2013 Other News

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed the nutrition portion of the former full farm bill, H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, by a vote of 217-210 Sept. 19, setting the stage for lawmakers to finally move to a farm bill conference.

Farm bill programs are currently operating under a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires Sept. 30, reverting farm policy back to permanent law.

Cuts in SNAP

The legislation, championed by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, would cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps. The bill was strongly opposed by House Democrats and some Republicans who charged it would increase hunger by ending benefits for nearly 4 million people in 2014.

The measure also faces a veto threat from the White House. After the vote, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill “stands no chance of becoming law.”

Vilsack said the “vote was a highly partisan step that does nothing to promote a bipartisan, comprehensive farm bill.”

Still hopeful

House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., remains hopeful we’ll see a farm bill this year.

“I remain committed to getting a five-year farm bill on the books this year,” he said in a prepared statement after the vote. “Today’s vote was another step toward that goal.”

But Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, decried the politics of the largely party-line vote.

“We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a farm bill,” she said, calling the bill “a monumental waste of time.”

Sept. 30 deadline

Few people believe a bill will be passed before month’s end.

“It’s obvious that we will not have a new farm bill in place by the time the current one expires,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman in remarks presented Sept. 19 to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City.

“The only extension Farm Bureau supports is a five-year extension that looks a lot like the new farm bill that is working its way through Congress,” he added.

It’s not clear that a conference committee would be able to look at both the farm-only and nutrition-only bills on the same table with the comprehensive Senate farm bill. According to D.C.-based farm journalist Jerry Hagstrom, the newly passed nutrition bill doesn’t contain a measure to merge that bill with the farm-only bill previously approved.

No conferees have been appointed as of presstime.

U.S. Senate ready to conference the farm bill

July 19th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The Senate approved sending its version of the farm bill to conference with the U.S. House of Representatives, during Senate floor action July 19.

“We are, in fact, now officially sending back our Senate Bill to the House and requesting a conference on the farm bill,” said Sen. Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., during her floor speech.

“We have produced a product that is comprehensive, bipartisan, balanced, that addresses the agricultural needs and concerns of our country and of a five-year farm bill that addresses food security and conservation of our soil and land and water,” Stabenow said.

The full Senate approved its version of the $500 billion farm bill 66-27 June 10. The House failed its version of a similar, comprehensive farm bill June 20.

But July 11, the House broke with tradition and approved a farm-only farm bill by a 216-208 vote, with the intent of passing a nutrition-only bill at a later date.

Washington media report the nutrition-only bill is still being formed, and it is not clear when that bill might come to the House floor.

Farm and food

In a press call with reporters July 15, Stabenow said neither the Senate nor the president would consider a farm bill without food stamps being included.

“We could not pass that through the Senate, nor would the president of the United States sign that bill,” she said. “It would be a very short-term approach that would end the coalition between urban and rural communities.”

Stabenow said she is eager for the conference between the House and Senate to begin, so they can hopefully get a farm bill done while Congress is still in session, and before the 2008 Farm Bill extension expires, in October.

“There’s not a lot of time,” she said. “There’s enough time to do it but we have got to get started.”

She said the conference will be an important step in finishing the farm bill, and that she’s confident the House and Senate will get the farm bill done.

House splits nutrition title out of farm bill; farm-only bill passes 216-208

July 12th, 2013 Susan Crowell

WASHINGTON — After suffering a rather stinging defeat the first time the farm bill came to the House floor for a vote, House Republicans regrouped and bowed to pressure to ungroup the federal food and nutrition programs from the farm legislation.

The result was passage of the revamped H.R. 2642, another five-year farm bill that did not include the nutrition title. While the farm bill was on the floor, it was debated under a closed rule, which means no amendments were considered.

The bill passed July 11, by a 216-208 vote.

Voting for the farm-only farm bill were 216 Republicans and 0 Democrats; Voting against the bill were 12 Republicans and 194 Democrats. Eleven members did not vote.

The Ohio and Pennsylvania delegation members all voted along party lines.

When approved by the conference committee and voted on once again by both the House and the Senate, the legislation will repeal and replace the permanent law for commodities that dates to 1938 and 1949.

The vote breakdown is here: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll353.xml

“Our farm and food stamp programs need reform,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement after the vote. “The status quo is unacceptable, which is why I voted against most of the farm bills of the past two decades, and supported this one.”

What about food stamps?

Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the nutrition title, Title IV, that was removed from the bill that passed, will go back to the ag committee for round two.

The goal, he said during a speech on the floor prior to the vote, is to craft a bill that can be passed on the House floor, and then both the farm bill and the nutrition bill will go to the conference committee to reconcile with the Senate’s farm bill, which is a single piece of legislation that passed easily with a vote of 66 to 27.

