Monday, July 30, 2007

Hotly Contested Farm Bill Passes House 231-191

Jul 27: The U.S. House of Representatives passed a new Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) by a largely party-line vote of 231-191, which House Democrats say makes "historic investments in fruit and vegetable production, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy while maintaining a strong safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers." Agricultural Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) said, “This Farm Bill is about much more than farms. It is about the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and increasingly the fuel we will use. It assures that we will have a safe, strong food supply now and for years to come. I am proud of the balanced and forward-looking Farm Bill that we have passed supporting conservation, nutrition, rural, renewable energy, labor, and farm country.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. The 2002 Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2007. Highlights of the Farm Bill (H.R. 2419) include: Investing more than $1.6 billion in priorities to strengthen and support the fruit and vegetable industry in the United States. A new section for Horticulture and Organic Agriculture includes nutrition, research, pest management and trade promotion programs. Implementing Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for fruit, vegetables and meat after years of delay. Key provisions that invest in rural communities nationwide, including economic development programs and access to broadband telecommunication services.

Also included are provisions: Providing farmers participating in commodity programs with a choice between traditional price protection and new market-oriented revenue coverage payments. Strengthening payment limits to ensure that people making more than $1 million a year (adjusted gross income) can’t collect conservation and farm program payments and closing loopholes that allow people to avoid payment limits by receiving money through multiple business units. Extending and making significant new investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and many others.

And additionally: Making important new investments in renewable energy research, development and production in rural America. Rebalancing loan rates and target prices among commodities, achieving greater regional equity. Establishing a new National Agriculture Research Program Office to coordinate the programs and activities of USDA’s research agencies to minimize duplication and maximize coordination at all levels and creates a competitive grants program. Protecting and sustaining our nation’s forest resources.

The bill also includes legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) known as the Pollinator Protection Act, to provide $86.5 million in Federal funding for research and grant programs at the USDA over five years for work related to maintaining and protecting bee and native pollinator populations.

An amendment known as The Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment to the Farm Bill Extension Act, offered by a bipartisan group of legislators, and supported by environmental and conservation groups did not pass. The Amendment was designed to reduce and restructure farm subsidies and to increase spending on USDA nutrition, conservation and rural development programs. Scott Faber, Farm Policy Campaign Director for Environmental Defense issued a statement saying, "The pressure created by House reformers like Ron Kind [D-WI] and Jeff Flake [R-AZ] has forced House leaders to improve the bill, including new funding for conservation and nutrition. Nevertheless, many legislators missed an opportunity to do considerably more for their farmers and the environment by voting against the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment. Farmers are eager to share the cost of clean water and wildlife habitat and our farm policies should do more to reward -- not reject -- farmers when they volunteer to meet our environmental challenges."

Representative Kind issued a statement saying, " changing this Farm Bill debate, our reform coalition was able to push the Agriculture Committee to make additional investments in conservation and nutrition, and make some modest inroads on limiting subsidies to the largest and wealthiest farmers."

House Agriculture Committee Republicans were outraged and said they learned that the funding promised to the Committee to offset nutrition spending would be paid for by a tax increase, despite prior promises by the Democratic Leadership to the contrary. They said while the Committee approved bipartisan farm bill language last week, the tax provisions were added to the bill after Committee action without consideration or input from Republicans. Committee Republicans said they felt deceived by the Democratic Leadership.

In a release from Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), “After the Agriculture Committee passed a bipartisan bill, the bill was hijacked by forces outside of our control and the tax increase proposals were introduced without any input from the Republican members of the Committee. Despite repeated assurances that the $4 billion in offsets would not come from tax increases, here we are looking at tax increases as the “funding mechanism” of choice employed by the Democratic Leadership. The House Agriculture Committee Republicans are united in our outrage at the inclusion of these tax provisions in what should be a bipartisan bill and the underhanded tactics employed by the Democratic Leadership to bypass this Committee and include these provisions in the bill. Earlier this week, my Republican colleagues were prepared to support the farm bill because we understand it needs bipartisan support; however, today, the farm bill has taken a very different form and is no longer about American agriculture but something far more political. Due to the inclusion of the tax increases, we are prepared to vote against this bill.”

In extensive comments from USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, he said, "The ranking member of the House Ag Committee last night spoke of betrayal and described a well that had been poisoned. Thankfully, many House members refused to drink from that poisoned well. They stood on their principles. They said, "no" to a provision crafted under a cloak of secrecy and then presented in the 11th hour. These members rejected the effort to paint another bull's eye on the back of the American farmer in the form of a $7 billion tax hike..."

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement concerning provisions included in the Farm Bill regarding outer continental shelf deepwater leases negotiated in 1998 and 1999. Domenici said the Farm Bill "is not the right place to decide this issue." Additionally he indicated, "while I agree that it is unfortunate that an error made by the Clinton Administration has cost the Federal Treasury revenues, a punitive provision such as the one in the House farm bill will not solve the problem." Finally, he said, "...imposing fees on domestic oil and gas production would only serve to raise the price of gasoline, and could cause a delay in leasing."

Access a release and summary from House Democrats (
click here). Access the House Farm Bill homepage for extensive information including the complete Committee bill and section by section details (click here). Access a release from Environmental Defense (click here). Access a release from Representative Kind (click here). Access a release from Senator Boxer (click here). Access a release from Representative Goodlatte (click here). Access a release from Senator Domenici (click here). Access a lengthy transcript of July 27, remarks from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and links to additional USDA information including extensive USDA Farm Bill comments (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2419 (click here). [*All, *Agriculture]