D.C. Watch: Uncertainty amid farm bill progress
It is possible – but not certain – that the framework for the potential new farm bill will be released this week. Even then the proposal will face several steps before it becomes law. Funding for the SNAP program has been an area of disagreement for months now with the House bill cutting $40 billion over 10 years versus the Senate bill’s cut of $4 billion.
It appears that the farm bill negotiators have settled on cuts of about $9 billion but there is still a lot of uncertainty about whether this level of cuts can pass in either the House or the Senate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the farm bill will have to include provisions requiring the able-bodied to seek work or perform public service to be eligible for food stamps.
According to Cantor “Nutrition has not been finalized, although we are moving closer to resolution on that.”
There are several factors pushing Congress to finalize a new farm bill.
One is that farm policy has officially defaulted to permanent law, which sets commodity price supports as a percent of parity prices. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack is postponing implementing permanent law, hoping the Congress will soon pass a new farm bill. But that can’t continue forever.
At some point USDA will have to implement that law and one of the first results will be a huge increase in milk prices.
Another reason is that officials in Brazil say they will impose retaliatory sanctions totaling hundreds of millions of dollars as authorized by the WTO by February 28 unless U.S. policies come into compliance with WTO rules.
At this point it is not clear that the cotton provisions in the proposed farm bill will meet the WTO requirements.
Other news from Washington:
- You have a few more days to comment on EPA’s proposed rule to lower the biofuels mandate for 2014. The comment period ends January 28. Nearly two thousand people and groups have submitted comments already and state governors and members of Congress have been lobbying in either support or opposition. EPA will review the comments once the comment period closes and implement a final rule, probably in the spring. To submit a comment go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0479.
- EPA’s efforts to set numerical targets for runoff may be in trouble. A new study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the EPA’s strategy of setting numerical standards for runoff – called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) has been largely ineffective. EPA established TMDLs for the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce water pollution. EPA has established about 50,000 TMDLs but experts found that about 2/3 of the TMDLs they checked did not help to attain water quality standards.
- Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is calling on Congress to raise the debt ceiling before February 7. The federal debt ceiling is effectively frozen at that point in time, but the government can continue to pay its bills for a few weeks using what are called “extraordinary measures.” Lew says Congress must raise the debt ceiling by the end of February. House Speaker John Boehner says a debt ceiling increase without some spending cuts simply will not pass in the House. The debt ceiling debate is expected to renew the partisan bickering that characterized the stalemate in Washington last year.