White House pans farm bill

Jun 21, 2013

—President pushes for insurance cuts; more than 220 amendments filed.

While Obama administration officials want a farm bill passed, the White House made it clear late last Monday that President Barack Obama would veto the House version of the legislation— the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.

The White House statement of policy on the House version of the farm bill said the administration strongly opposes cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and would rather see cuts to crop insurance programs. “The administration believes that Congress should achieve significant budgetary savings to help reduce the deficit without creating hardship for vulnerable families—for example, by reducing crop insurance subsidies,” the White House stated.

The White House came out with much stronger language attacking the House bill than the Senate version of the bill that passed last week. Specifically, the statement of policy from the administration noted the House bill would increase target prices for farmers by 45 percent and would increase crop-insurance programs by $9 billion over 10 years. The president’s call for an $11.7 billion cut to crop insurance over 10 years was ignored by both the House and Senate agriculture committees.

The House bill, as it stands, would cut $20.5 billion in spending on SNAP over 10 years. Several amendments that may be debated later this week could deepen those cuts.

Moreover, the White House stated the bill “does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms, and does not provide funding for renewable energy, which is an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country.”

The White House also stated the administration wants crop-insurance payments tied to conservation compliance measures.

Criticisms from the administration came as the House began sorting through which amendments to debate on the bill. More than 220 amendments were filed by last Monday afternoon. The number of amendments forced the House Rules Committee to hold a Monday meeting to discuss the underlying bill while scheduling a separate meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss how the debate on amendments will be handled.

That effectively means debate on amendments will not begin until Wednesday afternoon. Given that the House was scheduled for its final vote of the week last Thursday afternoon, it looks like the House could go into a marathon session Wednesday evening to get the House Agriculture Committee’s bill done.

Nutrition programs also fill the list of proposals as Republicans offer more cuts to SNAP by limiting eligibility for the program while Democrats seek to hold the line on cuts or expand some nutrition programs.

Some amendments directed at farm programs and crop insurance include:

Reps. Bob Gibbs, R-OH, and Ron Kind, D-WI, propose scrapping the House Ag Committee’s target price proposal to go with the same language as the Senate. That would mean pegging target prices to 55 percent of the five-year rolling average for crops. Gibbs and Kind’s amendment would go beyond the Senate by including peanuts and rice in that same formula.

Kind also is part of a bipartisan proposal to match the Senate in cuts to crop-insurance premium subsidies for larger farmers. The amendment would reduce the subsidy level by 15 percent for people with adjusted gross income of more than $750,000. The Senate has adopted that amendment the past two years in its version of the bill.

Another proposal by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, and Jason Chaffetz, R-UT, goes farther by reducing the premium subsidy for producers with adjusted gross income (AGI) greater than $250,000 and eliminating it altogether for producers with AGI greater than $750,000.

Blumenauer also proposes to eliminate two years of direct payments for cotton farmers under the bill.

Georgia congressmen want to block corn farmers from receiving farm-program payments if they sell their corn directly to an ethanol facility. Rep. Tom Graves, R-GA, offered that proposal. Reps. Jack Kingston, Lynn Westmoreland, and Austin Scott, all Republicans, also filed a similar amendment.

Reps. Mike Thompson, D- CA, and Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, also propose requiring a conservation compliance plan be filed with USDA and followed for all crops in wetlands and all annually tilled crops on highly erodible lands in order to qualify for crop insurance premium subsidy assistance.

Fortenberry also proposes capping commodity payments at $250,000 per year for any one farm and tightening the language of who is an actively-engaged farmer. The Senate bill would cap farm payments at $250,000 per married couple. Marketing loans would be capped at $150,000 per couple and all other payments would be capped at $100,000 per couple.

Reps. Tom Petri, R-WI, Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, and Kind propose placing an annual cap at $50,000 for the total subsidy received by a farmer who participates in the Federal Crop Insurance Program and requires the recipient to be “actively engaged” in farming in order to qualify for the subsidy.

Those same three congresspersons were joined by nine others to propose capping crop-insurance profitability at 12 percent, as well as put caps on administrative and operating expenses. They also propose a $50,000 premium-subsidy cap.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, wants to disclose crop-insurance subsidies for individuals. Specifically, Foxx would like disclosure of government officials and immediate family members receiving such subsidies, as well as majority shareholders in farms. Four other lawmakers also offered a similar amendment requiring name disclosure.

Rep. John Duncan, R-TN, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, propose to eliminate the premium subsidy for harvest-price crop-insurance policies.

Some Republicans are determined to keep Christmas trees from being “taxed.” Tree sellers have been trying to establish their own checkoff program, but the view of creating a Christmas tree “tax” pervades. At least two amendments were filed to strip that provision from the bill. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-MI, and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-AR, also propose stripping the “natural stone” checkoff proposal from the legislation.

Four congressmen have signed on to an amendment to change the federal sugar program, which failed in committee and also has failed repeatedly to garner enough support on the Senate floor.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-OH, and Rep. Mark Sanford, R- SC, want to eliminate the Market Access Program through 2018. That program has been protected by commodity groups that argue it is critical for trade expansion. Chabot also proposed separate amendments to get make sure China doesn’t get any Food for Peace assistance. He also wants to terminate the Foreign Market Development Cooperator program.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, wants to keep the current counter-cyclical and Average Crop Revenue Election programs and eliminate the proposed new commodity programs in the House farm bill, the target-price program and the shallow-loss program. Broun also wants to repeal the permanent farm law from 1949 to keep from reverting to permanent law for dairy price support. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-TX, also proposed to repeal the permanent law.

Following the Oregon biotech wheat controversy, five Democrats, including Reps. Peter DeFazio and Blumenauer from Oregon, filed an amendment requiring USDA to report on any unauthorized releases of genetically-engineered materials, and strengthening gene containment standards for genetically-engineered crop field trials based on 2005 USDA Office of the Inspector General audit recommendations to provide assurances to farmers and export markets.

A contingent of New York lawmakers wants to strike import restrictions on olive oil contained in the bill.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R- IN, proposes to eliminate Title IV, the nutrition title, from the farm bill and create separate consideration for that title. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX, also introduced a similar amendment.

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R- PA, wants to require the Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide data and consultation to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding water quality and nutrient management relating to ongoing modeling for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including EPA’s ongoing implementation of the Total Maximum Daily Load. — Chris Clayton, DTN