House Passes Nutrition-Only Bill, Hopefully Leading to Farm Bill Conference
The House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday on a 217 to 210 vote to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, setting the stage for lawmakers to finally move to a farm bill conference. The bill was strongly opposed by House Democrats and some Republicans who charged it would increase hunger by ending benefits for nearly 4 million people in 2014. The measure also faces a veto threat from the White House. However, its consideration has long been discussed as the prerequisite for the House to move to conference prepared to negotiate a new farm bill. Farm bill programs are currently operating under a one-year extension that expires on Sept. 30. NAWG strongly encourages Members to move forward expeditiously to finalize new, long-term and comprehensive farm and food policy.
Congress Again Struggles to Develop Passable Continuing Resolution
Talk of a government shutdown is circulating again through Washington, with the federal fiscal year ending in a week and a half and no plan yet for how a continuing resolution will be approved. Members spent much of the week seeking a path forward for a short-term spending measure, which has proven particularly fractious because of conservative Republican desires to use the budget process to defund the implementation of Obamacare and because of the looming conversation about raising the debt ceiling. As of press time, it appears the House will take up a bill on Friday to fund the government until Dec. 15 and block spending on the new healthcare law. That rider and, potentially, the House-passed funding level will not pass muster in the Democratic-controlled Senate, setting the stage for a needed compromise next week. The House of Representatives had been scheduled to be on a week-long recess beginning Friday, but those plans have been put off, and Members are expected back in town by midweek.
House Committee Passes Water Resources Bill
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed its version of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), H. R. 3080, on Thursday by a voice vote. The bill seeks to increase funding for waterway development projects such as deepening waterways and lock and dam repair and upgrades. The approved bill includes language that is intended to speed up the project review process, which should provide some relief to areas in need of infrastructure improvement and allow goods like wheat to be shipped more efficiently. The bill will now move to the House floor for passage before conference with the Senate, which approved its version of the legislation on May 15. More about the bill is at http://transportation.house.gov/WRRDA.
Ag Groups Write CFTC on Concerns About Customer Protection Rule
NAWG and 20 other groups wrote the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees this week to express concerns about the CFTC’s new interpretation of capital charge and residual interest rules. The proposal asks futures commission merchants (FCMs) to maintain enough residual interest in a customer funds account at all times to exceed the total of all margin deficits. This would represent a significant change from current requirements in which segregation calculations are made daily, and an FCM must hold sufficient funds at that specific point in time. The new rule changes would likely lead to FCMs asking their customers, including farmers and agribusinesses, to pre-fund their margin hedge accounts. This increase in cost to users could discourage many producers from using the futures market and may force some to look to alternative risk management tools. The full letter to CFTC is available at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/other-commodity-letter-cftc-customer-protection-20130918.pdf.
Federal Judge Rules TMDLs Lawful in Chesapeake Bay Region
A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled last Friday against agricultural groups that were seeking to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standard for the Chesapeake Bay. EPA has used the Chesapeake Bay as a model for TMDLs, which would set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution discharged into the Chesapeake Bay and each of its tributaries from various sources including farms. The ruling concluded that the Chesapeake Bay TMDL proposal is legal and that the EPA has the right to oversee how the states meet the water-quality standards established under the TMDL plan. NAWG is supportive of efforts to enhance the voluntary conservation practices producers are already undertaking, and NAWG leaders favor these programs over mandatory regulation put in place through nutrient standards and TMDL requirements. NAWG also has serious concerns about this ruling expanding into other regions, becoming a model for watersheds around the country, and will follow the next steps in its implementation closely.
11 of 13 Federal Officials No-Shows at Climate Hearing
A House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee failed to draw much attendance, or seemingly much attention, at a planned marathon climate change hearing set for Wednesday. Of 13 federal officials requested to testify, 11 declined, leaving just the Secretary of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator participating. Predictably, Energy and Power Subcommittee leaders expressed disappointment at this turnout on the very political topic. More on the hearing from the subcommittee is at http://energycommerce.house.gov/press-release/subcommittee-examines-administration%E2%80%99s-climate-agenda.
Applications for 2013 WILOT Program Due Monday
Applications for the 2013 Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow (WILOT) program are due to the NAWG office by Monday, Sept. 23. The WILOT program is scheduled for Nov. 16 to 21 in St. Louis. This leadership program, offered annually by the National Wheat Foundation and sponsored by Monsanto, is designed for farmers who want to become newly involved in state and national wheat organizations. The program focuses on the structure of the wheat industry, the future of wheat, leadership styles and best practices, and media and lobbying skills. Thanks to generous sponsorship, there is no cost to the grower or state association for participation in the program. The application process is outlined in more depth at http://www.wheatfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/NWF-Leadership-Training-Application.pdf.