Ag leaders continue to fend off major farm policy changes in appropriations debate

By Stewart Doan

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WASHINGTON, June 16 - House floor debate on a $125.5 billion 2012 Ag Appropriations Bill will extend into a third day. On Wednesday, lawmakers easily defeated a series of amendments offered by GOP deficit hawks that would have cut hundreds of millions of additional dollars from international food aid programs and USDA's Ag Marketing, Economic Research and Foreign Ag Services. 

“We simply cannot continue to dole out money that we simply don't have. … It's important to make serious cuts wherever and whenever we can,” said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who introduced ten different measures to further reduce the bill's $17.25 billion discretionary allocation, 13.6% below the current level, by a total of $2 billion. 

HungerU: the Worlds Food Crisis Demands Your Attention

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., a recognized leader on Capitol Hill in the fight against global hunger, was seemingly embarrassed by calls to eliminate the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programs. 

“With so many threats against our nation, I just think it's important to share America's bounty with hungry children in critical places around the world,” she said, appealing to her colleagues on both sides of the aisle tone down the rhetoric.

 By voice vote, members terminated a $1 million subsidy for mohair. 

The House accepted language from Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., the Ranking Member of the Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, which takes $300,000 from USDA's buildings account to expand organic market news reporting.

 Farr led the Democratic rebuttal against language in the underlying bill directing USDA to publicize how much it spends on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.

“This is a direct attack on the White House initiative on nutrition,” he charged. 

Reps. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Agriculture Committee, used a parliamentary tactic to strip out provisions that blocked farm subsidy payments to individuals with adjusted gross incomes greater than $250,000 and reduced direct payments to cotton farmers by $147 million dollars to offset the cost of the U.S.-Brazil WTO Cotton Settlement. 

Republican and Democratic members of the ag panel also joined hands to oppose two amendments that would alter the terms of the 5-year 2008 Farm Bill. The first, proposed by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., would prohibit money in the bill from being used to provide payments to the Brazil Cotton Institute. The second amendment, proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, would cap farm program payments at $125,000 per person. 

“In light of the budget deficits that we're wrestling with, what better time to continue to move in the area of reform under the farm bill with this agricultural appropriations bill,” said Kind.  Lucas promised that the policy issues raised in both amendments would be dealt with as part of the farm bill reauthorization in 2012.

 “Let the Ag Committee, in regular order, craft the policy and then when we bring it to the floor, all of our friends, expert ag economists…you'll have your shot, as you've had before,” said Lucas.

 Kind and Blumenauer both demanded recorded votes on their amendments Thursday.

Several other amendments will require a recorded vote. One by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, would prevent any funds appropriated under the USDA spending bill from being used to settle Pigford II claims by black farmers. Another would block funding for implementation of a new USDA policy statement on climate change adaptation.

 As expected, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, spoke against a portion of the bill that instructs the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to suspend rulemaking on controversial livestock and poultry marketing reforms. She accused the National Cattlemen's Beef Association of intimidating and harassing supporters of the so-called GIPSA rule.

 The defunding language will “silence the nearly 60,000 comments on the rule because it will prevent USDA from reading the record, and it will undermine long overdue fairness in poultry and livestock contracts” for producers,” Kaptur said.  

Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House would complete its work on the ag appropriations measure Thursday afternoon.

 

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