House names farm bill conferees
By Larry Dreiling
House Republicans and Democrats on Oct. 12 named conferees to the House-Senate negotiations on the farm bill, marking a point leading to the beginning of the end toward the bill’s completion.
The new conference with the Senate will seek to reconcile the $39 billion House level of cuts with just $4 billion in the Senate farm bill.
Republicans named 12 members of the House Agriculture Committee, but also two members from the House Foreign Affairs and Ways & Means Committees.
GOP leadership also named Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida to the panel. Earlier this year, Southerland introduced an amendment to the House farm bill imposing that larger amount of cuts in nutrition program spending. The amendment included rules allowing states to impose new work requirements on benefit recipients.
The Southerland amendment ensured that a bipartisan House farm bill would fail on the floor this summer, forcing leaders to split off food stamps and increase the level of cuts.
Democrats countered the Southerland appointment by placing Congressional Black Caucus head and food stamp advocate Rep. Marsha Fudge of Ohio on the panel.
The Agriculture Committee GOP conferees are Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, and Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Michael Conaway of Texas, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Austin Scott of Georgia, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Jeff Denham of California and Rodney Davis of Illinois.
Chairman Ed Royce of California and Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania will represent the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan and Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas will represent the Ways & Means Committee.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma expressed optimism about getting a farm bill completed and signed by President Barack Obama.
“I am pleased to be at this point in the farm bill process where we are about to begin negotiations with our friends in the Senate and put a final bill together. This has been a long and challenging process, but that does not discount the product we have achieved with billions of dollars in savings and reforms, and policy that works for all of agriculture all across the country,” Lucas said.
“There are challenging issues yet to overcome, but we have a solid team of negotiators in place. I am confident we can reach consensus and send a five-year farm bill to the president.”
Ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota said the conference could work if House leaders are willing to compromise.
“Appointing conferees might be a sign that, after repeatedly delaying and undermining the Agriculture Committee’s work, Republican leaders are finally getting serious about the farm bill,” Peterson said. “Conferees are committed to working together and getting a farm bill done but bringing divisive resolutions to a vote and appointing conferees outside the Agriculture Committee has made our jobs a lot harder.
“The Democratic conferees represent our caucus and bring a great deal of expertise to the process. I am hopeful that if Republican leadership can be reasonable and leave the conference committee alone to do its work that we will be able to finish a five-year, comprehensive farm bill this year.”
House Democratic conferees in addition to Peterson and Fudge are Agriculture Committee members Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jim Costa of California, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Suzan DelBene of Washington and Gloria Negrete McLeod of California, and Filemon Vela of Texas.
Also appointed by Democrats was Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, and Ways and Means Committee member Sander Levin of Michigan.
The day before, the House voted in a final rule permitting the conference to begin.
The motion was quickly approved on a voice vote after a last political dust-up decided by a 223 to 189 margin on the rule.
Also by a voice vote, lawmakers Oct. 11 approved a resolution urging House negotiators to support a Senate-passed provision that would trim the level of crop insurance subsidies for farmers with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more.
Agriculture programs expired on Oct. 1. Conference talks have yet to be scheduled as of press time.
The talks aren’t going on because of the ongoing budget impasse and government shutdown. Farm groups are clamoring for action, particularly because of a weather disaster affecting farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, where a surprise October blizzard resulted in the death of as many as 60,000 cattle. Nearly 6,000 ranchers suffered losses.
Normally, farmers and ranchers would head straight to their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency office to file a report, the first step in recouping some of those losses. However, the government shutdown has shuttered every one those offices.
USDA’s monthly commodity crop reports are a no-go, too, leaving many people without information, which is a critical currency in commodity markets.
“One of the key things for a competitive market is that everybody knows the same thing that everybody else knows. That’s what USDA’s reports provide,” said Bob Young, American Farm Bureau Federation chief economist and deputy executive director of public policy.
“When USDA’s reports are not available, then the folks who have private information have that much more market power, that much more market knowledge.”
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said he was “pleased to see that the House has finally taken action (to appoint conferees) that will move the farm bill closer to completion. There is a lot of work to be done and this is a long-awaited announcement.
“I hope the conferees will consider the needs of all family farmers, ranchers, consumers and hungry Americans throughout its deliberations, and ultimately present a five-year, comprehensive bill with an adequate safety net that can be supported by both houses of Congress and by the president for adoption before the end of the year.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.