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House Aggies Advance Farm Bill
By Chris Clayton
Friday, May 24, 2024 1:23AM CDT

OMAHA (DTN) -- The House Agriculture Committee early Friday morning advanced a farm bill after pushing back on Democratic efforts to halt cuts to nutrition and changes to conservation programs.

The bill, HR 8467, the $1.5 trillion "Farm, Food and National Security Act of 2024," passed out of committee on a 33-21 vote with four Democrats joining 29 Republicans to back the bill.

Holding a four-vote edge in committee, Republicans blocked attempts by Democrats to amend the bill. In a series of votes that went along party lines of 25-29, the GOP-led committee rejected:

-- A push by Democrats to restore requirements that conservation money from the Inflation Reduction Act focus on climate-smart practices.

-- Language that would keep the USDA secretary's authority over the Commodity Credit Corporation.

-- Democratic efforts to restore $27 billion in funding over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

-- An attempt to ensure meatpackers with USDA contracts follow child-labor laws.

COMMODITY AND CROP INSURANCE PROVISIONS

The bill would bolster commodity programs for producers by an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. The bill would increase reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC), as well as increase coverage levels and payments under the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program. The bill includes a chance for farmers to update and add base acres to their operations but has a cap of 30 million acres. Farmers who receive 75% or more of their income from farming would see their payment limits increased from $125,000 to $155,000.

The bill would increase the statutory reference price for crops by 10% to 20%. Boosting the statutory reference price will then boost the calculation used to create the effective reference price.

Corn would go from $3.70 a bushel per acre to $4.10 bpa, nearly an 11% increase.

Soybeans would go from $8.40 bpa to $10 bpa, up 19%.

Wheat would increase from $5.50 bpa to $6.35 bpa, up 15%.

Rice reference prices would increase from $14 per cwt to $16.90 per cwt, up more than 20%.

In crop insurance, the bill also expands premium subsidy support for beginning farmers and ranchers. It increases premium support for the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) to 80%, providing access to all commodities to a policy similar to the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) in cotton while also keeping SCO for Price Loss Coverage.

COMMITTEE DEBATE

The House Agriculture Committee defeated an amendment by Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-N.M., that would have restored the requirements that conservation money from the Inflation Reduction Act rolled into the farm bill be focused on climate-smart practices.

The amendment would have required that a percentage of program funding be spent on programs to improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses or reduce, capture, avoid or sequester carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide emissions, associated with agricultural production.

Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., was among those who called for keeping the climate-smart language with the IRA dollars. She and others pointed to the demand for those conservation funds.

"We need to be protecting funding for these chronically overprescribed and underfunded programs," Craig said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., urged a no vote.

"It's the brilliance of our system to let states decide what natural resources they want to address," Thompson said.

The vote was 29 to 25 along party lines.

SNAP DEBATE

In another 29-25 vote, Republicans voted down an amendment that would have allowed USDA to increase benefits under SNAP without congressional approval. The bill language specifically prevents an administration from increasing or cutting SNAP benefits without congressional approval.

The bill also takes $27 billion from SNAP over the 10-year course of the farm bill, though Republicans noted most "cuts" aren't projected until after another farm bill would be written down the road. The amendment would have restored those spending cuts.

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, told Republicans, "There is absolutely no way you are going to get a farm bill unless we take care of this provision." Scott added, "You all are coming at the SNAP program in every direction that you can."

Thompson's bill would use $12 billion to $16 billion for other nutrition program purposes and the rest for trade promotion and specialty crops.

The debate was highly emotional. "We are squabbling over $6 a day to help them." said Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., about SNAP benefits.

Republicans noted that SNAP beneficiaries will still get inflation-related benefit increases.

"The idea that we would periodically assess what is the right funding for SNAP is not cruel. That's actually our job," said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D.

CCC FUNDING AUTHORITY CHANGED

Republicans also defeated an amendment from Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who also serves as ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Bishop moved to drop the provision that would end the Agriculture secretary's control of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Blocking USDA's authority would allow the committee to use more than $50 billion over 10 years to boost commodity and crop insurance programs.

"Let's call it what it is. It's a budget gimmick and we know that restricting the Secretary's authority won't get us anywhere near enough money to pay" for the program changes in commodities or crop insurance, Bishop said.

Thompson said the Biden and Trump administrations have used the CCC for an average of $10.7 billion a year, which allows the justification to spend $50 billion over 10 years.

Rep. Cheri Pingree, D-Maine, said the CCC authority has helped with trade aid, the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, climate-smart agriculture projects and other crises such as avian influenza.

"Taking away this authority from one agriculture secretary because you don't like this one program is misguided," Pingree said, adding there are already risks such as avian influenza that may need USDA funding. "We cannot possibly take this authority away from the Secretary."

CHILD LABOR: STUDY IT

Late into Thursday night, the committee was rolling along until an amendment came up from Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas, introduced a bill that would require meatpackers with USDA contracts comply with enforcement of child-labor and minimum wage laws.

That led to a split between Democrats and Republicans over the impact of Casar's amendment even though everyone maintained that child labor and exploitation should be condemned. Republicans moved to override Casar's amendment by instead having a Congressional Accountability Office (GAO) investigation, an amendment led by Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., whose state had a meatpacking cleaning contractor fined $1.5 million last year for employing more than 100 children at packing plants in 13 states.

Tempers flared among committee members over the child-labor debate, which went on for nearly an hour.

"We can't even agree that child labor here is wrong. That's part of the problem," said Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn.

Thompson said he would hold a hearing to bring in the secretaries of USDA and Labor to talk about the issues with child labor at meatpacking plants.

PROP 12 DEBATE

The bill also supersedes state animal-protection laws by ensuring livestock producers have a federal right to market their livestock across state lines. Despite intense lobbying by animal-rights groups to defend state laws such as California's Proposition 12, no committee member introduced an amendment to change or halt the provision.

Thompson agreed to include the interstate commerce language in the farm bill after the U.S. Supreme Court voted last year to uphold California's Prop 12, which requires pork producers outside of California to meet the state's standards for pen spaces to sell pork products in the state. Pork producers and others say the Supreme Court decision opens the door for every state to set different production standards to sell products there.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom contributed to this report.

Also see, "Six Big Things About the House Farm Bill Proposal," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on social platform X @ChrisClaytonDTN


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