Farm Bill Conference-Day #1
Created by rrummel on 10/31/2013 3:05:09 PM

Opening Statements from Major Players

Opening Statements - Chairman Frank Lucas

At the first formal meeting of the Farm Bill Conference Committee Wednesday - Chairman Frank Lucas made it clear that the committee has a responsibility to put policy in place that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers and those who have hit difficult times. When the committee reaches consensus - Lucas says the final production will provide major savings to the Treasury, significant reforms to policy and yet still provide a safety net for not only the production of food and fiber - but also to ensure Americans have enough food to eat. Lucas said a safety net must be written with bad times in mind. According to Lucas - a farm bill shouldn’t guarantee that the good times are the best - but rather that the bad times are manageable. He said a safety net should provide flexibility and choice to meet the unpredictable nature of farming. Lucas said the House farm bill reflects a belief in giving farmers and ranchers - no matter where they live or what they grow - something they can count on to help mitigate risks inherent in this business. To that end - he said livestock SURE and crop insurance take on great significance.

Lucas said crop insurance is both an essential risk management tool for producers that should be preserved and a sound investment to ensure a stable and affordable food supply. He doesn’t favor applying layers of regulatory bureaucracy to it.  Lucas said conservation compliance is already the law of the land - and tying the measure to crop insurance is a redundant regulatory burden on people who are already the best caretakers of our natural resources and who already have conservation practices in place. According to Lucas - providing regulatory relief to producers was another priority in the House bill. He also noted the GIPSA rule first proposed over three years ago and the pending World Trade Organization case associated with mandatory country of origin labeling as issues he hopes to address. As for reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Lucas said he is going to look to find common ground between the House and Senate-passed farm bills to preserve the important safety net for those most in need.

Lucas stated no one taking part in this effort will like everything in the bill.  But he said they have a responsibility to reach consensus and do what is best for all of agriculture and rural America.  He urged conferees to work together to get their work done and give certainty and sound policy to the nation’s agricultural producers, deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in deficit reduction and provide consumers the affordable and reliable food supply they have grown accustomed to.

Highlights of Senator Stabenow’s Opening Remarks

In her opening statement to the farm bill conference committee - Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow said the farm bill approved by the Senate represents the biggest reforms to agricultural policy in decades. She noted it ends direct payments, tightens payment limits, modernizes dairy policy and stops people who aren’t actively engaged in farming from getting taxpayer subsidies. In an area where the House and Senate agree it’s important to reform and strengthen crop insurance - she said the bill expands crop insurance to cover more farmers and more kinds of crops. Stabenow pointed out that the Senate also agrees with the House on the importance of an effective, permanent livestock disaster assistance program. When it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Stabenow said the Senate worked hard to make real reforms to save money - cracking down on fraud and misuse to make sure every dollar is going to families who are truly in need. She said that is the approach needed to achieve bipartisan support for the final farm bill.

Stabenow pointed out that an 11-billion dollar cut to families across the country takes affect this Friday. She said that adding that to the four-billion dollars in cuts in the Senate bill would mean that accepting the Senate Nutrition Title would result in a total of 15-billion in cuts to nutrition. The good news - according to Stabenow - is that CBO projects in their baseline that over 14-million people will no longer need temporary food help over the next few years because the economy is improving and they will be able to go back to work.

While there are many areas that are similar between the House and Senate farm bills - Stabenow said SNAP is not the only difference. She mentioned a provision that would override state government’s Constitutional authorities on a wide range of issues including animal welfare, milk standards, labeling of artificial sweeteners and invasive pests - just to name a few. Stabenow said the 16-million men and women whose jobs rely on the strength of agriculture are counting on the farm bill conferees to work together in good faith and get the farm bill done.

