D.C. Watch: Spotlight on immigration reform

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The potential for an immigration reform bill was the hot topic in Washington this week. It could be introduced in Congress this week.

About 2 million immigrants work on farms around the country and a large number of those are in the country illegally. The immigration reform bills being debated would give these workers a speedier path to legal status.

The bill being discussed in the Senate would create a new “blue card visa” that would grant legal status to farm workers who have

  1. worked in the industry for at least two years and
  2. intend to continue for at least five years more.

It has beendifficult for some producers, such as dairies, to get the farm workers they need in recent years, but the immigration reform bills being considered could ease that problem.

This week the dairy industry made the news for anothe reason. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing the plan that would give dairy operations with 200 cows or less a guaranteed margin (price of milk minus the cost of feed) of $6.50 per cwt and would exempt these smaller dairies from supply management efforts. The bill would also extend the Milk Income Loss Contract program (MILC) for 9 months while USDA establishes the new program for dairy farmers.

Supporters of the U.S. sugar program often point to the idea that the program operates at no-net-cost to the government. However, it appears that will not be the case this year. With the recent drop in sugar prices it is possible that USDA will have to purchase 400,000 tons of sugar. In the 2008 farm bill Congress added a provision allowing USDA to sell this surplus sugar to ethanol plants. Under current prices, the transaction would cost the government about $80 million.

The House and Senate have both passed budget bills for fiscal 2014 but the plans are vastly different. Next week the President will weigh in with his own budget proposal. It is possible that the President’s plan will include limits on entitlement benefits and reduce future Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments. But the proposal will also include limits on tax breaks, ideas that have been opposed by Republicans in the past.



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