Jul 31, 2012


House Ag Committee Voted a New Farm Bill; Waiting on Full House Action
by Mary Fund  

On July 12, the House Agriculture Committee voted a new farm bill out of committee. But as this goes to press, there are serious concerns whether or not there will be any floor action prior to the current bill’s expiration on September 30. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has consistently refused to guarantee the farm bill any floor time.

Time is the crucial element as the House bill must pass the floor of the House, and then go to conference committee for House and Senate agreement before the September 30 deadline. Neither of these tasks will be easy, and some say they are next to impossible given the differences in the House and Senate in the commodity policy and food stamp (Supplemental Food and Nutrition Assistance) provisions.

The House bill projects to save $35 billion over the next decade by cutting $16 billion from nutrition programs and $6 billion from conservation programs, while increasing crop insurance subsidies and decreasing commodity subsidies for a net savings of $14 billion.

Debate on the nutrition title took up most of the Committee’s time, but in the end no changes were made to the $16 billion in cuts proposed in the House draft bill. Amendments were offered (and failed) that would have restored the cuts and that would have replaced the House draft with the Senate-passed farm bill version, which would have reduced the overall nutrition cuts to $4.5 billion. Attempts were also made by Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp and others to make even deeper cuts in the nutrition programs, but these failed as well.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the House version contained a few positive provisions for farm families, rural communities and the environment, but overall failed to include farm program reform into the bill. “The bill needs very significant improvements if it is going to emerge as a bill that expands opportunities for family farmers to produce good food, sustain the environment, and con-tribute to vibrant communities,” noted Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director for NSAC.

House Farm Bill Pluses. On the positive side, the Committee accepted a farm to school provision that allows greater flexibility to small rural schools and establishes pilot projects to allow schools to use program dollars from the USDA food distribution program to purchase produce from local farmers. The Committee also included a number of improvements to spur economic growth through local and regional agriculture, and included some improvements for beginning farmers and ranchers.

House Farm Bill Misses. However, the Committee also failed to act on a nationwide sodsaver provision, allowing the continued destruction of native grass and prairie lands. Basically according to Hoefner, the committee condoned the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize the destruction of native grass, basing their opposition to the sodsaver act as protecting property rights.

The Committee also repealed the livestock and poultry farmer protections established in the 2008 farm bill, and undid the compromise on poultry protections established just last year. “By agreeing to repeal the livestock and poultry farmer protections, the Committee threw America’s livestock and poultry farmers under the bus,” stated Hoefner. “Adding more insult to injury, the Committee reneged on a broadly supported compromise to protect poultry growers from abusive behavior on the part of poultry processors.”

The House version also eliminated the National Organic Certification Cost-share program, which currently provides the nation’s organic farmers with limited assistance to help pay for certification fees for standards set by the federal government. This is one of the very few programs that specifically benefits organic farmers. (The Senate version would continue this program.)

Furthermore and perhaps most telling about who and what the House Committee serves, there was no House action to place a lower cap on commodity subsidies and to close the current payment limitation loopholes that attract widespread abuse and allow virtually unlimited payments with taxpayer’s money. In fact, they increased crop insurance subsidies—without even any lip service to strengthening conservation compliance for such payments.

Environmental Riders. The House Committee farm bill also includes riders that impact environmental protection. According to NSAC, “one provision significantly weakens USDA’s ability to regulate the use of genetically engineered (GE) organisms. It would greatly narrow the scope of the environmental assessment for GE crop approvals and would limit the amount of time that USDA has to review GE crop applications. It would also authorize USDA to do a study to look into exempting certain GE crops from the (weakened) regulatory process (and from regulation) and to make recom-mendations for a national low-GE presence in supply chain policy.”

Another provision reverses the court decision re-affirming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate pesticide pollution under the Clean Water Act.

What If There is No Bill.

If the House fails to bring the bill to the floor, there are several scenarios being batted around. One is for a clean extension of the current farm bill with no changes; another is for an extension with limited changes; other scenarios include short- term extensions (lame-duck session this fall), or a one year extension. Another scenario is for the House bill to go directly to a House-Senate conference committee, who could theoretically agree on a final bill. This bill could then be attached to an end of year must pass legislation including appropriations for FY 2013, extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, increasing the debt limit, etc.

While options fall to the side as the clock keeps ticking, many are urging the House to take action now. On July 13, NSAC joined 45 national farm, commodity, conservation, rural and religious organizations in sending a letter to House leadership urging them to schedule floor debate on the House Ag Committee’s Farm bill.

Future of the State of Kansas Budget:
The Big Gamble Begins
  by Paul Johnson

The Kansas budget for Fiscal Year 2013 (July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013) was finally finished in the very last days of the session. Now the scramble begins to assemble a FY 2014 Kansas budget that can balance. The mega-tax bill signed by the Governor had little impact on the 2013 budget but for 2014 the impact will be far greater.

Governor Sam Brownback signed into law far reaching tax cuts reducing and eliminating some income taxes in Kansas. The belief held by the Governor and conservatives is that these cuts will generate enough new revenues (via jobs and businesses) to offset losses from the tax cut. This belief will be tested soon as the projection for the 2014 State budget is $303 million in the red, spelling special challenges for public schools, social services and environmental programs.

Lost tax revenue for 2013 was just $231 million but for 2014 the lost tax revenue jumps to $802 million.

The Governor is already looking for budget cuts to handle this imbalance. This year he vetoed $800,000 for the Local Environmental Protection Program. (This is the program that tests private water wells and sewer systems.) The Governor reduced from $1.1 million to $600,000 funding for the Wichita Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project funding. (This project stores treated river water in the Equus Beds aquifer for future water needs.) The court case over school funding has begun and that may play into more funding for public schools directed by the Kansas Supreme Court. The Medicaid managed care plan known as KanCare may not begin by January 1, 2013 so the assumed savings will not materialize.

An economic renaissance for Kansas will have to happen quickly to offset the loss of income tax revenues. The $300 million state budget deficit in 2014 jumps to $914 million in 2015 and to $2.4 Billion by 2018.

The above was first published in KRC’s Weekly E-Updates monitoring the State Legislature and the Farm Bill. Back issues of KRC’s Weekly E-Updates can be found on the KRC website at http://www.kansasruralcenter.org/archive2.html

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