House Ag Committee advances FARRM bill with sugar unscathed, dairy reforms intact

By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, July 12 – Shortly before 1 A. M., the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 with a strong bipartisan majority of 35-11.
Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., masterfully marched through the bill, title-by-title, with Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., at his side, as the two moved mostly in lockstep to keep the fragile coalition they had forged focused on final approval. Lucas prodded and pulled to keep members of his caucus who sought far deeper cuts and more substantial reforms from derailing support for the bill.
The FARRM bill, H.R. 6083, offers $35 Billion in mandatory savings over 10 years – far more than the Senate-passed version, S. 3240, which saves $23.1 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
At the final hour, 11 Republicans and Democrats voted against the 557-page package including: Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, Joe Baca, D-Calif., David Scott, D-Ga., Chellie Pingree, D-Maine., Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio., Terri Sewell, D-Ala., Joe Courtney, D-Conn., Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
During the voting marathon that kicked off at 10 am, members slogged through 95 amendments -adopting 44 and eventually withdrawing 28 of them.
Lucas kicked off the mid-morning session with what was expected to be one of the closest votes – a bipartisan amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and David Scott, D-Ga., that would have stripped the supply management features of the dairy provisions – language backed by dairy producer groups but opposed by dairy processors and exporters. It was expected to be one of the closest votes of the day.
Their amendment would retain margin insurance, similar to that in the committee draft and the Senate-passed farm bill, but tinker with the premiums farmers would pay for margin protection.
Goodlatte criticized the dairy supply management features in the bill as a level of market intervention that is “unprecedented and unjustified” and would likely lead to higher milk prices.
Rep. Peterson described Goodlatte’s amendement as “the worst anti-consumer amendment that we will probably consider today.”
Lucas acknowledged that not everyone is happy with the dairy reforms included in the FARRM bill, but that the “industry needs to move forward” and urged rejection of the amendment offered by his ranking Republican. The amendment was defeated by a 17-29 vote.
Goodlatte also made a passionate plea to reform the politically potent sugar program, arguing that government supports drive up prices for consumers and force manufacturers overseas.
“It’s very clear that if we allow this policy to continue as we have, we will have more companies moving jobs to Canada,” Goodlatte emphasized.
But supporters of the current program, including Lucas, argued that the no net cost sugar program does not impact the federal budget, and as such, wasn’t the focus on the bill’s reforms.
Peterson argued that, even if the price of sugar would come down, it wouldn’t change the price of any products because manufacturers would just take the additional margin to their own bottom lines. The measure was defeated by a 10-36 margin.
Some of the most passionate speeches were made during debate on Title IV, which covers nutrition issues such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp program.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and others offered an amendment that would eliminate the $16.5 billion in SNAP cuts that are included in the FARRM bill, which he argued would result in “less food for hungry Americans, period.”
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., said that “If we pass this bill with $16 b cuts in SNAP it would be most un-American thing we can do. What we have here is an image problem.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said she was “ashamed” by how the cut would impact millions of people. “Come to my district, you will see a lot of hungry people not a lot of fraud.”
Rep. Mike Conoway acknowledged that the cuts were difficult, but necessary to keep the country on a stronger fiscal footing over the long-term.
Rep. Goodlatte pointed out that the $16.5 billion is actually, “not a cut at all. Food stamps have increased 270% over the last decade and will continue to increase over this farm bill
“If you look at total expenditures under the farm bill. The share of farm bill that goes to food stamps will rise from 77.8% under this bill it will rise to 78.9%,” Goodlatte countered.
McGovern’s amendment was defeated 15-31.
Another amendment by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., which would have changed the food stamp cuts from $16.5 billion to the $4 billion in cuts approved in the Senate version was defeated by a similar margin, 15-28.
Lucas also fended off challenges from members of his caucus who sought deeper cuts in SNAP. An amendment by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., that would have increased the cuts to $33 billion over 10 years, was defeated by 13-33.
Noticeably absent from the debate were any strong challenges to the commodity title. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., withdrew an amendment that would have reduced farm program payment limits down levels approved in the Senate’s bill.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, did not offer previously expected amendments that could have trimmed target price levels. An effort by Rep. Leonard Boswell, R-Iowa, that would have required proof of loss before commodity payments kick in under the bill’s price loss or revenue loss coverage provisions was defeated by voice vote.
Despite skyrocketing commodity prices today, Rep. Peterson made the case for the bill’s target price provisions which he said “don’t even cover the cost of production.
“Prices are going to go down again,” he emphasized, and the bill needs a strong safety net.
Near the end of the 13-hour markup, the House Agriculture Committee accepted two Miscellaneous Title amendments designed to limit or monitor USDA regulations on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and the Grain Inspection Stockyards and Packers Administration.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, won passage of language that requires USDA to turn in a report on COOL compliance progress 90 days after the date of enactment.
The committee also adopted a repeal of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rulemaking. Reps. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Jim Costa, D-Calif. sponsored a repeal bill that prevents the GIPSA from doing any further work on its rule enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill, but scaled back by Congress, that monitors the dealings between meatpackers and producers.
Members also got into a rather lengthy debate over an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, dealing with the commerce clause and whether or not state rules, such as those recently adopted in California and Ohio on animal welfare standards for eggs and other foods, can be used to control production in other states.
King argued that it’s not “very democratic for Oregon or California or any state to dictate to other states how we produce our eggs.” But Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., argued that the measure would create huge problems for producers in his state.
With Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S., the group that has pushed for animal welfare laws in those states and on the national level, watching the entire markup from a chair along the back wall of the committee room, the measure passed on a voice vote.
There were a few lighter moments during the marathon session, especially when Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, offered two separate amendments dealing with the need for additional research and effective products to deal with bed bug problems. Her amendments prompted some in the committee room to suggest that they no longer want to stay in Cincinnati hotel rooms, but Chairman Lucas supported the measure with hopes that, “we have the bed bugs on the run.”
Asked about how he felt at the end of an incredibly long day, Lucas touted the fact that
“We beat the expectations of a good many people in this town today. Now we’ll see about the next steps.”
“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, said Lucas in his official statement
Peterson agreed that the duo had surprised many naysayers who didn’t think they would get the bill this far, while also admitting that the timetable for final passage is still uncertain.
“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,” emphasized Peterson

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