Tuesday, July 17, 2012

House Ag Committee Approves Its Version Of Farm Bill

Jul 17: The House Agriculture Committee Chaired by Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) approved the House version of the Farm Bill, H.R.6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 (FARRM), by a vote of 35-11 on July 11. On June 21, the U.S. Senate approved its version, S.3240, with a final vote of 64-35 [See WIMS 6/21/12]. The current bill expires on September 30, and legislators and agriculture and conservation interests are now concerned that time is running short to get a bill passed the House, reconciled with the Senate bill, and to the President before the expiration deadline.
    The Chair and Ranking Member issued a joint statement. Chairman Lucas said, "Today marked an important step forward in the development of the next farm bill. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. This is a balanced, reform-minded, fiscally responsible bill that underscores our commitment to production agriculture and rural America, achieves real savings, and improves program efficiency."
    Ranking Member Peterson said, "I'm pleased today's markup is behind us and we can continue to move the process forward. The current farm bill expires on September 30 and there only 13 legislative days before the August recess. Simply put, the House leadership needs to bring the farm bill to the floor for a vote. We should not jeopardize the health of our rural economies which, by and large, have remained strong the last few years. Our nation's farmers and ranchers need the certainty of a new five year farm bill and they need it before the current farm bill ends."
    On July 17, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) joined anti-hunger, public health, labor, and animal welfare groups at the National Press Club to voice deep concerns on the House version approved by Committee. EWG said, "The budget-busting House farm bill will feed fewer people, help fewer farmers, do less to promote healthy diets and weaken environmental protections – and it will cost far more than expected. This bill is Robin Hood in reverse – it cuts funding for nutrition assistance programs like SNAP to help finance even more lavish subsidies for the largest and most successful farmers.

    "By cutting more than $16 billion from SNAP and more than $6 billion from environmental programs, the House bill will leave more than 2 million people without enough food to eat and contribute to the loss of millions of acres of wetlands and grasslands. What's more, the bill guts rules that protect water quality and wetlands from pesticides, weakens federal reviews of biotech crops, and undermines the ability of states to set consumer safety or environmental standards.

    "Rather than provide a true safety net for all farmers, the House bill will give every big subsidized grower a raise in the form of higher price guarantees for their crops – at a time when large commercial farms have average household incomes of more than $200,000 a year and net farm income has nearly doubled. Instead of placing reasonable limits on crop insurance subsidies, the Lucas-Peterson proposal actually expands them – at a cost of more than $9 billion. Reasonable reforms such as payment limits, means testing and administrative reforms – which are applied to nutrition assistance but not crop insurance – could save taxpayers more than $20 billion."

    On July 3, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Farm Programs: Direct Payments Should Be Reconsidered (GAO-12-640, Jul 3, 2012). GAO recommended that Congress should consider eliminating or reducing direct payments [See WIMS 7/3/12]. 

    The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman issued a statement saying, "As the congressional calendar ticks down, time is of the essence. There are very few days remaining for this bill to be completed, but we need a new farm bill this year. We are committed to working with members of Congress to secure a bill that works for all Americans. For more than a year, we have been advocating farm policy that protects and strengthens risk management programs for all farmers. This legislation maintains proven program features such as the marketing loan provision and strengthens the crop insurance program while setting a clear example of fiscal responsibility with significant but fair reductions in agriculture spending over the next decade

    "Just as with the Senate farm bill, there are provisions we think could be improved – and we will continue working with leadership of both committees as the process moves forward. But at a time when bipartisan compromise is such a challenge in Washington, it is refreshing to see agriculture, through our elected leaders, set a clear example of working together on building a package of reforms in a fiscally responsible manner. We remain hopeful a farm bill can be completed and sent to President Obama before the current programs expire September 30."

    Access the statement from the House Ag Committee and link to more information on the FARRM bill (click here). Access the statement from EWG and link to the full press briefing (click here). Access the statement from AFBF (click here). Access the legislative details for H.R.6083 (click here). Access the legislative details for S.3240 (click here). Access the complete 57-page GAO report (click here). [#Agriculture, #Land, #Water, #Energy]

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