The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Farm bill talks progress, Boehner says no tie to budget;

One day in the farm bill conference

McGovern and Southerland have dinner

Farm bill conference negotiations appear to be moving along, but House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, threw a wild card into the process today when he told reporters that he does not want any budget savings in the farm bill used in the attempt to reach a larger House-Senate agreement on the budget.

Aides to farm bill conferees are working in a positive, bipartisan atmosphere and are trying to maintain that by not negotiating in the press, a congressional aide with a knowledge of the situation told The Hagstrom Report today.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who also chairs the conference, said in an interview with an Oklahoma radio station Wednesday that the Senate conferees have “finally come around to the fact that you have to have a safety net that works not just for the Midwest, but for everybody else,” apparently meaning that they will agree to both the shallow loss and target price-based programs. See link below.

But Lucas said the House wants farmers to be forced to choose one program and stick with it for five years, while the Senate wants the farmers to be able to move between the programs within that time period. That would mean the rates that farmers would be guaranteed would be lower, Lucas said.

Lucas also noted there are still disagreements over the dairy program because the House leadership does not want to include what dairy farmers call a market stabilization program and processors call supply management because it would encourage farmers to produce less milk when prices are low.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the fact that the dairy program from the 1949 permanent farm law would go into effect on January 1 and raise milk prices is one of the main reasons Congress needs to finish the farm bill by December 31.

“The diary cliff is no myth,” Vilsack said. “People play with fire if this doesn’t get done before the end of the year.”

Vilsack said he cannot “slow walk” the regulations because he is required to enforce the law.

McGovern and Southerland exchange views

Lucas also noted that the size of the food stamp cut remains an issue, but today there was also an extraordinary sign of cooperation on that front as well.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., one of the vigorous anti-hunger advocates in Congress, announced at an event launching Politico Pro Agriculture that he had dinner Wednesday evening with Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., who sponsored the amendment to the nutrition title of the farm bill that would bring the cut to food stamps to a total of $39 billion over 10 years.

Southerland, who has said social programs should not discourage people from finding their work and passion in life, told The Washington Post earlier this year that McGovern was the one person in Congress that knew the most about food stamps, but that he had not met him because his Republican colleagues would object.

Today spokesmen for both McGovern and Southerland portrayed the meeting as a success, even though they spent the evening getting to know each other and talked only a little about policy.

McGovern and Southerland “had a very nice time” talking about their families and their districts and “some about policy” and Southerland picked up the check, Michael Merson, McGovern’s spokesman said in a telephone interview.

Matt McCullough, a Southerland spokesman, also said it was “a very positive meeting” and that their policy discussion was focused “on what brought them together — reducing poverty in America.”

McCullough said the two men shared their perspectives and have the same goals. He also noted that Southerland had told The Washington Post that members from opposite perspectives don’t spend enough time together.

“It was clear that both members arrived at dinner with a great deal of respect for one another and left with a better understanding for why each believes the way he does,” McCullough added.

King says chances for his amendment are ‘even’

Rep. Steve King, R-Ohio, said at the Politico Pro Agriculture event that he believes settling the farm program issues will lead to pressure to reach agreement on nutrition.

King also made a pitch for his amendment in the House bill that would make it illegal for one state to ban the production of food based due to objections on production methods in another state.

“If the constitution and rationale thought prevail,” King said, the Senate will agree to including his amendment in the conference report. But King also said that the prospects for his amendment were “a little better than even” last week but right now are “about even” due to what he called “misinformation out there.”

Boehner: No tie between farm bill and budget, Vilsack says ‘hop on board’

At his weekly news conference today, according to a transcript of the event, a reporter asked Boehner the following question:

“Mr. Speaker, there is between $20 [billion] and $30 billion in budget savings in the farm bill, depending upon which version gets ultimately written. Do you favor using that savings toward deficit reduction in the budget agreement or should be it kept separate?”

Boehner responded: “I think it is a separate issue, and I have made that very clear to Chairman Ryan [a reference to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.]

Boehner provided no further details, and the statement has left the agricultural community debating its impact.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who has said the farm bill and the budget agreement could be tied together, had no comment, and neither did Lucas nor nor House ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Only Senate Agriculture ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., had something to say today.

“Our goal is to come up with a responsible conference report that can pass the House and Senate,” Cochran said. “We have always done our work knowing that we would create significant budget savings. How those savings are applied or counted, and whether the bill is somehow paired with other legislation, will be a leadership decision.”

Vilsack told reporters that “the speaker ought to hop on board” the campaign to use savings from the farm bill mandatory accounts to reach a budget agreement.

The secretary said the Agriculture Department can’t handle any more cuts to discretionary spending accounts such as agricultural research.

Vilsack said that If Boehner doesn’t want to take advantage of farm bill budgetary savings he must be thinking about changes to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and tax increases or steeper cuts on the discretionary side — and then quickly said he is sure Boehner is not thinking that way.