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FARM BILL UPDATE: Senate names conferees; House waiting

8/12/2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Because of the vital importance of the farm bill to our country’s farmers, ranchers and basic food security, Arkansas Farm Bureau will be following the legislative process closely. In the following space, we’ll provide running updates on the bill’s progress.

Aug. 12, 2013

Senate appoints conferees; Cantor looking for new nutrition vote first  

With less than two weeks of legislative working days before the expiration of the current farm bill extension, it is almost impossible Congress will finish a new farm bill before Sept. 30.

Since 2011, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) have worked to deliver a new farm bill. The Senate has passed two farm bills, one last summer and then a second earlier this year. The House stalled last year despite good efforts from agriculture leadership. This year, an initial House vote on their farm bill failed. The House then regrouped, splitting the nutrition title off the bill and passing the other 13 titles before taking their August recess.

Stabenow and Lucas, along with other member of the leadership, say they hope to iron out differences between the Senate bill and the “agriculture-only” House bill through informal talks during the August recess. The goal is to get as many issues resolved as possible by September, so they’ll be ready for a formal conference committee later this year.

The Senate has appointed their formal conferees for the bill. Conferees are appointed by the Majority and Minority leaders with guidance from committee leaders. Sen. Boozman was chosen by leadership to serve on the conference committee. The other conferees are:
  • Democrats: Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and 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.)
  • Republicans: Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.)
The House has delayed naming conferees until September. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) prefers to offer another nutrition bill to the House before proceeding to conference. That revised nutrition title will include deeper cuts. If that bill passes, then the conference committee will have its work cut out for it settling the differences between the two bills and crafting legislation that can pass both chambers and get a Presidential signature.

Another looming difference that the conference committee will have to work through is the continuation of direct payments through 2015 for cotton producers. The House bill includes the provision to allow the cotton industry to transition to another support program that does not violate the U.S. trade agreement with Brazil. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has publically denounced the House’s plan for cotton.

Procedurally, Congress is closer to passing the farm bill than at any other point in the past three years. Skepticism is high, though, as the bill still has an extremely rocky path to final passage. Some Congressional leaders are quietly talking about another extension of the 2008 Farm Bill as a backup plan.

July 2, 2013

AFBF sends letter to House leadership

The American Farm Bureau Federation helped garner a group of more than 532 organizations that today urged House leadership to bring the farm bill back to the House floor for a vote as soon as possible. The groups also urged against splitting the nutrition title from the legislation. 
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the vast group encompassing agriculture, conservation, nutrition, rural development, finance, forestry, energy and crop insurance organizations and companies said passage of the farm bill (H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013) is vital. 
“This important legislation supports our nation’s farmers, ranchers, forest owners, food security, natural resources and wildlife habitats, rural communities, and the 16 million Americans whose jobs directly depend on the agriculture industry,” said the letter. 
“Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation, and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support,” continued the letter. “It is vital for the House to try once again to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to provide certainty for farmers, rural America, the environment and our economy in general and pass a five-year farm bill upon returning in July.” 
The groups also stood in united support for keeping the farm bill intact. “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.” 
Current law expires again on September 30, 2013. 

June 27, 2013

Veach pens op-ed, House Dems intro Senate bill

Randy Veach, Arkansas Farm Bureau president, contributed an op-ed column to yesterday's edition of the Blytheville Courier News. In it, he wrote:

"I believe some in this country have taken our abundance of safe, affordable food for granted. I have traveled to several other countries and have seen how vital they view their food supply, and the envy in which they see our food production capacity. It as if those other countries place a higher value on food security.

"With regard to this Farm Bill, my concern is we may not have another opportunity to bring a meaningful piece of legislation forward in the House this year. House agriculture leaders started working on this proposal in early 2012, and it has taken 18 months to even get it to a vote. The Senate has an approved Farm Bill, waiting on a countering House version. However that may not be forthcoming given the discord in the House on this subject."

Speaking of the Senate bill, three Democratic Representatives have introduced it in the House as HR 2498. Bill sponsor Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), in a news release, said:

“After voting down the farm bill last week, the House must act quickly to move the farm bill process forward. The Senate voted in a strong bipartisan fashion to move the farm bill forward, and it is time House leaders bring up this legislation and allow a vote on the bill. While the Senate legislation is not perfect, Congress must provide our farmers and rural communities some certainty. Partisan bickering will only further delay enactment of a long-term farm bill.”
Many in Washington believe the most likely outcome will be another temporary extension. So far, though, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is holding firm against that option. 

