With Congress Back, Ag Looks to Uncertain Farm Bill End Game
Members of Congress have arrived back in Washington, D.C., and are looking to tackle a long list of legislative priorities, including the long-pending farm bill. Here’s a review of where that vital legislation stands:
House: The House is expected to take up a nutrition package next week to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. It is not certain this proposal, which is seen as severe by Democrats and even some Republicans, will pass and be able to move to conference along with the previously-passed “farm-only” farm bill. Regardless, following that vote, House leaders are expected to appoint conferees so the process can continue moving forward. That procedural goal is not likely to be reached before the 2008 Farm Bill extension expires on Sept. 30.
Senate: The Senate passed its complete farm bill package in June and named its farm bill conferees just before leaving for August recess. This week, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) publicly pushed the House, saying “it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road.” She also voiced opposition to any extension.
USDA: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also made his Department’s views clear this week in several media interviews and appearances. He expressed strong opposition to any extension, though the White House has not yet issued a formal veto threat. The Administration is also publicly and strongly opposed the SNAP cuts to be considered by the House.
Next Up: The expected next action toward the farm bill finish line is House consideration of a nutrition bill. It’s unlikely that chamber will move toward conference before a nutrition vote, so getting floor time for that legislation around other priorities, including the budget, is crucial to the entire process moving forward.
Your Voices Needed: NAWG and other agriculture groups strongly encouraged farmers to reach out to their Members of Congress during the August recess. Now that Congress is back in town, this outreach should intensify in person, by phone and on social media. All Members of Congress, particularly House Members, should be urged to push their leadership for completion of a long-term, comprehensive farm bill before the end of the month.
Continuing Resolution Being Developed, Likely Will Be Voted on Next Week
Congressional leaders are preparing a short-term continuing resolution to be considered by both chambers of Congress as early as next week. Though the political conversation about the measure is ongoing, it will almost certainly extend spending levels for a few months without major funding changes or policy riders in an effort to gain the necessary votes for passage. Congress has just two weeks to finalize how it will fund the government after the federal fiscal year expires on Sept. 30. While the timeline for action on appropriations was always tight, even less time has proved to be available with the debate about possible military action in Syria.
House Looks to Take Up Senate-Passed WRRDA Bill
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders released their draft of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), H.R. 3080, on Wednesday in a press conference led by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Oh.) and Ranking Member Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.). The bill provides funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out waterways development, including work on harbors, ports, locks and dams. It was approved by the Senate on May 15 as S. 601, including an amendment to revise the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for farms and ranches, which relates to storage of oil that could conceivably reach a body of water if leaked. The amendment would create an exemption for farms with up to 6,000 gallons aggregate of aboveground oil storage pending the completion of a study looking at permanent exemption options, and it would allow most farms with less than 20,000 gallons of capacity to self-certify. More on the House version of the bill, including full text, can be found at http://transportation.house.gov/WRRDA.
Climate Change Super Hearing Set for Wednesday in the House
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s climate change super hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday at 2 p.m. For the session, Committee members invited the head of 13 federal agencies to testify about the Obama Administration’s climate change work and policies. Included among witnesses will be Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The hearing will be webcast online at http://energycommerce.house.gov/.
Hearty Thanks for Your Welcome of CEO Jim Palmer
NAWG hosted a breakfast reception Thursday morning to allow members of the D.C. ag community to meet – or welcome back to the association fold – Jim Palmer, the Association’s chief executive officer who began officially in early June. An estimated 50 people attended to greet NAWG staff and offer good wishes for Palmer’s tenure in the wheat industry. Thank you to everyone who came out for the event!
ICYMI: Revisiting the Case for Biotech Wheat
Though fears about the market impact of an isolated GM wheat discovery earlier in the year have largely passed, concerns about the impact on the wheat industry of more-competitive biotech corn and soybean crops remain. That’s the main message of a column entitled “The Case for Biotech Wheat,” penned by Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson and published recently in the Idaho Business Review. In his piece, Jacobson describes the erosion of wheat acres even in parts of the country, like his home state, where the crop has long dominated. This shifting preference for crop acres is reflected in grocery store products, Jacobson said, with food manufacturers showing a preference for corn-based products because of that crop’s supply and cost advantage. Though this piece was written for a local audience and reflects local concerns, it describes the national effort to bring biotech wheat to the marketplace over time to help restore the crop’s competitiveness. The full column is online at http://idahobusinessreview.com/2013/09/09/the-case-for-biotech-wheat/.