Farm Bill/Political Updates

Alan Beattie reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The Republicans have portrayed themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. But even Republicans on the heavily conservative wing of the party have only suggested broad outlines for cuts to balance the budget.”

Nonetheless, Tony Kindelspire reported on Sunday at the Longmont Times-Call Online (Colorado) that, “Tuesday’s election has farmers across the country nervous, according to Kent Peppler, a fourth-generation farmer near Mead who also is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

“It’s not because the Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives; it’s how they took control and what that might mean for the 2012 Farm Bill, which is being crafted now.

“‘The Republicans were elected primarily on the platform of cutting spending, so that’s not good news for the Farm Bill,’ said Peppler, who grows a variety of crops on about 500 acres. ‘Under the budget constraints that we’re seeing right now, we could see some severe attacks on the Farm Bill itself.’”

The article noted that, “[Tom Buis, former president of the National Farmers Union and current CEO of Growth Energy] said budget concerns, and particularly the deficit, will drive every discussion in Washington once the new Congress takes over in January.

“‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s going to be the No. 1 issue when Congress returns to town,’ said Buis, speaking by phone from Washington, D.C.”

“‘Farm bills are never easy to write, but if you don’t have the budget baseline to fund it, there’s going to be cuts,’ Buis said. ‘That doesn’t just apply to the Farm Bill. It applies to the highway bill or any other type of legislation you pass.’”

The article added that, “And [Peppler] expects Republican Cory Gardner, who ousted Democrat Betsy Markey on Tuesday in Colorado’s 4th District, to gain a seat on the [Agriculture] committee.”

On the issue of whether or not the GOP controlled House would in fact take on tough spending choices, National Journal writer Major Garrett indicated yesterday on The Diane Rehm Radio Show that, “My colleague, Susan Davis, and I spent last week talking to about 20 or so of the newly elected members of the House Republican caucus…[A]nd I asked many of them, I said, are you prepared to put your life in Congress on the line, testing the proposition that your voters really sent you to bring back less and to give them less than they had before? And several of them — Vicky Hartzler is a classic example from Missouri’s 4th Congressional District. She beat a 17-term incumbent — Ike Skelton, a beloved Democrat in Missouri. She said, I’m going to find out, and I’m prepared to find out.”

Julie Harker reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “The president of the National Farmers Union [Roger Johnson] says money was the biggest challenge for the 2012 Farm Bill before the election and continues to be the biggest challenge.”

Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson is lobbying Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad to take the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but two key North Dakota farm leaders say Conrad’s position on Budget is critical to finding money for the 2012 farm bill.

“The chairmanship of the Agriculture committee is open because Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., the current chairman, was defeated in Nov. 2 election. Conrad was in line to be chairman when Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, left the chairmanship to take over the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. But Conrad, D-N.D., kept Budget and left Agriculture to Lincoln. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., right now is next in line to become chairman if Conrad does not take it.
“Conrad did not respond to repeated requests last week for an interview on the chairmanship issue, but a spokesman stated in an email, ‘The senator has not yet made up his mind and will not do so until he speaks with his constituents and his colleagues.’”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Peterson, D-Minn., who will become ranking member on the committee because the Democrats lost control of the House, said in an interview last week that if Conrad wants to get re-elected in 2012 he should take Agriculture. For Conrad to stay on Budget would be ‘a big mistake. Look what happened to [House Budget Chairman John] Spratt,’ a South Carolina Democrat who was defeated Tuesday. Lincoln was also defeated, but Peterson said he would still advise Conrad to take Agriculture. ‘Look what happened to me,’ said Peterson, who easily won re-election.

“Lobbyists believe Peterson wants Conrad to be chairman because he wants a senator from a commodity-producing state to lead the committee. Peterson said it would be harder for Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is likely to become House Ag chairman, to work with Stabenow. But Peterson added that he and Lucas ‘can work with whoever is in charge.’ He also acknowledged that Conrad’s role on Budget had helped deliver money for the bill, adding, ‘It’s his decision.’”

A recent Congressional Quarterly article by Ellyn Ferguson pointed out that, “Stabenow, who would become only the second woman to lead the panel, has been a strong supporter of more research and other resources for specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables. Her focus reflects Michigan’s varied agricultural industry…[H]er focus on specialty crops may make some traditional big agriculture interests uneasy, especially as growing deficit concerns increase pressure to trim back entitlement programs.”

The CQ article added that, “The biggest threat to Conrad’s re-election may have been erased on Election Day, when popular Republican Gov. John Hoeven was elected to the state’s vacant Senate seat. That means Conrad will not have to face Hoeven in two years.

“‘The Ag Committee chairmanship might provide a small boost among Republican farmers, but I do not foresee him needing that at this point,’ said Eric D. Raile, a political science professor at North Dakota State University.”

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See the update below for a comprehensive review of the reconciliation process. Update Here

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