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Published May 16, 2013, 10:22 AM

House Ag Committee approves farm bill

The House Agriculture Committee on May 15 approved a new farm bill that would make most of the same changes proposed last year, but would also repeal the section of the 2008 farm bill that directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to address practices by meatpackers and poultry companies that farmers and ranchers said were hurting them.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee on May 15 approved a new farm bill that would make most of the same changes proposed last year, but would also repeal the section of the 2008 farm bill that directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to address practices by meatpackers and poultry companies that farmers and ranchers said were hurting them.

The bill would also reauthorize the sugar program. It also contains a new dairy program favored by dairy farmers but opposed by dairy processors who will try to get it changed as the bill proceeds. A proposal to repeal the country of origin labeling program for meat and certain other products was offered and withdrawn.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said that House Republican leaders have promised him they will bring the bill to the House floor in June. Last year, the Senate passed the bill, but the House never considered the bill the committee passed.

The vote was 36 in favor of sending the bill to the House floor and 10 against. Most of the opposition came from Democrats who oppose the bill because it would reduce food stamp spending, but some conservative Republicans also opposed it. The bill including food stamps would cost $940 billion over 10 years, but that is almost $40 billion less than the bill would cost if current programs were continued.

Lucas and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., both told reporters they believe the committee has written a balanced bill that can win passage on the House floor, but they also both said its prospects could depend on what kind of rule it receives for debate.

Lucas said that because of the “technical nature” of the bill, “there needs to be a prefiling requirement” for amendments. Peterson said there should be “a modified closed rule” as there was in 2008 when he was chairman of the committee.

Peterson said he has “no idea” how many Democrats will vote for the bill, but believes he and Lucas can deliver enough votes to pass it. Lucas said the bill had been “underestimated” last year, but that the extreme members on both ends of the political spectrum will not vote for it.

Direct payments

The core bill would eliminate the direct payments that farmers get whether prices are high or low and other current crop subsidy programs, and give farmers a choice between a program that pays for “shallow losses” that crop insurance does not cover or a target price-based program that would make payments when prices fall below current levels.

Peterson, who had authored the GIPSA provision, supported the repeal amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

“The department overreached,” Peterson said, referring to USDA’s implementation of the bill. “This amendment probably overreaches in the other direction. But maybe this is a lesson not to overreach. So I am going to support this amendment.”

He added that this experience may be a lesson for advocates of immigration reform.

The amendment was co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas.

“I would not normally support what Mr. Conaway wants to do … but they deserve it,” Peterson said.

A measure in this year’s appropriations bill limited GIPSA’s ability to implement the law for this year. It would repeal the regulations already implemented.

The National Farmers Union, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Family Farm Coalition worked hard for the original measure and opposed the repeal.

The House Agriculture Committee has passed an amendment that would make it a federal offense to attend an animal-fighting venture or cause a minor to attend the event.

The vote was 28 to 17.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., introduced the amendment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., opposed the amendment, arguing there was not a federal interest.

But Rep. Kirk Schrader, D-Ore., noted that he is a veterinarian and that animal fighting is animal abuse. Child abuse and abuse of other family members follows animal abuse, Schrader said.

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