House, Senate leaders wrapping up farm bill work

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House and Senate agriculture leaders Monday were wrapping up a deal on a massive farm bill that has been more than two years in the making.

The bill will cost more than $900 billion over 10 years for farm programs and food stamps. The House plans to vote on the bill Wednesday morning, with the Senate to follow.

Among the provisions included in the legislation are:

• A plan that will raise target prices for grains with payments made on base acres.

• A new dairy program without a supply management provision.

• No changes to country-of-origin labeling for red meat or to the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., planned to release the bill later today.

Before a floor vote can take place, a majority of conferees in the House and Senate have to sign it. The leaders decided not to hold a final public meeting to deal with contentious issues.

The commodity title provisions are basically those in the House-passed version of the bill, except that payments will be made on 86 percent of base acres rather than acres in current production. That means a combination of the Average Crop Revenue program known as ARC favored by the Senate and the Price Loss Coverage favored by the House, with the higher target prices in the House bill.

The nutrition title will cut about $8 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps. The bill will also forbid food stamps for lottery winners and restrict food stamps for college students, issues championed by Stabenow. A work requirement pilot project is also included, providing states about $200 million to start these programs.

The bill also increases funding for food banks by $205 million.

The dairy issue has been resolved, with the House position on the dairy title prevailing “with some changes,” a congressional aide said.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and dairy farmers have warned the bill would make the new insurance program unpopular without a provision to discourage overproduction that would continue to trigger payments when prices are low.

“Supply management won’t be in it,” said a GOP aide in reference to the objections of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to the Senate version of the dairy title.

A key lobbyist told Capital Press that Boehner appears ready to whip the bill so it is certain to pass the House. The lobbyist said that the defeat of the first House bill on the floor had been a wake-up call for the Republicans because so many rural Republicans were disgusted that a bill that meant so much to them and their constituents had failed due to a lack of Republican votes.

Meanwhile, major meat groups said today they will oppose the bill because they are disappointed it does not contain provisions to alter the country-of-origin labeling for red meat rules or to restrict implementation of a provision in the 2008 farm bill to alter the Agriculture Department’s implementation of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

The groups — the American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Turkey Federation and the North American Meat Association — added that they “will actively oppose final passage of the farm bill, if these issues are not addressed.”

A congressional source close to the negotiations signaled that members of Congress would not be sympathetic to the meat industry’s position.

“It would be astounding if these lobbyists opposed the bill, given that the final provides substantial, permanent disaster relief for livestock producers,” the source said.

The final bill contains nearly $5 billion in livestock disaster relief, with a permanent baseline for the first time, with the aid going back to 2011, the source said, adding, “There’s no other stakeholder group that went from zero to $5 billion with permanent baseline in a bill that cuts billions of dollars.”

The source also noted that the bill contains a 60 percent “carve out” amounting to $1.6 billion for the livestock industry annually in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Neither the House bill nor the Senate bill contained a measure to repeal COOL, the source added, and the Senate has accepted a House provision for a COOL study.

Jess Peterson, a lobbyist for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which opposed changes to both COOL and GIPSA, said that although he has been unable to confirm details, that his members “greatly appreciate” the work of the lead negotiators “to pass a clean farm bill without various divisive amendments.”

Peterson urged passage of the bill.

“Farmers and ranchers need a five-year bill that implements key programs,” Peterson said. “This has been a long and difficult process. Producing the bill in this fashion ensures passage and implementation.”

The National Farmers Union accused the meat industry of trying to hold the farm bill hostage even though it provides a lot of benefit to that industry and producers.

“NFU strongly disagrees with this letter and supports the livestock provisions in the emerging farm bill, which are beneficial to family farmers and ranchers,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a news release. “The groups that signed the letter do not represent farmers and ranchers. They represent the vertically integrated packers, and they clearly do not have the interests of family farmers and ranchers in mind.”

Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition expressed disappointment over the apparent deal on payment limitations.

In a statement late Sunday, NSAC, which represents small, environmentally oriented farmers, said that it is the group’s

understanding that “instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), the lead negotiators have decided instead on a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples).”

“In other words, they have increased the House and Senate-passed bipartisan agreement by 150 percent, an egregious increase showing profound disrespect for the democratic process and the normal rules of Congress that make identical provisions passed by both bodies not open to change in a House-Senate conference.”

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