He also warned, however, that if a nutrition title is not finalized, the program’s reform could also be taken up in the appropriations process, specifically by the ag appropriations subcommittee chaired by Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.


Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., the minority leader on the House ag committee, said splitting the farm bill sets the stage for “draconian cuts to nutrition programs and eliminating future farm bills altogether.”

The House Majority’s decision “would be laughable if it weren’t true,” Peterson said in a statement after the vote.

“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.”

On the same days as the vote, a group of 17 Senators, including Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to oppose any split in the legislation during conferencing.

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the bill.

Commentary by Susan Crowell: What farm bill history do we want to repeat?

July 11th, 2013 Susan Crowell

Don’t ask me why, but this afternoon I reached into my file cabinet and pulled out a thick folder labeled “2002 Farm Bill.”

And — surprise, surprise! — the House and Senate leaders were trading barbs and pointing fingers at the tail end of 2001 as to why Congress couldn’t get a farm bill finalized.

“For the Senate to delay passage of the farm bill and then not complete their job is like shining up the tractor, driving up to the edge of the field and stalling the engine,” declared then-House Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas.

To which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., responded, “Republicans continue to employ procedural roadblocks to slow consideration and completion of the farm bill on the Senate floor.”

Delays in farm bill development aren’t new. The 1995 farm bill became the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act, and the 2007 farm bill didn’t get finalized until May 2008. We shouldn’t expect anything different from a Congress that can’t get budget bills approved until mid-point in that unfinished budget’s fiscal year.

Crafting a farm bill is complicated stuff. Throw politics into the mix and you get gridlock.

As evidenced from the current calls to split the food assistance programs from the farm programs, proponents and opponents for the legislation come from different camps: food policy, farm policy, energy policy, natural resources/conservation/environment, rural development, and Tea Partiers and fiscal hawks who want to control government spending, just to name a few.

None of the camps has enough clout to pass a farm bill without linking arms with another camp. We still need a broad coalition to pass legislation that includes conservation, farm and food programs.

Lost in all the rhetoric are some important details:

Reality check: Commodity programs declined from a high of $24.4 billion in 2005 to less than $10 billion per year in 2010.

Want farmers to get more bang for those bucks? Channel more federal money into agricultural research.

Ag economist J.M. Alston (2009) estimates that every dollar spent on ag research and development would generate a $10 benefit to farmers. Compare that to Alston’s estimate (again, from 2009) that farmers receive only about 50 cents of every farm subsidy dollar.

Reality check: Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, rose from $12.2 billion in 1985 to $68.3 billion in 2010. One in eight Americans, or 44 million people, received food assistance in 2010. And U.S. food assistance programs represent the largest portion — around 75% (although you’ll see other numbers) — of farm bill spending.

Is the system needed? Yes. Do we need to reform this system? Yes. For one, shove some of those dollars into SNAP-ED, the nutrition education component. That way, perhaps more recipients will buy peas instead of PopTarts.

Reality check: While, yes, current farm revenues are high, farm input costs rose by 55 percent over the last six years, far higher than overall inflation.

Farmers assume more risk than the average small business. Give them the tools to hedge that risk.

Reality check: Even though many farms are large, and many families form a family partnership or family corporation, the bulk today’s farms can still be considered a family farm.

People want to support farmers; they just don’t want to support the Ted Turners of the world. We need a means test to target that support.

Reality check: The recent failed House floor farm bill vote was the first time Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, ever voted in favor of a farm bill.

And that just means facts can be stranger than fiction.

* * *

By Susan Crowell

A farm bill without food stamps?

July 10th, 2013 Chris Kick

(Breaking story. Updates being made. House passes farm-only farm bill. July 11, 2013.)

SALEM, Ohio — Reports that the U.S. House of Representatives may consider a farm bill minus the food stamp provision has stirred a wide range of reaction.

Washington media are reporting the bill would include only the farm provisions, and that the House would later vote on a separate bill to fund food stamps.

When combined, food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, make up more than three-fourths of the $500 billion farm bill and were a major issue of contention among House members who failed the combined bill June 20, by a vote of 195-234.

Some farmers have also voiced support for splitting the two programs, but most farm organizations are speaking out against the split, warning that it could leave the agriculture program at risk of not passing, over fear that an urban-dominated House might not provide enough votes.

Enough support?

In a July 2 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, more than 500 farm organizations called for a comprehensive farm bill and cautioned against the split.

“Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support,” the authors wrote. “… We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward.”

American Farm Bureau Farm Policy Specialist Mary Kay Thatcher, in a recent interview on Newsline, said the House would likely not have enough rural support.

“You’re looking at 435 members in the House, 25 percent of whom have zero farmers in their district,” she said. “How does one go to the Hill and convince one of those members of Congress to support spending money for agriculture?”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said “splitting farm programs and nutrition assistance into two separate bills is a disservice to farmers, ranchers, rural residents and consumers.

