Saturday, July 28, 2007

Farm Bill News FAQ: "what happened?" "what's with the Dems?" "Is it over?"

In the interest of timeliness, I previously copied a few detailed articles I found that summed up farm bill news. But I've had a few very good questions that I'll try to answer concisely.

"So...what happened exactly? Did our call-ins work?"
Yes and no. The bad news is that the farm subsidy program is largely unchanged. Under this Farm Bill version, large farms will continue to get most of the subsidies while farmers of modest means will continue to struggle. Developing countries will be locked out of selling their products. The WTO may sue us over cotton subsidies. So, that didn't work. But the good news is that to get that passed, the Status Quo reps had to sweeten the pot for the on-the-fencer's by giving more food stamp assistance, nutrition stuff, rural development and conservation programs. So, that part did work. The bummer is that those nice things might not actually get funded. If the subsidy part had been cut more, the money could have come from there.

"I don't understand why so many Democrats voted against the reform amendment and for the Farm Bill. What do you think?"
Dems are having a really hard time keeping together on this one. They're trying to hold their majority and show they can run Congress effectively. A powerful "farm bloc" feels strongly about keeping subsidies high although it flies in the face of what democrats stand for. These reps are backed by large farms that eat up most of the subsidy payments and they don't want to lose support. Rep Zack Space from Ohio is an example. He's a freshman Dem rep, outspoken in saying things like "my constituents are pretty comfortable with things the way they are." Meaning: those with clout to get him replaced with a Republlican are happy with fat subsidies. Poor constituents with no influence are probably not happy at all. I've also heard some Dem reps personally receive those subsidies. A legal conflict of interest?

"Why are Republicans against the Farm Bill?"
In order to pay for the last minute adds, a tax on foreign countries- that can be used as tax havens for US subsidiaries- was put in that has the GOP against the bill. Republicans cite this as a partisan move to add taxes to what was a bipartisan bill.

"Is it over?"
Oh no. Things aren't looking great, but this thing is far from over. The White House threatened to veto if significant subsidy caps aren't in place. Bush can still do this. And the Senate debate is just beginning. The House and Senate must pass their own versions of the bill, then Congress has to reconcile the two for the final bill. Now it's more important than ever to write/call your senators about this. And if your senator is running for president, try extra hard to catch their attention. Like writing a letter to the editor with their name in it. Their printed name gets them looking more than anything!

Details on Passed Farm Bill in House

Here are more details about what finally passed in the House. The article discusses the added good stuff as well as the failed subsidy reform.
House Passes Massive Farm Bill
Tax Issue Prompts GOP Opposition
Washington Post Saturday, July 28, 2007; A01

The House yesterday passed a far-reaching new farm bill that preserves the existing system of subsidies for commercial farmers and adds billions of dollars for conservation, nutrition and new agricultural sectors.

Passage of the 741-page bill by a vote of 231 to 191, after partisan battling unusual for farm legislation, was a major achievement for the new Democratic leadership.

With most Republicans opposing the five-year bill over a tax issue, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hammered out a compromise that held together a shaky majority of Democratic farm-state lawmakers committed to the entrenched farm subsidy system, together with urban liberals and reformers seeking sweeping changes.

"This signals change and a new direction," said Pelosi, in calling for the party to stick together on the contentious vote.

The bill, which has a price tag of almost $286 billion, boosts spending on preservation of grasslands and wildlife habitat, and mandates a major study of the Chesapeake Bay watershed as a first step to restoring the bay by reducing agricultural and other wastes.

The measure updates the food stamp program, indexing benefits to inflation, increasing the minimum benefit and raising the standard deduction. Youth obesity is addressed by a program to introduce healthful snacks in schools, and more money is authorized for famine relief abroad.

In an important victory for consumer organizations, imported meat, including hamburger made from multiple animals, will be labeled by its country of origin starting in October 2008.

Pelosi also cited the bill's emphasis on credits and loan guarantees for new forms of biofuel produced from grasses and biomass. "Future farm bills will never look the same," she said.

Nonetheless, major hurdles remain before the massive legislation becomes law.

The White House, citing insufficient reforms of the subsidy system, has threatened a veto. Only 19 House Republicans supported the bill's passage because of the last-minute addition of a tax provision needed to offset the new Democratic-backed spending on food stamps and nutrition.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (Va.), the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, accused Democrats of "poisoning the well" by adding the tax provision to what had been a bipartisan farm bill. Business lobbies, including the National Association of Manufacturers, warned that the action could discourage foreign investment and cost jobs.

Democrats said the provision merely closes a loophole that allows a limited number of U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies to avoid taxes. Aides said it is aimed at companies headquartered in tax havens such as Bermuda, with which the United States has no tax treaty. Subsidiaries avoid a tax bite by funneling earnings through European countries that have reciprocal tax-reduction arrangements with the United States.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the provision levels the playing field for "small American companies that are paying their share of taxes."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) charged that Republicans had fixed on the tax issue as an excuse for killing the bill. "They don't want to see success," he said.

