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Lucas ‘overjoyed’ at committee approval, Peterson calls for floor action

By JERRY HAGSTROM

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
“I’m just overjoyed the bill is done in committee at this moment,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters early this morning 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.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Peterson told reporters he sees no reason the House leadership should not bring it up before the full House before Congress leaves August 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 September 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 early today 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.

Bedbugs



Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio

Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio

Perhaps the most colorful moments came when Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, who lost her primary and will not be returning to Congress, convinced her colleagues to pass two amendments on bedbugs, one to provide research funding and the other to make sure that products intended to control bedbugs are labeled properly.

Schmidt explained that twice in her district constituents had used rubbing alcohol on a couch to treat bedbugs and then lit a match, sparking a fire.

“Bedbugs don’t stand a chance with Congresswoman Schmidt on the case,” Lucas said as the committee voted on one of her bedbug amendments at 9:30 p.m.

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.

Food stamps and other nutrition programs


The committee spent the most time dealing with cuts to the food stamp program and rejected amendments to reduce the cut in the House bill and to increase it.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
The committee first rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to eliminate the $16.5 billion cut over 10 years in the base bill.

McGovern, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and other Democrats made impassioned cases for not cutting the food stamp program, saying they and others could not support the bill if the cut remains.

Lucas said that “in a perfect world, this farm bill would look different.” Noting that he had defended the direct payments program which is being eliminated, Lucas made a reference to “The Grapes of Wrath,” the Depression-era novel by John Steinbeck featuring an Oklahoma farm family forced to move off their land and head west.

“I represent a district that was the subject of Mr. Steinbeck’s book back in the 1930s,” Lucas said. “What would have been my neighbors are now your constituents in California.”

Lucas also said he hopes people who would lose their food stamps if categorical elibility is eliminated will qualify under regular application procedures.

But he added, “We have to touch all areas of the farm bill. To my friends who have the strongest passions I hope you are wrong [about the hardships that would be caused], but I believe this is the direction we must go.”

The roll call vote was 15 to 31.

All Republicans voted against the amendment. They were joined in opposition by Peterson and four other Democrats: Reps. Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and William Owens of New York.

The committee also rejected by a vote of 28 to 15 an amendment offered by Schrader to cut food stamps by $4.5 billion — the same as the Senate cut — rather than the $16.5 billion in the House bill.

But when Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., introduced an amendment to cut $33 billion from the food stamp program — the full amount that the committee would have cut if it had followed reconciliation instructions — Lucas also urged a “no” vote. The committee rejected the Huelskamp amendment by a vote of 13 to 33.

The committee rejected other amendments to increase the food stamp cut above the $16.5 billion in the base bill, but did approve a transfer of $5 million for advertising the availability of the food stamp program to commodity purchases for food banks.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., also offered and withdrew an amendment that would eliminate a provision in the House bill that would allow 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.”

The frozen and canned industries say their products are just as nutritious, but fresh fruit and vegetable industry officials say they hope the current standard will be maintained, because the Senate farm bill does not contain the provision.

The committee also:
  • Passed an amendment that would not allow the cost of medical marijuana to be used to reduce a food stamp beneficiary’s income for food stamp qualification and benefit purposes. The amendment was sponsored by Schmidt and Renee Elmers, R-N.C. The marijuana amendment passed on a voice vote, but several members could be heard voting against it.
  • Passed by voice vote an amendment sponsored by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., that would require state agencies to verify income and eligibility or an immigration status verification system such as systematic alien verification for entitlement programs.
  • Passed by voice vote an amendment sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, to allow food stamp participants to use their benefits through community-supported agriculture programs.

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.

Rep. Robert Gibbs, D-Ohio

Rep. Robert Gibbs, D-Ohio
The only discussion about the core commodity program was a proposal by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, to change a provision in the revenue loss program that requires “all of owners” to agree to a “majority of owners.”

Gibbs said he wanted to avoid one owner stopping a farmer from participating in the program. A USDA legal counsel noted that the amendment did not say whether a “majority of owners” meant the number of owners or a majority interest. Gibbs withdrew the amendment and Lucas promised to work on the issue as the farm bill develops.

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.

Both corn and wheat growers called for quick House action.

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


Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

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.

FSA county offices



BoswellLeonard_D-Iowa
Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa
The committee also adopted an amendment related to Farm Service Agency county offices proposed by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa.

The Boswell amendment would require the Agriculture secretary to conduct a workload assessment and provide it to the public before closing a county office.

Lucas and Peterson opposed the amendment, arguing that it would complicate the efforts to trim the USDA’s budget, but it passed on a voice vote.

Conservation


The committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., related to Environmental Quality Incentives Program innovation grants.

Trade


The committee voted to add an amendment to establish an Agriculture undersecretary for foreign agricultural services.

The amendment was offered by Cardoza and Rep. Tim Rooney, R-Fla. The Senate adopted a similar amendment offered by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

Interstate trade



Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa
The committee passed an amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that is obviously aimed at California, which has passed an initiative that requires egg-laying chickens to be housed in cages of a certain size and says eggs sold in the state would have to be produced in certain ways.

King said the amendment would enforce the Commerce Clause. The amendment says, “The government of a state or locality therein shall not impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce” if the production occurs in another state and follows federal law.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
Schrader asked for a point of order but Lucas said said that time had passed. Schrader asked Goodlatte if the House Judiciary Committee would not consider it in its jurisdiction.

Goodlatte, a member of that committee, said he believed it could be limited, but that if it showed up at Judiciary he would support it. King said that he had written it to be limited to agriculture products and therefore believed it would be under Agriculture jurisdiction.

Schrader also said he believed it would be so controversial it would give the House leadership a reason not to bring the bill to the floor. Cardoza said that the amendment would make it difficult for California to deal with the impact of the initiative.

 Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
But Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., said, “This is one of the most important amendments we may consider this evening.”

Noting that Indiana has several large egg production plants, Stutzman said that states are going to have a surplus of eggs if they cannot sell them in California.

“This amendment Mr. King has put together is the fix,” Stutzman said.

Lucas urged King to consider the issues carefully, but King did not withdraw the amendment, and it passed on a voice vote.

Country-of-origin labeling


Scott and Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, introduced an amendment to require the USDA 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 WTO rules.

Peterson noted that the WTO said that 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.

Groups that favor labeling opposed it, fearing that it could lead to an attempt in Congress to revise the labeling regime.

“The solutions to COOL implementation issues found by the WTO can be achieved through some simple regulatory adjustments handled by USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative,” the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said. “Congress does not need to tamper with the law as it is written.”

Catfish inspection



Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.
The committee rejected an amendment that would have repealed a provision in the 2008 farm bill that moved catfish inspection from the Food and Drug Administration to the Agriculture Department.

The amendment was offered by Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Mo., who said the measure is duplicative and is causing trade conflict.

But Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., argued vigorously that the move to USDA is needed, and Peterson said the measure is not duplicative because it would move the inspection from one agency to another.

The vote failed on a vote of 25 to 20.

The Senate included the provision by a unanimous vote, but it has been vigorously opposed in U.S. catfish-producing areas.

Livestock and poultry rules


The committee passed by voice vote an amendment that would repeal rules that 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.

Animal fights


The committee adopted an amendment offered by McGovern that would make it a federal offense to attend an animal fight or cause a minor to attend an animal fight. The Senate also included that amendment in its bill.

Office of tribal affairs, other amendments


The committee adopted an amendment to add an office of tribal affairs with the office of the secretary at USDA, and also considered and rejected a large number of amendments related to research, specialty crops, crop insurance and organics.