D.C. Watch: House begins work on farm bill

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Behind the scenes, House Agriculture Committee staffers are working on the farm bill scheduled for debate July 11. However, the House leadership has also scheduled a vote on repealing the health care legislation that day, which could delay the farm bill mark-up in the Agriculture Committee. House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas R.-Okla., expects the bill to clear the committee in about three days. In theory, there will be time for the full House to consider the measure before Congress goes on their August recess.

It looks like the U.S. will have to rewrite COOL to eliminate “discrimination” against imported livestock. The WTO has denied the U.S.’s appeal of the ruling that found the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law violates world trade rules.

The WTO dispute panel upheld the original ruling, saying that COOL, as it is now used, creates and unfair competitive environment for imported cattle and hogs from Canada and Mexico. The next step is for the WTO dispute settlement body to adopt its recommendations and rulings. The U.S. will then have a reasonable time period to comply.

(The WTO panel did reaffirm that the U.S. has the right to require country of origin labeling on meat, however.)

The EPA’s authority to limit greenhouse gases has been generally upheld by a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The key to their ruling was the Court’s affirmation that EPA had the authority to determine that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a danger to public health and should therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

It means EPA can regulate greenhouse gas emissions and set car exhaust and fuel economy standards.

(Agricultural practices, particularly on large-scale livestock operations, are also a frequent target for greenhouse gas emissions by environmental groups.)

“Voluntary” guidelines that called on farmers to use antibiotics “judiciously”, limiting their use to “ensuring animal health”, were issued in April by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But according to FDA, using antibiotics to promote growth or feed efficiency are not judicious uses. Some contend it can lead to bacteria strains immune to antibiotics. And now Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has introduced legislation that would mandate an end to using antibiotics for healthy animals.

An economic crisis is looming for the U.S., but Congress is not expected to take action until after the election – if then. At the end of this year, the Bush-era tax cuts expire; a development that would cause taxes to rise for essentially everyone.

The country will once again reach its borrowing limit and Congress will need to vote on raising the debt ceiling yet again. The rules governing estate taxes revert back to levels in place a decade ago with a relative small exemption and a high tax rate. These are only a few of the things that happen if Congress does nothing. Yet it’s not clear that Congress will be able to agree on how to deal with the crisis. It will be last summer’s battles all over again with Republicans demanding big spending cuts and Democrats calling for more taxes on people with high incomes.

With failure of the “super committee” last fall to resolve the party differences, automatic spending cuts totaling trillions of dollars kick in on January 1 under what is called “sequestration”. The House Budget Committee passed a bill that would require the Obama Administration to provide details on where spending cuts required under sequestration will be made. House members are trying to shift some of the automatic cuts to defense spending to other areas, including agriculture.



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