June 20, 2013: 

Farm bill fails in House

(Updated at 3:43 p.m. with reactions)

The U.S. House of Representatives voted down the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. With a vote of 195 for and 234 against, the House rejected the proposal, leaving a huge question about U.S. farm programs going forward.

Out of the Arkansas delegation Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, and Steve Womack voted for the proposal. Rep. Tom Cotton voted against it.

"I am surprised and very disappointed," said Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. "We had all of agriculture supporting this proposal, and we believed we were going to get it passed.

"To have this vote fail the way it did leaves us a difficult situation. The American farmer is left without much of a safety net, or without the ability to plan, long-term, for their farms. The House started working on this bill back in early 2012. It has taken us 18 months to even get it to a vote in the House, and to have it go does makes me question whether we will see another proposal from the House this year. It leaves so many questions unanswered."

Veach thanked the Arkansas Representatives who voted for the bill, as well as applauding the work for Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma for bringing forth a proposal that brought all of agriculture together.

"On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will.," Lucas said. "I’m obviously disappointed, 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,"

Agriculture groups were universally disappointed.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation is highly disappointed the House did not complete work on the 2013 farm bill, the ‘Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.’ It was a balanced bill that would have provided much needed risk management tools and a viable economic safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers.

“We commend House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) for their commitment and hard work in bringing the bill to the floor and working toward its passage. We look forward to working with them as we regroup and move forward. We also appreciate House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for working with the Agriculture Committee leadership to bring the bill to the floor.

“A completed farm bill is much needed to provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming years and to allow the Agriculture Department to plan for an orderly implementation of the bill’s provisions.”

 The American Soybean Association voiced its extreme displeasure and frustration.

“Today’s failure leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch," said Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss., who is president of the American Soybean Association. "Once again, the 23 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture are left holding the bag.

“This bill would have reinforced the farm safety net, promoted our products in foreign markets, strengthened the fast-growing biodiesel industry, enhanced conservation programs; not to mention the stable, affordable and safe supply of food, feed, fiber and fuel that it would have ensured for all Americans; all while addressing our collective fiscal and budgetary obligations. Now, none of those benefits can be realized and a debilitating uncertainty extends from farmers to consumers as we all face the expiration of farm bill programs on Sept. 30.

“It is incumbent on both Republicans and Democrats to find a way forward for American agriculture.”

Bill Loving, chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and president and CEO of Pendleton Community Bank in Franklin, W.Va., released this statement today following the House’s vote rejecting the act.

"We appreciate the hard work that so many members and staff have put into passing a new five-year farm bill,” he said. “Farm bills are never easy to pass due to the wide divergence of opinions on the many issues they encompass. However, we urge the House to continue its efforts to adopt a farm bill, which is so very important to our nation’s rural communities.

"Farmers and ranchers and their lenders need a new five-year bill to make long-term planning decisions. Having this important safety net in place allows producers to secure loans and provides some assurance to lenders of their repayment ability. The bill would have reauthorized important USDA business and farm loan programs and strengthened crop and revenue insurance programs that have become essential risk management tools for most farmers.

"Differences need to be overcome for a farm bill to be enacted this year."

June 18, 2013

House begins debate

(as of 5:33 p.m. CST)

The U.S. House of Representatives began floor debate today on HR 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, or “FARRM,” as it is being called. The Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), opened debate saying:

“This bipartisan bill is four years in the making, and I could not have had a better partner than my friend from Minnesota, Mr. Peterson. (ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.)

“The FARRM Act is a different farm bill for different times. There is a reason we put reform in the title. This is the most reform-minded bill in decades. It repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining and consolidating over 100 government programs. It reforms the SNAP program — also known as the food stamp program — for the first time since the welfare reforms of 1996. And, it makes tremendous reforms to farm programs.

“The Agriculture Committee and the agriculture community have voluntarily worked together to make these reforms and contribute to deficit reduction. Every part of this bill is a part of the solution to Washington’s spending problem. We save the American taxpayer nearly $40 billion, which is almost seven times the amount of cuts to these programs under sequestration.”

At 2 p.m., the House Rules Committee began taking testimony from Members of Congress wishing to have their amendments included in debate. As of 5 p.m., that hearing is still ongoing. When it is completed, the Rules Committee will determine which amendments will be included in the process.

