The Senate is set to begin debating amendments to the farm bill on Tuesday. The big question, of course, is how many and which amendments will be considered. Will Republicans get to force debates on such issues as defense spending, Pakistan aid and estate taxes, the subjects of amendments filed last week?
Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas were planning to meet today to go over the possible amendments. Some 90 were filed last week and more will likely be dropped today, including a key one on egg industry standards. In an interview that C-SPAN aired Sunday, Roberts is concerned that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could restrict the number of amendments so much he will provoke a backlash from Republicans. Roberts said he wants to limit the number to a “reasonable amount” and that, “we’re working through that, and I’m actually optimistic we can get that worked out.”
Bill Managers Not Worried About Southern-Led ‘Axis.’ Southern senators have talked of forming alliances with other opponents of the bill in order to wring concessions for rice and peanut farmers, but Roberts said he sees no such coalition or “axis” developing. Stabenow added, “If that was going to happen it would have happened on the motion to proceed,” referring to the 90-8 cloture vote last Thursday. “There’s a lot of folks right now working in good faith with each other to get us where we need to go.”
Stabenow and Roberts also expressed optimism that the House would follow suit and pass a bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “understands what’s at stake,” Roberts said. Once the Senate passes the bill, “then the burden or the responsibility will pass to the House. I think they’ll meet it. The stakes are too high.” House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has said House GOP leaders doubt the Senate will pass a bill and haven’t included the farm bill on their summer agenda.
Animal Welfare Debate Faces Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is expected today to file her amendment that would impose national standards for the care of laying hens. The proposed rules have divided the egg industry and are strongly opposed by other livestock sectors. The amendment, based on a bill she introduced last month, (S 3239) would incorporate a deal reached last year between the United Egg Producers and the Humane Society of the United States. That measure, like a companion House bill (HR 3798), would require farms to switch from conventional battery cages to larger units that have nesting areas and room for the birds to move around. A study released by UEP (pdf) said the larger cages would increase production costs about 1.5 cents per dozen eggs during the transition; egg prices would be 1 percent higher. The Congressional Research Service said the standards might accelerate consolidation in the egg industry but that farms able to afford the capital costs could wind up profiting from productivity gains.
Crop Insurance Subsidy Cap Could Have Disparate Regional Impact. There are some good political reasons that Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., dropped the idea of capping premium subsidies at $40,000 and instead proposed just to increase premiums for wealthy farmers. An across-the-board cap would fall harder on farmers in some states than others. Farmers in the Plains states, for example, would hit the cap at smaller acreages than farmers in places such as Illinois and Iowa with more dependable rainfall. “Some people might argue that they shouldn’t be growing corn in eastern North Dakota, but the fact is they do grow corn there,” said John Blanchfield, the American Bankers Association’s leading specialist on agricultural lending. The $40,000 cap also could hit many operations that aren’t particularly large, according to an analysis (pdf) by Art Barnaby, an economist and crop insurance specialist at Kansas State University. The average subsidy in 2011 was $29.06 per acre, so if farmers maintained their current coverage levels they could hit the $40,000 cap at 1,377 acres.
The $40,000 cap still could be debated in the Senate. Jeanne Shaheen, D-Vt., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., have filed an amendment with that limit, but it’s unlikely to draw nearly as much support as the Coburn-Durbin proposal to reduce the premium subsidy for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of $750,000 per year. Barnaby says in a separate report (pdf) that there would be ways around an AGI limit, too. One way to do that is for the farm to set up as a C corporation: Its AGI could be kept relatively low by paying rent to the farmer, he writes. It would take about 13,437 acres of Kansas wheat and 3,708 acres of Iowa corn for a farm to have enough income to reach the $750,000 limit, according to Barnaby.
Raw Milk Unites Dairy Industry. Dairy producers and processors have found something on which they can agree: Legalizing interstate sales of raw milk is a bad idea. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has filed an amendment that would allow the sale of the milk across state lines. “Pasteurization is one of the greatest public health tools. To compromise or reduce its use through this legislation is not just bad politics – it’s a huge, inhumane step backwards, and one that will cause sickness and death,” the National Milk Producers Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association say in a letter (pdf) to senators. The two groups have been sharply at odds over a NMPF revenue-protection program that’s included in the bill.
FDA to Allow Etched Labels on Citrus. Those pesky stickers could be a thing of the past in at least one area of the supermarket produce section. FDA is issuing a final rule (pdf) that will allow fresh citrus to be etched with product codes using a carbon dioxide laser, acting on a request from Sunkist Growers Inc. and labeling system maker Durand-Wayland Inc. The FDA analyzed the potential chemical and microbiological effects of the etching, including the risk of salmonella contamination, writes Dianne McColl of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, the law firm handling the petition.
Farm Lobby Wants Bigger Trade Focus at USDA. Leading farm groups want a new undersecretary’s position at USDA to oversee trade issues. They’re now under the purview of the undersecretary of farm and foreign agricultural services who also oversees the Farm Service Agency. The American Farm Bureau Federation and 24 other groups say USDA’s trade functions were last reorganized in 1978 when trade wasn’t nearly as big an issue for U.S. farmers as it is today. The groups are asking House Agriculture leaders to include a provision in their farm bill that would establish the separate position for trade. “An undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs will provide a singular focus on trade and foster more effective coordination of transparent, rules-based trade policies in other USDA agencies,” the groups say in a letter (pdf) to lawmakers. The Senate farm bill contains a provision by Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns that would require USDA to study the possible reorganization of its trade functions. Johanns, of course, is a former Agriculture secretary.
House Spending Bill Challenges Obama on Immigration. Republicans are using the fiscal 2013 Homeland Security spending bill (HR 5855) to rebuke the Obama administration over its immigration policy, reports CQ’s David Harrison. Acting under an open rule, House members approved roughly a dozen amendments last week that would boost immigration enforcement and border security. Even Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, didn’t have advance warning about the slew of immigration-related amendments. “I think there’s a feeling out there, an uneasiness about the administration not enforcing” immigration laws, he said. Many of the House-approved amendments duplicate provisions that are already in the underlying bill. For instance, both the bill language and an amendment by Steve King, R-Iowa, would block a new administration policy targeting for deportation illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes, while giving others a reprieve. King said he wanted to send a message. The policy riders could complicate House-Senate negotiations on the final version of the bill.
The Philadelphia Experiment: If Offered More Healthful Food, Will People Buy It? The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes about Philadelphia’s attempt to improve nutrition among its low-income residents through a $900,000 effort to sell more fruits and vegetables — and fewer snacks and candy items — at corner stores. Some 632 corner stores out of 2,500 overall are taking part in the Get Healthy Philly initiative. What’s just as important is the data that’s being collected so researchers can decide whether this concept works. As Klein writes, multiple studies based on local, state and national data have found no causal relationship to date between weight and access to healthy food. Helen Lee, a policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, is concerned that “we’re investing in a strategy that may not be very promising. If you’re investing government money, you should carefully be evaluating how much you’ve invested and how much you’re getting out of that.”
On the Move: Derrick White has been hired as director of federal government relations at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. He was a principal at Derrick White Consulting. He also has worked as senior director of federal affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
New From CRS: Agricultural Conservation: A Guide to Programs
Quotable: “The same thing was true in ’96 when we went to Freedom to Farm and there was a lot of opposition from the South.” — Roberts, comparing the Southern opposition to this year’s farm bill to the 1996 farm bill. He was chairman of House Agriculture then.