Ranking Democrat - Collin Peterson Opening Statement

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson expressed hope Wednesday that the first meeting of the Farm Bill Conference Committee was the beginning of the end to a process he first started almost four years ago. He said it’s long past time to finish the bill. Peterson noted the differences between the House and Senate farm bill span all titles and programs. He said resolving the differences poses a challenge - but expressed optimism that if left alone and allowed to do their work - the Conference Committee can find middle ground and finish the farm bill. Peterson said it’s now time for members to start making the compromises necessary to put together a bill that can be defended and clearly explained to members of Congress and the general public. He said it’s time to put together a bill that can pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by the President. Peterson admitted it won’t be easy - but said we’ve come too far to give up now.

Peterson is not interested in wrapping the farm bill into the broad budget conference that launched this week. Budget negotiations started Wednesday and some observers have indicated elements of the farm bill would be thrown into the mix. Peterson expressed absolute opposition to that - suggesting some of the Republican negotiators would gut the proposal. He added he doubted the Budget conferees could write a farm bill that senior members of the Agriculture Committee could support.

Farm Bill Conference Renews Farm Bureau’s Optimism

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says the first formal conference committee talks on the farm bill has renewed his group’s optimism that we are nearing the end of a three-plus year trek. Now that the legislation and process is back in the hands of the Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders and members - he says Farm Bureau is eager to do all it can to ensure the new farm bill is on the President’s desk as soon as possible this year. He says it’s time to get the harvest in on the new five-year farm bill. Stallman notes Farm Bureau has two overarching goals with the conference. One is ensuring permanent law is not repealed and the second is ensuring a unified farm bill continues. Stallman says Farm Bureau will also be hard at work to make sure the efforts by both committees to provide safety net and risk management options that work for farmers in all regions - including those provisions across the many titles that would help livestock and specialty crop producers - are maintained. Farm Bureau realizes the conferees face several tough decisions on how to move a bill forward that will pass the Senate and House once completed. Stallman says they are confident the leaders and members of both committees will continue demonstrating their commitment and ability to forge a bipartisan compromise.

Senators Urge Fight Against SNAP Cuts

It likely comes as no surprise that 39 Democratic Senators sent a letter to farm bill conferees urging them to fight against harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The letter also asks them to reject all eligibility changes that would make it harder for low-income children to get free school meals. The letter didn’t rule out all cuts to nutrition programs - with the Senators expressing support for efforts to improve the integrity of SNAP. According to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow - the Senate’s four-billion dollars in cuts over 10 years are limited to integrity issues. Democrats in the House and anti-hunger advocates - meanwhile - are protesting the expiration of the increased food stamp benefit included in the Recovery Act. Michigan Representative John Conyers has introduced a bill to extend the increase through 2016.

Payment Limit Reform in Farm BIll

Nebraska Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley have encouraged members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee to retain key farm policy reforms regarding federal farm payment limitations. The House and Senate farm bills approved earlier this year both included new farm payment limit requirements. Fortenberry noted that after many years of discussion - farm payment limitations reform finally has a chance to become law. He said more robust payment limits help farm supports reach intended recipients and close loopholes. In this time of tight budgets - Fortenberry said the need for this type of fair reform is even greater. He said payment limits should remain a key piece of the overall package and be carried forward into the final farm bill.

Teamsters Union Weighs in on Farm Bill

Ahead of the first meeting of the farm bill conference committee - the Teamsters Union announced its support of the Dairy Security Act included in the Senate-passed farm bill. Union General President James Hoffa - in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees - wrote that their original objection to the DSA during the House debate and committee mark-up was driven by concern for members who work in dairy processing - that the supplies of milk to the processors could dry up under a supply management regime like the DSA as proposed in the House. But Hoffa continued that the contractual obligations the dairy co-ops have with processors require them to deliver the milk in full - regardless of the stabilization provisions. According to Hoffa - nothing in the farm bill should change that market reality. The union also supports a five-year farm bill for all titles, the Senate’s four-billion dollar cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and 900-million dollars for energy programs. They are opposed to any changes to country of origin labeling for meat.