D.C. Watch: It’s back to business after Congressional recess

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Members of Congress will need to focus on money matters when they return in September.

Government funding runs out Sept. 30, and the U.S. will reach the debt ceiling by November. Some members of Congress are already talking about shutting down the government unless Congress agrees to bigger cuts in spending.

While no bill has been proposed yet, House leaders are working on a plan that would reduce spending o the food stamp program by $40 billion over 10 years. This is double the saving proposed in the farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee.

Supporters of the food stamp program contend that the cuts would cause about 5 million people to lose benefits. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack says that 92 percent of the people receiving food stamps are senior citizens, the disabled, children and the working poor. House members designing the bill say it would tighten eligibility standards and impose new work requirements.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is planning to ask for a vote on the food stamp bill right away when Congress returns from the August recess after Labor Day, according to House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson,D-Minn.

He says that whatever the outcome, the Speaker will then appoint conferees to work with members of the Senate to finish the farm bill.

Boehner hopes to get the farm bill completed by the end of September – a tall order since Congress will only be in session for 9 days in September.

Other news from Washington:

  • The EPA reduced RFS mandates for 2014 this week. For this year, it set the mandated volume at 16.55 billion gallons; up 1.135 billion gallons from the 2012 level. The mandate for biomass-based diesel was raised to 1.28 billion gallons, up from 1 billion a year ago. However, EPA did indicate that it will use the “flexibilities” in the Renewable Fuels Standard statute to reduce the mandates for 2014. No word yet on how much the mandate for 2014 will be reduced, however, and EPA says the volume requirements for next year won’t be announced until June. The mandate for corn-based ethanol was scheduled to increase to 14.4 billion gallons next year, but that will probably be lowered. Why? The “blend wall” (the point where the market has all the biofuels that can be legally blended into petroleum-based fuels without more extensive use of E-15 and E-85) is around 13.2 to 13.4 billion gallons.

  • The World Trade Organization has ruled that China unfairly imposed trade duties on U.S. chicken exports in 2010. The Chinese action was triggered by a U.S. decision to invoke a rare safeguard provision limiting the imports of Chinese tires. Prior to the imposition of the trade duties, China was buying about $600 million worth of chicken parts per year. China now has 60 days to appeal the WTO decision.

  • The House has approved a bill requiring both chambers of Congress to approve any federal regulation that the Office of Management and Budget estimates would cost $100 million or more annually. If the bill becomes law, both houses of Congress would have to pass a joint resolution of approval within 70 legislative days or the rule would not go into effect. Many members of the GOP-controlled House have expressed displeasure with costly rules put forward by the EPA in recent years. However, the bill will probably not be approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate or signed by the President even if it did reach his desk.

  • Production expenses for 2012 set a new record according to a new USDA report. Total expenses for all farmers and ranchers hit $351.8 billion, up more than 10 percent from 2011. The average expenses per farm are calculated at $162,743. Production expenses for crop farmers increased by more than 17 percent last year - to near $200 billion - while livestock production expenses were up only 2.4 percent, year-over-year. Total expenses were highest in the Midwest region ($112 billion), but the largest increase was in the Plains regions, where expenses increased by $15 billion from 2011 to 2012.


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