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Published July 12, 2012, 11:04 AM

House Ag Committee approves farm bill

“I’m just overjoyed the bill is done in committee at this moment,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters in the early morning hours of July 12 after the committee approved the farm bill on a roll call vote of 35 to 11.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

“I’m just overjoyed the bill is done in committee at this moment,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters in the early morning hours of July 12 after the committee approved the farm bill on a roll call vote of 35 to 11.

Both the majority in favor of the bill and the minority in opposition were bipartisan.

Lucas noted it passed on a “solid roll call vote.” He said he and House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., are both committed to getting the bill enacted as soon as possible, but declined to discuss details of a path forward until he got some sleep.

Peterson told reporters he sees no reason the House leadership should not bring it up before the full House before Congress leaves Aug. 3 on a recess until early September. Peterson repeated earlier statements that Congress should send the bill to President Barack Obama before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

Peterson said he is not opposed to merging the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill with the Senate-passed bill without taking it to the House floor first because so many amendments could be added, but said he does not believe that House Democrats or Republicans will stand for that.

Some lobbyists have suggested waiting until Congress takes up bills to deal with taxes and federal budget cuts in the lame duck session, but Peterson said he fears that will be a “quagmire” in which control of the farm bill “gets taken away from us.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made the same point, calling for passage of the bill before Sept. 30 and restoration of disaster programs in that legislation.

In terms of waiting until next year, Peterson said he has warned conservatives that if the farm bill is not passed and there has to be an extension of the bill through a continuing resolution, there will be no cuts to the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

Democrats will lose votes over the $16.5 billion in cuts to food stamps in the bill, Peterson said, but he added that he believes it will pass the House.

The bill that the House Agriculture Committee passed was remarkable for the lack of changes to core programs to the committee draft, although in late action, the committee added some controversial amendments regarding interstate commerce, country-of-origin labeling, catfish inspection, livestock and poultry regulations already established by the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration, and animal fighting.

Lucas and Peterson appealed to committee members not to make any big changes to food stamps or the commodity title that would make the fragile coalition in favor of the bill fall apart, and they did not.

The basic bill

The bill follows the discussion draft provisions to cut the bill’s spending by about $35 billion over 10 years compared with the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of spending if current programs would continue.

The House bill would cut the commodity title by $14 billion, the conservation title by $6 billion and the nutrition title by $16.5 billion. The Senate bill would cut about $23.6 billion over 10 years, including $15 billion in cuts to the commodity title, $6 billion to conservation and $4.5 billion to nutrition programs.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., also offered and withdrew an amendment that would eliminate a provision in the House bill allowing the fresh fruit and vegetable snack program in the schools to serve canned and frozen fruit and vegetables as well as fresh. Cardoza said the provision would “undermine the integrity of the fresh fruit and vegetable program.”

Although the major difference between the House and Senate bills — besides the size of the food stamp cut — was that the House bill continues a program of target prices that trigger countercyclical payments while the Senate bill eliminates it, the subject of that difference was barely mentioned.

The National Corn Growers Association, which had opposed continuation of target prices, said in a news release early today that it “is disappointed the House Agriculture Committee’s passed version of the 2012 farm bill does not include a more viable market-oriented risk management program.”

But the National Association of Wheat Growers, which has no position on target prices, praised passage of the bill.

Dairy

The committee rejected with a 29-17 vote an amendment to the dairy title of the farm bill to eliminate the dairy market stabilization program in favor of a margin insurance program.

Both Lucas and Peterson voted against the amendment, which was offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. and Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.

The National Milk Producers Federation, which represents farmers and their co-ops, opposed the amendment, while the International Dairy Foods Association, which represents processors and opposes supply management, supported it.

Sugar

The committee rejected a farm bill amendment to change the sugar program by a vote of 36 to 10.

The amendment, proposed by Goodlatte, would have rolled back changes to the sugar program in the 2008 farm bill. Goodlatte said high sugar prices are driving confectionary jobs out of the country.

Peterson urged a “no” vote, saying that rolling back the sugar support price made no sense when the bill raises target prices on other commodities. Lucas also urged a “no” vote, noting that the sugar program does not have an impact on the federal budget.

Country-of-origin labeling

Scott and Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, introduced an amendment to require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to submit a report 90 days after passage of the farm bill detailing the steps the secretary will take to comply with the ruling that the U.S. program of country-of-origin labeling violates World Trade Organization rules.

Peterson noted that the WTO said the labeling program is legal but that animals from Mexico and Canada had not received equal treatment, and noted that USDA is trying to revise the program.

Peterson urged a “no” vote, but it passed on a record vote of 34 to 12.

Livestock and poultry rules

The committee passed by voice vote an amendment that would repeal rules the USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration has already implemented under the 2008 farm bill, and would stop USDA from doing any more work on those regulations.

Costa and Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, maintained that the regulations went beyond congressional intent, but Peterson said he had worked with the department to ease the regulations so that industry would accept them.

To the floor

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., applauded House Agricultural Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., for their achievement in passing the farm bill out of committee, and called on the House leadership to bring the bill to the floor for consideration to keep Congress on track for passing a bill before Sept. 30.

“Now that the House Agriculture Committee has acted, House leadership should swiftly bring this bill to the floor,” Stabenow said in a statement.

“With droughts and weather disasters plaguing America’s agriculture economy, failure to pass a farm bill or passing a short-term extension would add even more uncertainty and stress onto American farm families and small businesses,” she said.

“Letting current farm policy expire and reverting back to the policy of the 1940s or kicking the can down the road with a short-term extension will not only hurt our economy, it will also mean a lost opportunity to enact major reforms in farm policy and substantial spending cuts.”

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