July 17, 2007

House 2007 Farm Bill Hearing, Day 1

Washington, D.C. - “A sound compromise that no one is satisfied with, but nevertheless represents real reform.” - From Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-MN) opening statement today on the 2007 Farm Bill.

The first House Agriculture Committee markup session on the 2007 Farm Bill began with Rep. Collin Peterson's opening statement, followed by everyone else's. Peterson said that Americans were fortunate to enjoy low, stable food prices, and food that meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

No markup, or voting on specific amendments, actually took place during today's session. The last changes to the legislation weren't made until late last night, and today was the first chance most members got to see the final versions, though Rep. Peterson said that the changes were minor in comparison to the version released a little over a week ago.

Peterson said that listening sessions all over the country indicated that the 2002 Farm Bill was popular and regarded as successful. Building from that as a platform, changes Peterson described as departing from 2002 policies included increased spending on research, investment in nutrition, and help for new farmers. He said it was also the first time there was dedicated baseline funding support for fruits and vegetables, as well as a hard cap on payments under the commodity and conservation programs, such that no one with an adjusted gross income of a million dollars or more is eligible.

Peterson further said that there would be a main version of the bill that strictly adhered to paygo, pay-as-you-go, budget guidelines. Other items not covered by this baseline funding would be included in a separate bill that would need to have budget offsets found for it.

Ranking member Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that he had called for a “modern, forward-looking Farm Bill,” as opposed to an extension of the previous bill, but that there wasn't enough money. He said that the majority party's Budget Committee wasn't willing to pay enough for nutrition, for a modern bill, not with a $60 billion budget shortfall.

Goodlatte said that he wasn't pleased to see the bill going to the floor with funding for some wishes, but only promises and good intentions for the rest. He also said that, though all the Republicans on the committee supported paygo rules, that demands had been made on the committee that they didn't have the resources to meet.

Goodlatte predicted an onslaught of amendments on the floor that would cripple the safety net for agriculture. He said that it was very important to know what outside funding would be made available, and that it be committed to publicly.

Peterson responded that other committees were reluctant to legislate on nutrition and energy issues that were in the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committee. However, these pieces of legislation would be sent to the Rules Committee to find offsets from other committee budgets.

Rep. Terry Everett (R-AL) said that an industry facing as much uncertainty as agriculture needed a safety net. He singled out peanut farming as a sector that had to deal with the same rising costs as other farm enterprises, but without the benefit of countercyclical payments to redress price shortfalls.

Everett made a point of saying that his district grows a lot, and that he's not opposed to getting a Farm Bill passed just to keep Democrats from passing legislation. He said that preserving agriculture was more important than playing politics.

Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) agreed that it was important to support the $800 million peanut industry, worth $67 million in his own state alone. As the chair of the Subcommittee on Specialty Crops, Rural Development and Foreign Agriculture, McIntyre devoted most of his statement to rural development issues. He highlighted what he considered the critical importance of providing rural communities with libraries, fire trucks, and access to microenterprise development assistance. He said that companies with fewer than 10 employees were a fast growing source of jobs, and that programs like supporting rural broadband would help rural small business, as well as schools and hospitals.

Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) focused on farm finance, talking again about the listening tours that had been held around the country, saying that farmers especially liked three things: direct payments, marketing loans and counter cyclical payments. Counter cyclical payments are intended to compensate farmers for prices that fall below their operating costs. This year, the bill will include the option to sign up for a just released revenue based counter cyclical payment plan (pdf), a proposal forwarded by the president, that would establish target revenue and yield prices on a national formula.

Representatives Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) both expressed reservations about inclusion of Davis-Bacon Wage Determinations in the bill. This standard “determines prevailing wage rates to be paid on federally funded or assisted construction projects,” and is included as a requirement for biorefineries built with federal loan guarantees. The idea is alarming enough to Representatives Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Steve King (R-IA) and Michael Conaway (R-TX), that they've offered an amendment, number 51, to strike that language from the bill.

King later described himself as a lifetime opponent of Davis-Bacon, saying, “I don't get to die until that's repealed.” He also referred to the 46 percent increase in nutrition spending as “freedom from fear of want,” needlessly addressing the worries of households who weren't worried about the next meal, but a couple meals down the line. He said that this kind of worry was why he thought people got up to go to work.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) started off by identifying himself as a former food stamp recipient. He said that he still thanks God every day that they were there when his family needed that help. Rep. David Scott (D-GA), later reiterated the importance of the food stamp program, and warned the committee that it was important to protect it from moves toward privatization.

Baca also pointed out that while one in ten Americans suffer from hunger, this rate was double in the Black and Latino communities, so it was important to pay attention to nutrition for those receiving assistance. Scott further highlighted racial diversity issues, noting that Black farmers faced “dire and unique” pressures; having been around a long time, but usually running small farms.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) said that it was important that the bill support agricultural entrepreneurship, agriculture-based renewable energy, and rewards for creative conservation. He also noted that concentration in agriculture was a problem, and that having 70 percent of payments go to 10 percent of farms didn't help matters. Rep. Cardoza (D-CA) echoed this concern for payment diversity in pointing out that no previous Farm Bills have given specialty crops, fruits and vegetables, their fair share.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), himself a farmer, repeated the concern many Republicans expressed for providing a safety net for farmers. He said they were unique among industries in having to buy at retail and sell at wholesale, accepting prices at both ends. He said that he wanted a bill that would get farmers through the lean times, when, as Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) noted, they face enormous capital exposure and risks beyond their control.

Graves proposed safeguarding the current system by offering an amendment that would allow the USDA to permanently disbar anyone committing fraud against it from further participation in their programs

Rep. John Barrow (D-GA) returned the topic again to rural development. He praised the reauthorization of the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, a research service that provides technical advice for organic and sustainable farming, and expressed concern at the rate the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was closing rural offices. He also reiterated the interest expressed by Rep. Scott in having a strong country of origin labeling standard.

The committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 am. There were 300 people in line today. I'm going to have to hope I can get into the overflow room for the markup session, not sure I'll be as lucky again as I was today to get a seat in the main hearing room.

Posted by natasha at July 17, 2007 08:38 PM | Agriculture | Technorati links |

It is interesting how farmland GOP legislators use the language of progressives, safety nets and wealth concentration, when jockeying for their constituents but rail against the very same concepts elsewheer.

Posted by: Enterik at July 18, 2007 10:28 AM


Posted by: ccokz at July 18, 2007 11:16 AM