|House pitches shorter farm bill|
|Written by Administrator|
|Monday, 30 July 2012 12:35|
House pitches shorter farm bill
July 16, 2012
Anxious to show progress before the August recess, House Republicans unveiled
legislation late Friday that would extend most current farm programs for
one year while providing immediate disaster aid to livestock producers
impacted by this summer’s severe drought.
Direct cash payments would be trimmed modestly to help cover the
costs, but their extension is controversial in itself since both the
House and Senate Agriculture Committees have recommended reforms that
would end the multibillion-dollar subsidies.
The Senate approved its new five-year plan in June, but House floor
action has been blocked by Republican leaders fearful of divisions in
the GOP’s ranks. The one-year extension now is seen by many as a
calculated effort to kill any chance of enacting the larger bills in
this Congress, and it sets up what could be a highly charged partisan
vote on the House floor next week.
“Congress should not be playing politics with the rural economy, one
of our nation’s economic bright spots,” said Minnesota Rep. Collin
Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag panel. “I am against an
extension and will remain opposed until I receive assurances that this
is the path to conference a five-year farm bill with the Senate. Farmers
need the certainty of a five-year farm bill.”
The outlook in the Senate is grim as well. Sen. Mike Johanns
(R-Neb.), a former Agriculture secretary in the Bush administration, has
roundly criticized any extension of direct payments, now costing $5
billion a year. And in what appears a slap at Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the House draft specifically repeals a desert lakes
program he has championed.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) is still
pressing for action on his five-year bill, reported with bipartisan
support July 12. But given the cards he has been dealt, Lucas will
support the extension as an interim step to provide some protection for
producers after Sept. 30.
“It is critical that we provide certainty to our producers and
address the devastating drought conditions that are affecting most of
the country, and I look forward to supporting and advancing this
legislation,” the chairman said Friday. But Peterson’s opposition could
be fatal given the two men’s long history of working together.
The Democrat wants some promise from Speaker John
Boehner (R-Ohio) that the extension can be used as a vehicle to begin
talks in August with the Senate on a longer-term package. But this
option has met strong resistance from a coalition of taxpayer and
environmental groups who weighed in Friday with a letter warning Boehner
against accepting any such “Trojan horse.”
Filling 48 pages, the extension was posted quietly on the House Rules
Committee website in anticipation of a hearing Tuesday, clearing the
way for floor action before the recess. The draft appears far more
complex than past farm bill extensions, which have been carried out in a
Indeed, having boxed themselves in, GOP leaders are now fearful of
sending their farm-state members home without some political cover in
August given the severe drought. But it remains very unclear if the
one-year bill is enough to protect Republican candidates.
Anticipating a floor fight, the draft has been formatted to try to
hold conservative votes by boasting a net deficit reduction of almost
$400 million over 10 years, even with the added livestock aid. But in
fact, this is substantially smaller savings than the five-year plans
promise since the extension continues costly policies, like direct
payments, for another year.
The biggest area of agreement is the new disaster assistance for
livestock producers, contending with parched grazing lands and higher
feed prices. The total new spending will cost about $621 million over 10
years and appears to include some assistance for specialty crop
producers, who also don’t have the protection of crop insurance.
Livestock Indemnity Payments, forage disaster programs and emergency
assistance would be reauthorized for 2012 and 2013, filling a gap in the
current farm law.
To cover the costs, caps are placed on spending for several
conservation and lands programs. Direct payments would be trimmed by
reducing the percentage paid on a producer’s “base acres” under a
program first begun in the mid-90s.
Payments now are on 85 percent of a producer’s base acres; the bill would trim that to 84.5 percent.
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