The House Agriculture Committee marked up its version of the farm bill last week, but the future of the bill is still very uncertain. Representative Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, a member of the Agriculture Committee said that it is “highly likely” that the House farm bill will not go to the floor of the House for debate, but will instead go straight to a conference committee with the Senate.
However, Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., thinks it is unlikely that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will allow that to happen. Cantor’s office has not included the farm bill as a priority for the July schedule and the House is scheduled to be in session only a few days between the August recess and the November election. The chances of getting a bill passed and signed into law by the Sept. 30 expiration of the current farm bill are not very good.
The most controversial part of the proposed farm bill in the House is the $16 billion reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Several members of the House (mostly Democrats) have blasted the cuts and there is little chance that cuts that large can pass in the Senate. With 1 in 7 people in the country now receiving assistance from the program, big cuts in funding may cost votes. That is another reason why the farm bill debate may be delayed until after the election.
There are similarities and differences between the Senate passed farm bill and the bill being considered by the House Agriculture Committee. Both bills have a county revenue option as a complement to crop insurance; both eliminate direct payments and retain marketing loans. A major difference between the two bills is that the House bill replaces the farm-based revenue program option in the Senate bill with a price-based counter-cyclical program and target prices increased from those in the 2008 bill. Farmers can update yields in this counter-cyclical program to the 2008 through 2012 period and payments would be based on planted acres instead of base acres. The revenue-based programs in the Senate and House bills are similar, but the Senate version offers more protection. Both bills include separate insurance provisions for cotton called STAX.
As has been noted before, the laws covering estate taxes change significantly at the end of this year if Congress does not act. The tax rate in 2013 will be 55 percent with a $1 million exemption if nothing is done, compared to a 35 percent rate and a $5.12 million exemption in 2012. With the uncertainty about future estate taxes, Gary Hoff of the University of Illinois says farmers should talk with their financial advisors now and have plans in place for some possible changes in estate plans. With recent increases in land values, even modest-sized farms would exceed $1 million in value and thus owe estate taxes on the excess and pay much higher rates to boot if the rules change back to levels of a decade ago.
Last week, the House voted 244 to 185 to repeal the health care law that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as “constitutional” by viewing the law’s monetary penalties for non-compliance as a new kind of “tax” and noted no constitutional limitations on Federal authority to tax. The vote in the House was mostly symbolic since the Senate is not expected to even debate the issue and the president would surely veto the bill if it ever did pass Congress. Since most farmers carry their own health insurance, there’s much at stake.
The United Nations Codex Commission has set global standards for the use of ractopamine in swine and cattle. The limit is 10 micrograms per kilogram of pig or cattle muscle with higher limits for livers and kidneys. The EU, China, Thailand and Taiwan ban imports of pigs fed the drug and the EU says the ban on imports will stay in place.