The Senate is on a path to approve its farm bill (S 3240) by week’s end under last night’s deal to allow votes on up to 73 amendments. The agreement not only breaks an impasse that threatened to kill any chance of enacting a new farm bill this year, but also clears the way for House Agriculture to schedule a markup of its version of the legislation next week ahead of the July Fourth recess. Getting the bill through Congress this year, especially before the election, will be tough. But “it is certain we can’t get a (farm bill) without Senate passage,” as Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher put it after the agreement was announced.
Crop Insurance Curbs on List. The debating and voting is set to start at 2:15 p.m. and alternate between Republican and Democratic sponsored amendments, reports CQ’s Ellyn Ferguson. Several non-germane amendments, including one that would block the EPA from using aerial surveillance to check on Clean Water Act violations by Midwest feedlots, will require 60 votes for approval. The rest of the amendments, which need just majority approval, include some that worry farm groups, including proposals that would increase crop insurance premiums for high-earning farmers, require all farmers to comply with conservation requirements to get crop insurance and gut checkoff promotion programs by making them voluntary.
Eggs, Target Prices Left Out of Deal. Notably missing from the deal is a proposal by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to impose national standards for housing hens, a priority of the United Egg Producers that is strongly opposed by the cattle and hog sectors because of the precedent it would set for regulating farm practices. Aides informed Feinstein that her amendment was not on the list as she arrived at the Senate chamber for a vote Monday evening.
In a setback for producers of rice and several other commodities, Kent Conrad, D-N.D., withdrew his proposal to revive a counter-cyclical payment program that the bill would repeal. Conrad said Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and ranking Republican Pat Roberts strongly opposed the program, which included target prices for a variety of commodities. He told me he had conferred with Senate and House allies on the issue and has a more “market-friendly” alternative that he doesn’t want to disclose yet for fear of losing negotiating leverage.”We think we have an approach, which is not the approach we filed, which would do well in a conference setting,” Conrad said, referring to the House-Senate conference committee that will write the final version of the bill. He also has a way of paying for his alternative plan that he doesn’t want to reveal out of concern other senators would use that money for other purposes, he said.
SNAP Cut Pits Regions. One amendment expected to be on today’s agenda is a proposal by Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to restore a cut of $4.5 billion over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by taking money away from crop insurance companies. Stabenow opposes the move, saying she had achieved “a delicate balance” in the bill among farm, conservation and nutrition programs and wants to maintain it. The vote will split along regional lines. The SNAP cut would mostly come from stopping 14 heavily populated states, primarily in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest, from boosting SNAP benefits for their residents by providing them a minimal amount of heating assistance.
Heated Bargaining Over Biotech Food. Bernie Sanders, who is pushing to give states clear authority to require labeling of genetically engineered foods, was at the center of the final dickering over amendments Monday night, reports Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner. Stabenow and Sanders exchanged words on the floor, with Sanders getting red in the face and at one point brushing away Stabenow’s hand within full view of the gallery. The two then took their conversation into the cloakroom, where one source said their exchange was even more heated. Multiple sources indicated it was amendment-related, and the Sanders biotech labeling measure was included near the end of the list of announced provisions.
Democrats to Challenge CFTC, Food Aid Cuts. House Appropriations marks up the fiscal 2013 spending bill today for USDA, FDA and CFTC. Look for fights over CFTC’s budget as well as funding for international food aid, and there may be an attempt (again) to ban horse slaughter. A microbiological testing program for fruits and vegetables also will be an issue. Democrats want to give CFTC the president’s request of $308 million so it can staff up to enforce the Dodd-Frank regulations, but the bill would cut the agency’s budget by $25 million to $180 million. Democrats will lose, of course, but it will give them a chance to portray the GOP as weak on regulating Wall Street. In the Senate, CFTC’s budget is handled through the Financial Services spending bill, and it includes the president’s full request for the agency.
War Brewing Over Food For Peace. The House bill would slash the central food aid program, Food for Peace. There may be attempts by Republicans either in committee or on the floor to cut still more, while Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is expected to attempt to restore the funding. The bill would shrink Food for Peace to $1.1 billion in 2013; the Senate bill would maintain the current funding level at nearly $1.5 billion. DeLauro also will attempt to increase funding for USDA’s Microbiological Data Program, the produce testing program that the Obama administration wants to kill. Her amendment would direct USDA and FDA to find the best place for the program.
Farm Issues Could be in Play. The committee also could consider cutting off farm subsidies to producers who earn more than $250,000 a year, but that issue is unlikely to get very far, given that the House also may be considering a farm bill this year. Proposals that have previously won a lot of support in the House, including cutting off payments to Brazil in the WTO cotton case and barring USDA funding for ethanol blender pumps, may wait until the House floor for an airing.
EU, U.S. Dairy, Meat Industries Struggle Over Name Protection. The European Union is defending efforts by its farmers to preserve their exclusive use of terms such as as Feta cheese (or feta cheese, lower case, depending on your position on the issue). U.S. dairy and meat industries recently joined with the American Farm Bureau Federation to launch the Consortium for Common Food Names to fight the EU’s protection of those geographical indications. “Europe, like most other parts of the world, is rich in culinary tradition, and this includes many traditional food and drink products that have a well-respected international reputation precisely because of their very distinctive origin. … It is important that these GIs are respected and protected from imitation and misrepresentation,” the European Commission says in a statement. (pdf) In the same way, consumers also are attracted to products such as Napa Valley wines, Idaho potatoes, Florida oranges and Darjeeling tea because of the quality associated with those products, the commission argues.
The problem for U.S. dairy and meat processors is that EU is writing the restrictions into a number of trade agreements, including a new one with South Korea, and is coordinating with China on an approved list of labels. Under the Korean deal, non-European processors can no longer label cheeses as, for example, asiago or feta in South Korea, The U.S. consortium says it “opposes any attempt to monopolize common (generic) names that have become part of the public domain.” International standards should protect “legitimate geographical indications” while allowing use of generic food names anywhere, the U.S. group says.
The End of the (Rubio Alternative to) DREAM. Sen. Marco Rubio’s eagerly awaited immigration proposal likely won’t be introduced this year now that President Obama has granted young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation, reports CQ’s David Harrison. Rubio, a freshman Florida Republican and potential GOP vice presidential contender, spent the past three months working on an alternative to the Democrats’ DREAM Act, which would legalize the status of young undocumented people brought to the country illegally by their families. His efforts had generated publicity and some tentative support from Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, even though it would not have offered a direct path to citizenship, a cornerstone of the Democrats’ proposal. “The president’s announcement took a lot of the urgency out of the issue and inflamed the politics on all sides, making the prospect for any consensus legislation much more difficult,” said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant.
CRS Report Questions Navy’s Biofuels Program. A new report from the Congressional Research Service offers ammunition to lawmakers seeking to sink one of the Obama administration’s key biofuels initiatives. The report notes domestic crude oil production is on the rise and suggests lawmakers should consider whether the domestic biofuel industry is necessary for national defense and, if so, whether the Navy’s legal authority under the Defense Production Act provides enough of a stimulus. “A domestic biofuel industry may satisfy concerns for a secure, domestic, alternative fuel source independent of unstable foreign petroleum suppliers. However, adding biofuel to the military’s supply chain does not relieve logistical issues with delivering fuel to forward operating areas, where fuel supply issues have been more about vulnerability than availability,” the report says. The USS Nimitz carrier group is testing the biofuels this summer in exercises off Hawaii.