WASHINGTON — The House and Senate are finally set to go to conference on the farm bill, spurred in part by the lack of livestock disaster aid for farmers in South and North Dakota.
The House on Oct. 11 approved a motion to go to conference, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is expected to appoint House conferees on Oct. 12. The Senate has already appointed conferees.
The vote on the motion to go to conference was by voice, but it was preceded by a vote on the rule for debate that demonstrated the continuing partisan divides over the bill. The vote was 223-189, with one Republican voting no, five Democrats voting yes, and 20 not voting.
During a House Rules Committee meeting, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Oka., said the House needed to move the farm bill toward conference, partly because ranchers in South Dakota desperately need livestock disaster assistance to deal with the 60,000 cattle that were killed by a blizzard last weekend.
Lucas noted that the South Dakota ranchers had “lost the work of a lifetime, maybe generations.” He noted that many of the cattle that died had pedigrees going back farther than many Americans can trace their ancestry.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., opposed the rule because he objected to the Republican plan to add Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., who is not a member of the House Agriculture Committee and who offended many Democrats by offering the work requirement amendment to the food stamp program on the House floor.
Adding a member who does not sit on Agriculture will make it harder to complete the conference, Peterson said. He added that he is unhappy about resolutions urging conferees to make changes to the sugar and crop insurance programs.
The sugar resolution to be voted on Oct. 12 says that conferees on the farm bill should repeal the Administration of Tariff Rate Quotas language as added by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 6 2008, and thus restore the secretary of Agriculture’s authority to manage supplies of sugar throughout the marketing year to meet domestic demand at reasonable prices.
The Sweetener Users Association maintains that the provision makes it difficult for the Agriculture secretary to manage sugar imports so that there are not shortages or price spikes, but the American Sugar Alliance, which represents the growers, supports it.
Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., noted that a farm bill amendment to make changes to the sugar program came closer to passage on the House floor this year, although it did not pass. Pitts described the resolution as “modest” compared to the earlier amendment but timely because the sugar program is supposed to operate at no taxpayer cost but has incurred $250 million in costs this year.
Peterson opposed the resolution on the grounds that many governments support sugar growers. “We settled this issue when we had debate on the floor in June,” Peterson said.
The crop insurance resolution, which is sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would urge farm bill conferees to adopt an amendment in the Senate farm bill that reduces crop insurance subsidies for farmers who make more than $750,000 per year.
The Senate amendment was sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
The House farm bill “got a lot right,” by eliminating direct payments and making changes to the food stamp program, but “unfortunately I don’t think it went far enough,:” Ryan said as he managed debate on the resolution. “
Ryan noted that the amendment would only reduce some crop insurance subsidies from 60 percent of the cost of the premium to 52 percent and would affect only one percent of farmers.
Lucas opposed the resolution, saying that it would “shrink the pool” of crop insurance participants and lessen the total crop insurance premiums contributed to the pool to make payments when farmers have a loss. “It is important that we encourage participation in crop insurance,” Lucas said. He also urged the House to take the House Agriculture Committee’s guidance on farm program policy.
Feedstuffs said a Republican roster of farm bill conferees circulating in Washington includes Lucas, subcommittee chairmen Michael Conaway, R-Texas, Rick Crawford, R-Ark., Steve King, R-Iowa, Austin Scott, R-Ga., and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.
The list also includes the following Republican members of the committee: Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., Martha Roby, R-Ala., Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
The number of Democratic conferees or any proposed names have not been announced, but House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said that all the Democratic conferees will be members of the committee.
If Peterson appoints the subcommittee ranking members, they would be
Reps. Timothy Walz, D-Minn., Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, David Scott, D-Ga., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jim Costa, D-Calif.