“The bill needs to remain intact, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to provide safety net programs for both farmers and consumers facing hard times should not be pulled in opposite directions. Farmers produce the food upon which consumers across the country, including those in need of some assistance, rely.”

What they’re saying

Some senators expressed their view on the split over Twitter, and more statements are forthcoming.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, and a House Agriculture Committee member, tweeted “taking SNAP, other nutrition programs out of the farm bill is not the way to go. Growing and feeding go hand in hand.”

The Senate approved its version of the farm bill June 10, by a vote of 66-27.

Farm bill: Now what?

June 25th, 2013 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — The House’s June 20 defeat of the farm bill raises some interesting questions about where the bill goes next.

The 195-234 vote against the bill puts a damper on what most farm organizations were hoping would be a milestone toward a new five-year bill.

The House Agriculture Committee could write a new bill for the House to vote on, the House could take up the farm bill the Senate passed June 10, or it could try to extend the 2008 farm bill again, following a nine-month extension that began in January.

Majority needed

A new farm bill likely won’t pass until legislators are able to cobble together a majority coalition in a politically divided Congress, which in turn reflects a divided country and a divided farm bill constituency, said Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economics professor in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Many Democrats who voted against the bill were concerned about the $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP and other food nutrition programs, which is about five times as much of a cut to SNAP than the Senate bill. Republicans voted no because of concerns about the cost of the bill, which will cost about $500 billion.

“It’s not clear why individual members voted against this bill — the SNAP program was an issue, as was cost,” Zulauf said. “But in my experience, few legislators vote against a bill for a single reason.”

Chris Galen, spokesperson for National Milk Producers Federation, said there’s a lot of uncertainty at this point, but noted the same observations as Zulauf. A big concern for NMPF is that the House approved an amendment to essentially strip the Dairy Security Act language, which would have given dairy farmers margin protection and some price stabilization options.

Prior to the vote, House Speaker John Boehner sent a pointed letter to lawmakers urging them to support the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. Boehner said the nation’s current dairy programs are “Soviet-style” and “in dire need of reform.”

He wrote, “Today, the government runs a complex and costly maze of dairy programs designed to keep prices high. Minimum prices for milk are set by Washington, not the market, and in many districts are still based on how far one is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin — an absurd holdover from the Great Depression.

“None of this bureaucracy comes cheap. Taxpayers have shelled out $5.44 billion for dairy programs since the 2002 Farm Bill (which I voted against). And staples like milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese all cost families and small businesses more than they should.”

Galen said NMPF was disappointed in the amendment, but said he was not surprised by the House speaker’s stance, which has usually been to protect dairy processors, who benefit by purchasing low-priced milk.

“He’s (Boehner) never really sided with dairy farmers when it comes to choosing between processor and farmer groups,” Galen said.

Toward the end of his letter, Boehner states “The bottom line is this: The federal government doesn’t control the supply or price of bread, clothes, or cell phones — it shouldn’t be doing so for milk.”

But dairy farmers have often challenged that logic, saying their industry is more vulnerable to market changes because it takes years to adjust. For instance, they cannot stop milking their cows when the market is low, or expand their operation overnight when prices are favorable.

Rural and urban

As always, the farm bill have to become something that serves both rural and urban interests. Some policymakers have argued the food stamp and nutrition program should be separate from the farm programs.

But, as Zulauf points out, that could put the farm programs at risk of not passing.

“I raise caution against separating the bill because as it stands, it makes the connection between farming and the consumption of food,” Zulauf said. “Also, if you remove nutrition programs from the farm bill, will there be enough interest from legislators who don’t have farming interests in their communities to get a farm bill passed?”

A House divided: Farm bill is fall guy

June 25th, 2013 Susan Crowell

Political or dysfunctional. Take your pick for describing the U.S. House of Representatives’ actions when the farm bill came up for a vote on the floor.

Like the attorney who never asks a question without knowing the answer, legislators rarely let a bill come to a floor vote without knowing how the vote will turn out, or close to it.

The farm bill wasn’t even close. It failed 195-234.

Shortly after the bill went down, Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the ag committee, was asked by reporters on the Hill what people should read from this defeat.

“That we can’t get our act together — the House of Representatives.”

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Chris Clayton, DTN ag policy editor, “It’s incredible.”

“There has never been a problem — a Democrat-Republican issue on the farm bill. It’s always been regional and commodity differences, but eventually people found consensus. So this is a historic failure. There’s just no other way to describe it.”

Ohio’s yes votes came from Republicans Boehner, Gibbs, Johnson, Joyce, Latta, Renacci, Stivers, Tiberi and Turner. In the “no” column, Republicans Chabot, Jordan and Wenstrup joined Democrats Beatty, Fudge, Kaptur and Ryan.

