D.C. Watch: Disaster aid stuck in Congress

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Congress is in recess until early September and only a few days remain before Congress breaks until after the election. The Senate may try to pass a disaster aid bill similar to the one passed by the House, but with aid for fruit and vegetable producers added, or they may stick with the contention that moving the five-year farm bill through the House is the way to go. The drought has everyone’s attention so some action in the House or the Senate is possible – but far from certain.

With the election at the top of everyone’s mind, inaction seems like the most likely possibility.

There is increasing pressure on Congress or the EPA to waive or scale back the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) ethanol mandate. Livestock industry organizations and more than 150 members of Congress have written to EPA Administrator Jackson asking for some reduction in the mandate. However, EPA is not expected to take any action in the near term. The groups that have requested EPA take action are not considered “obligated parties” in the RFS and they cannot officially petition for a waiver. Once a valid petition is submitted, assuming one is, EPA must hold a 30 day comment period and consult with other government agencies.

If there is a change to the RFS it probably won’t come until after the November elections. A bill that would require the public disclosure of the names of crop insurance subsidy recipients and the amount of the subsidies they receive has been introduced by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA).

Currently information about people that receive direct payments is available to the public but crop insurance information is not. Under both the House and Senate farm bill proposals, direct payments would end beginning in 2013. The proposal will not reach the House floor as a stand-alone bill, but may be offered as an amendment to the farm bill when or if it comes up for a vote.

In September the House will consider legislation that would grant permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia according to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Russia will officially join the World Trade Organization on August 22 but the reductions in tariffs negotiated as part of Russia’s accession protocol will not apply to U.S. products until PNTR is granted. Congress is expected to grant PNTR to Russia but other bills that punish Russia for human rights problems may become law causing further trade problems.

A Study by the Environmental Working Group claims that crop insurance subsidies are a key factor in the conversion of 23 million acres from grassland, wetlands, or shrub lands to crop production between 2008 and 2011. According to the study 11 states had wildlife habitat losses of at least 1 million acres each during the last three years and that losses were greatest in counties that received the largest amounts of federal crop insurance subsidies. The contention is that crop insurance subsidies reduce the financial risks of planting on marginal land encouraging producers to bring new land into production.

Decisions about which government accounts will be exempt from the sequestration budget cuts that are scheduled to take effect January 2, 2013 are being made by the Office of Management and Budget. The budget bill approved last summer calls for cuts totaling $1.4 trillion to kick in automatically next year, with half of the money coming from defense and half from domestic spending. There is still a chance that Congress will change the law and avoid the sequestration, but the administration must be ready in case Congress cannot agree.

USDA has completed the investigation of the cow that tested positive for BSE last April and determined that the animal posed no risk to the food supply. Progeny of the cow were located and tested and no additional cases of BSE were found. This was the fourth case of BSE discovered in the U.S.

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Batavia, NY  |  August, 13, 2012 at 09:09 AM

Of course recipients of crop insurance subsidies should be made public. Also the names of the insurance companies and how much they sucked out of the taxpayers should be made public also. This government gravy train should be stopped. Why is it called insurance when it is just another government payment. It is not directly to the farmer, but now is indirect so that the insurance companies can get in on some taxpayer money also. Go Tea Party!!!! Cut this mess out of the budget!

iowa  |  August, 13, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Ken penny wise & pound foolish is not the way to go. Your approach is very short sighted, farm programs are a very good value. Without them we would not have a safe & cheap food supply. Want lead in your milk? Clenbuterol in your beef? want to see your food costs quadruple? We pay far less than any other nation for food. Even if you eliminated all farm programs from the budget the fact remains that food stamps account for 4 out of every 5 dollars spent y the dept of agriculture. And considering Obama has increased the number of food stamp recipients totally eliminating all farm programs would still leave the dept of agriculture with a higher budget than at any other time in our history. So to save a minute portion of the budget you will quadruple peoples food prices and comprimise their safety? It is cheaper to keep the programs in place my friend.

WI  |  August, 13, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Money for agriculture in the farm bill should to be spent on agricultural research and technology(crops and livestock because we are feeding a growing population) for us to continue to be efficient and profitable. With new technologies made, it will save farmers and ranchers money and keep food safe at lower prices. Also, money should be spent helping young farmers get into agriculture (low interest loans) and promoting becoming a farmer to those who are not. Showing how to get started farming (ag education) or getting young farmers connected with those who want to retire from farming/ranching. Let's face it, there are a lot of people working 50 plus hours a week to make a living and unless a grain farmer has another job or livestock on their farm, they are not working those kind of hours. There is no reason farmers should not pay 50% of their crop insurance bill and the tax payer the other 50%. Split it down the line. All farmers/ranchers are but tenants of the land for the generations to come. Unfortunately, many are farming for the dollar now, (farming land that should be farmed!) and not looking at the future. Money in the farm bill is currently being spent the wrong way and needs to change; technology and innovation will make us more profitable and keep food cheaper, not direct payments and big crop insurance subsidies.

Batavia, NY  |  August, 13, 2012 at 11:54 PM

Who said we should keep the food stamp program. Cut it all. Let the states take it over. If they think these losers that refuse to work need to be fed, let them feed the losers. And by the way, what subsidy in the farm bill keeps lead out of our milk? better read my post again. I did not say to cut all farm programs, I said to cut the subsidies!! And I take offense at the insinuation that government is the reason America has cheap food. I think the reason is because of hard working farmers and the fact that we have mostly had little government interference in agriculture compared to most countries. And hopefully that will continue, so lets cut the subsidies!!!

Suzanne Buell    
CT  |  August, 14, 2012 at 02:23 PM

The government pays subsidies because with out them we farmers would be out of business because you would not pay the price we need to stay in business. Our milk price right now is $10 below our cost of production. Our farm is on the brink. We need the money our state has pledged to help its few remaining dairy farms stay in business and the extra few dollars we will get from the Federal MILC program. But we still owe a LOT of money to a lot of people and without them being willing to wait for payment our family would no longer be in business. It is the two of us (in our 60's) and our son and his family who would really like to keep on here but it doesn't look good.

Batavia, NY  |  August, 15, 2012 at 12:16 PM

The price of milk for July paid to producers is about $16.00 for average components. Maybe more in CT. If your cost of production is $10.00 more than that, you should have quit dairy farming a long time ago and be doing something you are capable of producing a profit at. It is not the governments function to subsidize business losses. And besides, if people are not willing to pay the "cost" of a product, it should not be produced.

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