D.C. Watch: Farm bill debate drags on

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Congress Negotiators claim to be very close to a final framework, but some issues remain challenging.

Other farm bill issues are also still under negotiation. One of those issues is payment limits. Both the House and Senate passed proposals including language capping the amount of money individual farmers could receive, but it is not clear that those limits will be in the final bill - assuming we eventually get a final bill!

The King amendment that would prevent California from blocking imports of eggs that were not produced according to that state’s regulations is still unresolved, as is the final determination about catfish inspections.

There are plenty of reasons for Congress to pass a new farm bill.

One is that Brazil is again threatening to impose retaliatory tariffs on about 100 U.S. products with values of up to $850 million if cotton polices aren’t changed to bring them into compliance with WTO rulings. Brazil has postponed imposition of these tariffs in recent years with the understanding that Congress would bring U.S. policies into compliance. But they’re getting impatient.

The House has approved the $1.012 trillion spending bill for fiscal 2014 and the Senate is expected to act on it before the end of the week.

The continuing resolution expired at the end of the day Wednesday, but Congress passed a 3-day bill to give the Senate time to vote on the new bill.

The bill for this fiscal year includes $20.9 billion in discretionary funding for the Agriculture Department. This is an increase of $350 million over the funding level for fiscal 2013. The bill also includes $8.2 billion for the EPA, up $299 million from the 2013 level.

Congress added language to the omnibus spending bill that makes it clear the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have the authority to regulate farms with fewer than 10 employees. Since 2011, OSHA has been inspecting grain bins on small farms and the agency says these inspections saved lives. But critics successfully argued regulatory overkill. Example: A farm in Nebraska faced fines totaling $132,000 after OSHA inspected the grain bins!

Other news from Washington:

  • The U.S. has notified the World Trade Organization that it spent $4.7 billion on amber box (trade-distorting) farm subsidies in 2011, 13 percent more than in 2010 but still well under the $19.1 billion cap on U.S. amber box subsidies under WTO rules. The breakout: Subsidies for dairy accounted for $3.2 billion; subsidies for sugar totaled $1.4 billion in the form of market price support. The U.S. spent $125 billion on green box (non-trade distorting) subsidies in 2011 - with most of that going to the food stamp program.
  • What Congress does with the Country of Origin Labeling issue also has potential international trade implications. President Obama will attend a NAFTA summit in February and the COOL issue will be high on the agenda. Governments in Canada and Mexico are criticizing the rules that USDA put in place last fall and the future of the COOL regulations are part of the ongoing farm bill debate in Congress. If the rules aren’t changed they will almost certainly be challenged at the WTO.


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