Pa. Republicans voting for the farm bill included Barletta, Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Kelly, Marino, Murphy and Thompson.

The state’s Democrats — Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fattah and Schwartz — all voted no, joined by Republicans Meehan, Perry, Pitts, Rothfus and Shuster.

In all, the “nay” vote drew 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats, while the “yes” column ended with 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats. (See how the votes break down.)

The House is 0 for 2 in its attempts at writing a farm bill. It couldn’t get it done last summer either, which triggered the current nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill.

This farm bill vote is bigger than the farm bill. It illustrates just how fractured the House is as a whole in its ability to get the job — any job — done.

The House version fell apart with the addition of the dairy amendment (the Goodlatte-Scott amendment would’ve stripped the margin insurance and market stabilization of the Dairy Security Act from the farm bill) and the adoption of Rep. Steve Southerland’s amendment to institute work requirements for those who receive food stamps.

D.C. media reported Peterson told House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., not to accept the Southerland amendment, that it would cost votes. But when heavyweights like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., added a statement in support of the Southerland amendment, Lucas left it in. And the votes ran away.

The bill was already under fire for massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the food stamp program. And those cuts prompted the President’s senior advisors to recommend President Barack Obama veto the House version of the bill, if those cuts stayed in the final bill.

More than 80 percent of the dollars in the farm bill go toward food and nutrition programs like SNAP. Historically, the ag coalition has said it needs those dollars — those urban legislators — to get any farm legislation passed at all. Now, calls to separate the two issues are getting louder, including the voice of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., one-time presidential hopeful.

In February, I was in a room with a bunch of ag folks listening to longtime journalist Jerry Hagstrom, who has covered agriculture in D.C. for decades.

“Food and agriculture are hot topics,” he said, but added bluntly, “Agriculture has been doing so well that nobody is worried about it.”

Except for the ones who plow and plant and harvest. And those who feed, and milk and assume all the risk. But no one asked them, did they?

“I have a hard time seeing where we go from here,” said Rep. Collin Peterson in a prepared statement.

So do we.

Let’s make that political AND dysfunctional.

U.S. House votes down 2013 Farm Bill

June 20th, 2013 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. House put the 2013 Farm Bill to vote June 20, failing the measure by a vote of 195-234.

Farm organizations had pressured the House to vote on the bill after failing to consider the 2012 Senate-approved Farm Bill, and instead settling on a nine-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The Senate approved its version of the 2013 Farm Bill 66-27 June 10. The bills were similar, except the House Bill called for about $20 billion in additional cuts to the Food Stamp program, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will,” said House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a statement following the vote.

“I’m obviously disappointed,” Lucas continued, “but the reforms in H.R. 1947 — $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 — are so important that we must continue to pursue them.  We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need.”

National Milk’s response

Most farm organizations issued statements of disappointment following the vote. National Milk Producers Federation said it was disappointed in the outcome, because it leaves the farm bill “in limbo.” But had the bill passed, as amended, it would have stripped the Dairy Security Act and margin protection programs.

The amendment, by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would have removed those safety-net provisions and created a way to provide dairy producers with the option to annually enroll in a new margin insurance program at levels of $4 and up to $8 in increments of fifty cents.

Based on the highest annual of three previous calendar years of their milk marketings, dairy producers are allowed to elect their coverage level and the percentage of coverage up to 80 percent, at the start of the program and annually thereafter. Dairy producers would have been allowed to update their production history annually.

The amendment was approved by a vote of 291-135, creating one of the biggest differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.

Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF, called the amendment “a disappointment to America’s dairy farmers who recognize this amendment for what it is: An effort to ensure that dairy processors get a government-insured supply of cheap milk.”

Since the farm bill ultimately failed, though, Kozak said the amendment was “a hollow victory for its proponents.”

Supply management

Kozak criticized House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has consistently stood against the concept of supply management.

“We always knew we faced a difficult challenge in the more urban and suburban-oriented House, especially with House Speaker John Boehner personally committed to defeating the Dairy Security Act,” Kozak said. “But we’re hopeful that the House and Senate will eventually find a way to write a compromise farm bill. When they do, we believe the agriculture conferees who develop that final bill will understand the importance of the more balanced approach to dairy policy contained in the Senate-passed farm bill.”

The Speaker had pledged to support the farm bill and cast a yes vote June 12, while admitting there were provisions in which he disagreed

“I am going to vote for the farm bill to make sure the good work of the Agriculture Committee, and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill, gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and our farm programs,” he said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said had that bill passed, it would have “unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America.”

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said a five-year bill is needed, and the House needs to design a bill that both parties will support.

“The House needs to find a way to get a five-year Farm Bill done,” she said in a released statement. “The Speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”