But Democrats acknowledged that the entanglement of business issues in the farm bill could cause problems down the line.

Last week, a coalition of business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable, urged Congress to reject a farm bill that did not make major cuts in agricultural subsidies, so as to expedite a global trade deal benefiting manufacturers.

Developing countries are demanding a reduction in U.S. and European agricultural protections before opening their markets to American manufactured items.

Peterson responded hotly yesterday, saying farm-state lawmakers were in no mood to appease big business. Previous trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have been tailored mainly to help manufacturers and have not been good for U.S. agriculture, he said.

In defiance of international trade rules that discourage price supports that lead to overproduction, the bill raises price guarantees for wheat, soybeans and sugar.

Pressures on Congress could increase after a ruling this week by the World Trade Organization in Geneva. A WTO panel held that the U.S. cotton industry has not adequately responded to a 2005 ruling that certain subsidies violate international trade agreements. The panel said Brazil has the right to retaliate.

The centerpiece of the bill is a web of price guarantees and direct payments going mainly to corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybean growers in a few Midwestern and Southern states. The cost to taxpayers will be about $7.5 billion a year.

Farm organizations pulled out all the stops to defend this system, hiring lobbyists, setting up blogs attacking critics and buttonholing farm-state lawmakers. Among the lobbyists was the former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Larry Combest (R-Tex.).

The House bill includes a new concession for cane and beet sugar producers, ensuring that they will not have to cut back on their planting when unrestricted Mexican sugar imports start next year under NAFTA. The Department of Agriculture will be required to buy up volumes of sugar comparable to the imports and sell it to ethanol plants for a reduced price, at a 10-year cost to taxpayers of $1.4 billion.

In the last-minute jostling, a provision to make leaf tobacco farmers eligible for funds to promote their product abroad was stripped to avoid a floor battle with anti-tobacco forces. Rep. Bobby R. Etheridge (D-N.C.) had argued that it was a "matter of patent fairness" to tobacco growers.

Farm-state lawmakers also united yesterday to defeat an amendment by Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) aimed at preventing farmers from reaping unintended windfalls from a key subsidy, the loan deficiency payment. In 2005, the subsidy cost nearly $5 billion.

Late Thursday, an amendment by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) to reform the subsidy system garnered only 117 votes. Kind was backed by consumer, environmental, religious and anti-hunger groups.

The defection of Republicans this week forced Democratic leaders to scramble to strike deals with urban liberals to assure the final majority.

In the maneuvering, the Congressional Black Caucus came away with at least $100 million to help the USDA settle discrimination lawsuits filed by minority farmers. But the dealmaking forced a hasty search for offsetting funds.

To help pay for mandatory new spending on food for children abroad, Democratic leaders imposed a new "conservation fee" on some offshore oil and gas leases. It would recoup billions of dollars in royalties lost because of faulty federal leases with companies operating in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Find out how your Rep voted: Farm Bill reform Amendment

From the Bread for the World web site...
All year, Bread for the World's Seeds of Change campaign has focused attention on farm bill reform. Just this week, thousands of you called Washington to support the Fairness in Food and Farm Policy Amendment in the House of Representatives. Last night, the House defeated the Fairness Amendment on a vote of 117-309. To learn how your representative voted, go to If your representative voted yes, please call and thank him or her.

The Fairness Amendment would have reformed the farm bill in significant ways to reduce hunger and poverty and help farmers of modest means in this country and in developing countries. Though the amendment didn't pass, the pressure we brought for reform forced congressional leaders to add provisions to the bill that increase funding for nutrition and conservation programs that will help hungry people and promote environmental stewardship.

Most importantly, pressure for reform of the farm bill is now stronger than ever. Bread for the World members played a key role in raising awareness about the inequities of the farm bill and the needs of hungry and poor people in our country and overseas. Without our voice, Congress would not have given serious consideration to the need for reforms in the farm bill.

The farm bill debate is far from over. There are still many steps in the process of finalizing this legislation. The House is expected to vote on the farm bill itself today, Friday, July 27. You will soon find updates and analysis of the remaining House farm bill amendments on our Web site at Major farm bill decisions remain to be made in the Senate as well.

You can be proud of the intense and well-coordinated effort that our Bread for the World grassroots membership has poured into this challenging campaign. We have already had an impact, and the story is far from over.

Thanks for your hard work. Stay tuned!

Farm Bill Reform failed in house today

From today's Washington Post. Not looking good. Hard to believe that it's now looking more likely to have a veto from Bush than for Democrats to unite and help hungry people. Now the fight is on and it's likely to spill into the Senate soon.
House Rejects Farm Bill Overhaul
Effort to Revamp Traditional Subsidies Is Defeated, 309 to 117

Farm state lawmakers, allied with House Democratic leaders, last night easily defeated a proposal for a major overhaul of traditional farm programs that would have pared subsidies to big growers and spread benefits more broadly.

