The US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture (HAC) worked from sunrise to sunset and after on July 11th to hammer out their version of the 2012 Farm Bill. MC watched this process on CSPAN for about 10 hours during the day and into the wee hours of the morning on July 12th. Ultimately, the HAC passed their version with a bi-partisan vote of 35-11. The bill now awaits action by the full House depending on scheduling issues and other election year politics. Assuming it passes the full House, there exist differences with the recently passed US Senate version that would need to be ironed out in a Conference Committee.
A few observations from watching this marathon on CSPAN which included dozens of amendments on mostly germane issues to the Farm Bill:
- Republican HAC Chairman Frank Lucas from Oklahoma did an excellent job of “herding cats” through the amendment process. His leadership was noteworthy.
- Democrat Ranking Member of HAC, Collin Peterson from Minnesota was extremely helpful in getting the finished product over the various hurdles.
- Bi-partisan vote counts were common. It was the exception instead of the rule when amendment votes split along party lines. Actual “reaching across the aisle” for middle ground was visible yesterday in HAC. Often amendments had both a Republican sponsor and a Democrat sponsor.
- Thoughtful remarks came from nearly all members at one point or another. Thinking back MC recalls being impressed with several members including but not limited to Cardoza of California, King of Iowa, McIntyre of North Carolina, Conaway of Texas, Schrader of Oregon, Walz of Minnesota, Noem of South Dakota, Stutzman of Indiana. While not necessarily in agreement with whatever their position might have been, it was obvious that they knew what they were talking about and were engaged in the subject matter.
- Crop insurance came through with no material changes. Farmers asked the HAC to leave crop insurance alone and this is exactly how it was handled by the leadership team of Lucas and Peterson.
- Due to the diversity of crops and regions that this HAC bill and the Senate version have to navigate, there appears to be an inclination to provide farmers with various options for risk management in addition to conventional crop insurance. These options will need to be decided upon if and when they reach a Conference Report, but the momentum appears positive for a favorable outcome.
Reaction from the press has been generally positive from actual farm country. Some urban news reports focused on the so called “cuts” to SNAP (food stamps). The dialogue within the HAC was animated on both sides of this issue. The fact is that SNAP spending is again going up in the HAC passed Farm Bill, it is just not going up as fast as the Obama Administration had requested. This results in a “cut” according to Washington DC accounting practices. SNAP spending still goes up about 3% year over year for 2013 in this proposal. Direct payments and ACRE programs were cut by 100% (as in eliminated forever) / this strikes me as more like a cut than a 3% increase. No doubt the EWG crowd will take great umbrage that their “wing nut” positions were cast aside by the HAC leadership. This would be another sign that a very good Farm Bill has been put forward.
In closing, below is a link from the USDA on Secretary Vilsack’s reaction to the HAC effort. In his prepared press release, the Secretary was not supportive of the HAC passed bill. His agenda, on behalf of the Obama Administration, has been opposed to crop insurance and supportive of SNAP. There is no other way to spin it, in my opinion, if given the chance this Secretary of Agriculture would take money enough away to cripple private sector delivery and reroute the $$ to food stamps. We can only hope that thoughtful members of Congress manage to support people that need nutrition assistance via SNAP while at the same time maintaining a healthy crop insurance program for farmers via local agents and approved insurance providers.