Presumably, the House will begin serious debate on the bill tomorrow morning and will continue consideration throughout the day tomorrow and Thursday. Republican leadership continues to indicate final passage of the farm bill will occur prior to adjournment at 3 p.m. Thursday.

June 13, 2013

AFBF issues statement of support

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman has issued a statement regarding the farm bill's prospects in the House:

“With his statement of support for the farm bill today, Speaker Boehner is giving all Americans, including the farmers who feed them and those concerned with nutrition programs, real optimism that Washington can get important work done in 2013. In return, today he has been attacked unfairly by those who want to make the bipartisan progress on a farm bill appear to be the work of party politics by President Obama or the speaker himself.

“Congress is advancing bipartisan farm legislation – the House bill that cleared committee on a bipartisan 36-10 vote will soon be on the House floor. It is unfortunate that outside political groups with no interest in the agricultural economy or the farm and ranch families who underpin our rural economies have reacted by promoting inaction, effectively supporting no reform, no progress. Heritage Foundation-Heritage Action, for example, opposes the legislation, but they are misstating the facts in characterizing reforms advanced in the legislation as a referendum on the president. It certainly is not the view of a single leader in the political debate.

“The American Farm Bureau calls on Congress to work its will through a fair process and an open debate, to finish the House bill, leading to a conference committee, which can then produce legislation that reflects the will of the American people. It is time to put aside partisan bickering and get to work.”

June 10, 2013:
Bill passes Senate 
Both Arkansas senators, Mark Pryor and John Boozman, voted Monday evening for passage of a new five-year Farm Bill. The measure passed 66-27.

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S 954), is the Senate’s idea for what should replace the existing farm bill set to expire Sept. 30. The legislation includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as well as programs to protect environmentally sensitive land, international food aid and other projects to help rural communities.

The House of Representatives is expected to take up the issue as early next week.

The Senate version includes an expansion of crop insurance programs, utilized by Midwestern farmers more than those in the Mid-South, where irrigation is a hedge against yield loss. However, the Senate bill also includes programs for Southern rice and peanut farmers.

Last year’s Senate proposal did not include adequate protection for many Southern commodities, with Pryor, Boozman and Arkansas Farm Bureau opposing the proposal on those grounds. That support was added this year after the agriculture committee gained a new top Republican, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, along with heavy lobbying by Arkansas Farm Bureau and a concerted education effort by Arkansas senators. Those changes led to their support for this version of the Senate bill.

The U.S. House version seeks cuts of almost $40 billion, with $20.5 billion coming out of the food stamp program. The Senate bill reduces spending by more than $23 billion. The Senate version projects about $955 billion in spending over 10 years, and the House version projects about $940 billion over the period.

The Senate and House bills are far apart on food stamp support, though other titles are similar and Arkansas Farm Bureau is optimistic that a compromise bill will be drafted and approved by both chambers.

June 6, 2013

Senate invokes cloture 

Updated at 3:59 p.m. CST: Shortly after the cloture vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the Senate will not take up the Farm Bill again until Monday, June 10 at 5 p.m. At that time, a vote will be held on amendment number 928 by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Ver.) that establishes a pilot program for gigabit internet projects in rural areas. Farm Bureau supports the amendment. Then, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, the Senate will vote on final passage of S. 954. It is unclear at this time whether some amendments will be included in a manager’s package, but it appears no other votes will be taken on the bill.
The Senate voted to invoke cloture on S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, a.k.a., the farm bill. The vote was 75-22. Sens. Pryor and Boozman both voted for cloture. Cloture votes limit or end debate on a bill, setting up final passage. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set the cloture vote when it became clear that no agreement would be reached on which of the more than 200 amendments the Senate would consider. The Senate needs to pass the bill now, because there's unlikely to be floor time at a later date. In addition, Senate leadership wants to start on an immigration bill next week. Since the cloture vote passed, there will be no more than 30 hours of debate remaining on S. 954. Farm Bureau supports S. 954 and the vote on cloture. Amendments are still possible (maybe even probable) if they can be reached by unanimous consent, but that will need to happen quickly or not at all. Final vote on S. 954 could happen as early as today, but June 10 is a more likely date. The Senate will not work tomorrow.

House Republicans and Democrats are continuing to whip members to support the bill. This morning, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Texas) reiterated leadership’s intent to bring the farm bill to the floor on the week of June 17. He also expressed intent to have a relatively “open rule” on amendments, meaning there could easily be 300 amendments or more filed.

More details are located here.

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