The 309 to 117 vote came on the first day of debate on a multiyear farm bill that was heading for final action today.

Republican support for the bill was in doubt last night because of a dispute over a provision that would tighten rules on the use of tax havens by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies.

But key farm state Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.). "It rips out the safety net for American farmers and ranchers," said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (Va.), ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee.

The amendment was billed as this year's major challenge to an entrenched farm-subsidy system. The defeat was a setback for a coalition of environmental organizations, anti-hunger groups and religious leaders who favor shifting more funds to conservation, nutrition and other priorities while creating a more level playing field in world markets for unsubsidized poor farmers abroad.

"Change is tough in this place," Kind said. The current subsidies to farmers, he said, raise farmland prices to the disadvantage of young farmers trying to rent or buy land, while making big farmers dependent on "a government paycheck, not the marketplace."

Environmental Defense, an advocacy group, produced a study showing that more than 300 congressional districts would be eligible for increased funding under Kind's bill, but to no avail.

Kind's vision in recent months came into conflict with the pragmatic politics of Democratic leaders seeking to rebuild the party's rural-urban bonds. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged Democrats to support the farm bill.

Recalling that a similar Kind amendment garnered 200 votes in 2001, the Agriculture Committee loaded the bill with billions of dollars for nutrition programs, conservation, black farmers, and the Florida and California fruit and vegetable industries, in an effort to attract broad support. As late as 1 a.m. yesterday, Democratic leaders were adding money for nutrition programs.

About $840 million in mandatory spending was added for the McGovern-Dole food aid program, after nearly $1 billion was shifted out of government payments to private crop insurance companies to offset the cost.

The new funding was sought by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a key member of the House Rules Committee. McGovern said it was "a good thing" that the crop insurance industry would be contributing to feeding hungry children abroad.

The program is named for two former senators, not for the congressman.

The revamp effort by Kind, whose western Wisconsin farm grows corn and soybeans on 60 acres, made him few friends on the agriculture panel.

Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) said last week that Kind and his allies are "out on a limb, and I'm trying to cut if off."

Peterson suggested that Kind "was being used by the Bush administration," which favors some of the same changes.

"There was no collusion," Kind responded. "I've been working on this for six years."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Farm Bill vote on THURS. Call Now!!

This week the House will be voting on the farm bill. Last Thursday, the full Agriculture Committee voted to implement little change to the 2002 farm bill, yet called those modest changes "reform". Now is the time for your member of Congress to know that those changes are not sufficient for struggling farmers or hungry people here or around the world. We can and must do better. As a more just alternative, Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) will offer the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment. Your representative's vote for this amendment is critical. It is time to support real reform and fairness in America's farm and food policy.

Please call your representative by NOON, Thursday, July 26, at 1-800-826-3688. Urge your representative to vote for the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment offered by Reps. Ron Kind and Jeff Flake. Let Congress know that the House Agriculture Committee's version of the farm bill does little to change the inequities of farm payments and it must be amended.

[Note: This toll-free number will connect you to the Capitol switchboard, where you will ask to be connected to your representative’s office in order to leave your message.]

Read about the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment and learn why your action is so vital.

Talking points:

-The House Agriculture Committee sent out a bill that makes minimal changes, falling far short of its claims to help all farmers equitably and fairly. The Committee missed its opportunity to design a safety net that works better for American farmers and to bring the farm bill more in line with realties of rural poverty.

-The Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment addresses many concerns left behind by the Committee bill.

-The Fairness Amendment provides critical funding to strengthen nutrition programs, rural communities, conservation programs, without relying on uncertain funding from outside of the committee.

-The priorities in the Fairness Amendment reflect the priorities of most Americans—not just the few, powerful interests that have dominated the debate for decades.

-As your constituent, I urge you to vote for the Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment when it is offered on the floor.

Thanks for calling today!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Farm Bill Vote in House THIS WEEK

The Washington Post reported that the not-very-reformed-at-all version of the Farm Bill was approved last Thursday and the full House is expected to vote on it next week.

Bread for the World president David Beckmann said, "Neither of the two bills presented by Chairman Peterson shows marked improvement for farmers of modest means or for the millions of hungry and poor families in this country and around the world.

As usual, people who need help the most are at the bottom of the priority list. Without a guaranteed source of funding for federal nutrition programs, the 'reform' option is no more than a wish list."

The farm bill is expected to go to the House floor before the August recess, perhaps as early as July 24. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said that his committee will also take up the farm bill in July. So your members of Congress – whether or not they sit on an agriculture committee – need to hear now from their constituents that the version of the farm bill which comes to the House and Senate floors must contain improvements.

To take action, please see the web site for information on how to call your members of Congress. If you choose to write a letter, faxing is a better option due to time constraint!