Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dairy Program May Be Farm Bill Sticking Point

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas conceded Thursday that final action on a farm bill conference report is now likely to slip into late January — a major blow to himself and an ominous turn for the bill itself.
The draft package combines a landmark rewrite of commodity programs together with cuts from food stamps to generate in the range of $25 billion in 10-year savings, according to preliminary estimates. These accomplishments remain a strong argument for saving the bill. but the persistent in-fighting and delays are taking their toll and a worry for supporters.
“It needs to be done as soon as possible but the issues are of such magnitude I can’t go until I get the issues addressed,” Lucas said. The Oklahoma Republican admitted to immense frustration — and some surprise — at the full dimensions of the standoff now between Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Lucas’s own ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, over dairy policy.....
At issue is a new margin insurance initiative for dairy farmers which would include supply management tools to guard against over production. Peterson has argued that the supply controls are vital to keep down the cost of the insurance program. But Boehner believes the increased government role amounts to a bridge-too-far in a world of dairy policy which the speaker is already fond of comparing to the former Soviet Union.
Indeed Boehner sounded this theme again in his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The Soviet-style dairy program we have will continue, but let’s not make it any worse by including supply and management tools,” the speaker said. “I’ve fought off the supply and management ideas for 23 years that I have been in Congress, and my position hasn’t changed, and Mr. Peterson and others are well aware of it.”
Asked directly if he would block the farm bill conference report from coming back to the House floor if it did include the Peterson supply management language, Boehner suggested Lucas would protect him from having to make that decision.
“I am confident that the conference report will not include supply and management provisions for the dairy program,” the speaker said.
Lucas said that in his own conversations with Boehner, the speaker had warned him explicitly. “His statement to me was that if supply management is in it, it’s not coming to the floor. Flat out,” Lucas said.
Peterson lost to Boehner on the supply management issue during the House farm bill debate last summer. But his language has the support of the Senate in its version of the farm bill. And the Minnesota Democrat believes he has the votes in the House-Senate talks now to ultimately prevail.
An important swing vote here is Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). Rogers is counted as loyal to Lucas but under pressure from dairymen at home to back Peterson if possible. “I get the feel that Rogers’s dairymen want Peterson’s language,” Lucas said, when asked about his own conversation with Rogers this week. “I get the feeling that Rogers wants to be reflective of his dairymen.”
I'm not going to claim to understand the dairy program, or what this fight is really about, but i find the politics interesting.  It appears that Frank Lucas and Mike Rogers are Republicans who really want to pass a Farm Bill, and in the case of Rogers, he's hearing from the dairy farmers in his district that they support the supply management portion of the bill.  However, that portion offends John Boehner's ideology, so he will not allow it to reach the floor.  I find that to be interesting. 

Also, as the article mentions, the bill looks to heavily overhaul the commodity programs.  With commodity prices way down from the trend the last few years, it will be interesting to see what gets cut and what stays.  If prices stay low all year, crop insurance won't be much help to protect farmers' income, and while direct payments aren't very significant, it will be interesting to see what the politicians come up with to assist farmers.  LDP?  SURE payments?  I'm not sure how they'll do it, but come October, they'll be doing something if prices are still where they are now, or if they are even lower.  They don't want farmers going to the polls without some kind of support.

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