July 28, 2010
[Friday July 30 update to story below — A measure to fund the Pigford II class action settlement between USDA and black farmers is now expected to come to the Senate floor early next week as a stand alone measure. The Food Safety Modernization Act (S 510) is now not expected to be taken up before the Senate leaves for summer recess at the end of next week, though it may come to the floor in September. Whether the Senate takes up the child nutrition reauthorization bill next week is still an open question.]
As is often the case as the summer congressional recess approaches, there is lots of activity on Capitol Hill. With so many moving pieces of interest to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and NSAC member organizations, we are issuing this brief update.
Supplemental Appropriation – Farm Credit Funding, BCAP Cut
On Tuesday, July 27, the House approved a $59 billion war supplemental spending bill by a vote of 308-114 and sent it to the President for his signature. The bill includes $950 million in Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm loan program funding to help meet emergency farm lending needs. The loan funding and several other USDA-related provisions are offset by a $50 million funding cut to the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). NSAC was a strong proponent of the farm loan funding and the offset.
The war supplemental has been pending for months. The bill has bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate, with major disputes centering around how many emergency domestic spending initiatives to tie to the war and foreign aid spending, the centerpiece of the bill. In the end, the Senate’s smaller domestic package prevailed.
The bill includes $33 billion for war operations, $6 billion in foreign aid, $5 billion for domestic disaster relief, and $13 billion in mandatory funding to help Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
The NSAC-supported credit package includes $350 million for direct farm operating loans, $300 million for guaranteed farm ownership loans, $250 million for guaranteed farm operating loans, and $50 million for subsidized guaranteed farm operating loans.
The limitation placed on BCAP, an important farm bill renewable energy program, is warranted in our view based on runaway spending and misplaced priorities, as this program was being implemented by the FSA. With a cap on program spending, the agency will need to continue to give thought to focusing the program to support the most important biomass crop projects possible.
Pigford Settlement Funding
Included in the most recent House-passed version of the supplemental appropriations bill, but deleted from the final product, was $1.15 billion for the Pigford II settlement between USDA and black farmers. That measure was originally attached to a tax extender bill that has not made it through the legislative gauntlet yet, and then it was stuck onto the supplemental in the House.
Now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he will try to add the Pigford settlement funding, and another class action settlement between American Indians and the Department of the Interior over the government’s mishandling of trust accounts, onto a small business bill the Senate is considering on the floor this week. It is not yet clear whether this third attempt to find a vehicle for the two settlement accounts will be successful. NSAC supports the funding and the quickest possible resolution of the matter.
Ag Disaster Aid
Speaking of the small business bill, Senate Agriculture Chair, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), has secured the agreement of the Majority Leader to attach her emergency agricultural disaster funding measure to the small business legislation. That measure was also attached to the tax extender bill earlier in the year, but now is seeking a potentially faster moving vehicle. A vote is expected later this week.
The measure includes $1 billion for bonus direct commodity payments for farmers who suffered a greater than 5 percent loss in production, a provision that has proved controversial, yet remains in play. The measure also includes specific disaster funding for cottonseed, aquaculture, Hawaiian sugar, livestock, and specialty crop producers.
Food Safety and Child Nutrition Bills
As regular readers will know, food safety and child nutrition reauthorization legislation has been chugging along slowly for the past two years. With time running out on this session of Congress, it is not yet clear if a way will be found to pass these bills and get them signed into law this year. The measures are both among the most bipartisan bills pending in Congress, which, all other things being equal, should improve their chances of passage. Nonetheless, netiher has proceeded smoothly, and both are looking for Senate floor time before the August recess begins.
The Senate food safety bill (S. 510) was voted out of Committee late last year, but has been stalled since then due to behind the scenes negotiations over amendments ranging from family farms and local food systems, to banning the use of the chemical additive BPA in food containers, to the re-importation of drugs from Canada.
The House passed it’s companion bill a year ago and has been waiting for final Senate action before they can proceed to a conference committee to settle on the final form of the legislation. Even if the Senate passes a bill soon, it is unclear whether enough time remains in this session for what could be a long conference negotiation.
The pending Managers Amendment to the Senate bill contains a number of provisions strongly supported by NSAC. NSAC also supports two amendments still being negotiated by Senator Brown (D-OH) and Senator Tester (D-MT), though we will withhold final judgment until negotiated text is closer to being agreed upon.
A child nutrition bill was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee in March and a companion bill by the House Education and Labor Committee in July. Both bills include mandatory funding for the Farm to School program. The Senate bill costs $4.5 billion over 10 years and is paid for through offsets, including the controversial proposed cut to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The House bill costs $8 billion over 10 years, but House Democratic leadership is still in the process of looking for funding offsets and have thankfully indicated to us they will not scale back farm bill conservation programs to pay for the child nutrition increase.
While further House action on the bill is not likely until September, Senate Majority Reid said this week that he would explore whether floor time might be made available for the Senate nutrition bill. Senator Lincoln intends to take to the floor each day to explain to her colleagues the importance of taking up the bill. Her floor statement from Tuesday, July 27 is posted here.
We will continue to provide readers with new information on the food safety and child nutrition bills as it becomes available.
Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access