Farm bill action continued this week in Washington, D.C., as wheat farmers across the country hit field work preparing for winter wheat harvest and finishing up spring wheat planting. Here’s a quick update from DC; please also join us online at www.facebook.com/wheatworld and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
Senate Farm Bill Floor Consideration Starts, Will Continue After Recess
The Senate began its floor work on a 2013 Farm Bill this week, with three days of floor debate and votes on amendments interspersed with debate on topics including the federal budget and immigration. On the floor Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he, Senate Agriculture leaders and other Senators were working to determine how quickly the bill will need to move through the floor and how to manage the more than 200 amendments that have reportedly been filed. The Senate is scheduled to be out of session Friday and all next week for Memorial Day, returning on Monday, June 3. Reid has indicated the chamber intends to move to immigration legislation soon after returning from recess, meaning votes for final passage of the farm bill could come as early as June 3 or 4. On Monday, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) supporting the Senate version of the farm bill, which is largely a formality but also a positive indication for the bill’s success this year.
Senate Adopts Crop Insurance AGI Amendment, Rejects Biotech Labeling Amendment
Senators continued to work on farm bill amendments Thursday, considering several important to wheat growers. The Senate adopted on a 59 to 33 vote an amendment that would take a 15 percentage point reduction on the crop insurance premium discount for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. This amendment was strongly opposed by NAWG and other agricultural organizations. Another amendment to eliminate crop insurance premium support for tobacco producers failed on a 44 to 52 vote. The Senate also rejected 71 to 27 an amendment that would have required mandatory labeling of foods with biotech-derived ingredients, which NAWG and most farm organizations oppose. The Senate rejected amendments to repeal the sugar program and make changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and accepted several non-controversial amendments. NAWG will continue to send out updates to state associations about relevant amendments and strongly urges all wheat growers to be prepared to call Congressional offices as the floor debate continues.
House Planning to Take Up Farm Bill in Mid-June
The House is reportedly planning to begin its floor work on a 2013 Farm Bill in mid-June. No official timetable has been released by Agriculture Committee leadership though members of House Leadership have indicated a desire to take up the bill this summer. Farm policy is currently operating under a one-year extension, which expires on Sept. 30. If both the Senate and House approve their bills in June, legislators should be on a good track to conference and finish the bill before that deadline.
Senate Committee Approves Immigration Bill Including Ag Priorities
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a comprehensive immigration bill, S. 744, on Tuesday with a 13 to 5 vote, sending the measure to the full Senate for consideration after the Memorial Day recess. The Committee finished the legislation after multiple days of mark-up, including processing nearly 150 amendments. The legislation included a compromise worked out among agriculture groups represented in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, farm labor unions and legislators, and the Coalition pledged support for the bill as it moves forward. Across Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of House Members continues to work toward a deal that can be brought forward in that chamber in June. More from the Coalition is at www.agworkforcecoalition.org.
Congressional Budget Process Seemingly Stalls Out
Congress continues to struggle to set a budget and allocate spending for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Both the House and Senate passed budget resolutions early in the year, raising hopes for a regular-order process. However, neither chamber has been willing to appoint conferees in part because of concerns that a traditional conference process could allow the debt ceiling to be raised with fewer than 60 votes in the Senate. Despite that delay, the House Appropriations Committee moved forward this week, approving discretionary spending levels and issuing allocations, known as 302(b) allocations, to subcommittees covering specific areas of government spending.
House Ag Holds First Hearing in Process of CFTC Reauthorization
The House Agriculture Committee met Tuesday for the first in a series of hearings related to the coming reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The statutory authorization for the regulatory body expires at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The hearing this week included testimony from major exchanges, futures industry trade associations and a futures commission merchant. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the Committee will hold additional hearings to get perspective from a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers and CFTC officials. All written testimony from the hearing is available at http://agriculture.house.gov/hearing/future-cftc-market-perspectives.
Energy Secretary Confirmed; EPA, Commerce, Transportation Under Consideration
Amid its other work on the budget, immigration and the farm bill, the Senate continues the process of considering nominees for cabinet-level positions. Ernest Moniz, a physics professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was confirmed as Energy Secretary last week. Gina McCarthy, an EPA official nominated to be head of the Agency, was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week, though her nomination faces a hold on the Senate floor. Nomination hearings were held this week for President Barack Obama’s picks for Transportation Secretary, Charlotte, N.C., mayor Anthony Foxx, and Commerce Secretary, Chicago-based businesswoman Penny Pritzker.
Note and a Prayer to Friends in Oklahoma
NAWG staff, including the native Oklahoman who has long written these updates, watched in horror Monday as a mile-wide tornado tore through Moore, Okla., and surrounding areas. Much of wheat country is also known as Tornado Alley, and farmers and urbanites alike in these areas know the devastation that can be wrought by severe weather of all types. We send our prayers and sincere hope for better days to all of those affected by the recent storms.