House Ag Committee Completes Farm Bill

The House Ag Committee wasn't able to finish its farm bill markup quite as quickly as its Senate counterpart did on Tuesday. Still - Chairman Frank Lucas was pleased with the progress made when the committee had to break Wednesday afternoon for a Republican meeting and votes - and expressed confidence they would finish their work Wednesday night. He was right. The committee finished the credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance and miscellaneous titles and finally approved the 2013 farm bill by a vote of 36 to 10.

Ahead of the break - the committee passed the en bloc amendment by unanimous voice vote and closed the commodity, conservation, trade and nutrition titles of the bill. The committee rejected a dairy amendment offered by Representatives Bob Goodlatte and David Scott as a substitute for the underlying dairy program proposed by Ranking Member Collin Peterson. Goodlatte and Scott argued that the underlying measure amounts to supply management. The amendment was rejected 20 to 26. Amendments to reduce reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage Program and to change the sugar program were withdrawn.

Jim McGovern of Massachusetts offered an amendment to strike the 20.5-billion dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It was defeated 17 to 27. The vote followed a lengthy and emotional debate - with some vowing they would continue the fight on the House floor if the cuts remained in the bill. Texas Representative Randy Neugebauer wanted to make even deeper cuts in food stamps - but that amendment was rejected on a voice vote. Other related amendments were also rejected - including one to lower the amount of low-income energy assistance states would have to provide to people in order for them to qualify for food stamps and one that said SNAP cuts wouldn't take place until the rates of fraud, waste and abuse in the crop insurance program are equal to or less than those rates of fraud, waste and abuse in SNAP.

Once the Committee returned from the break - a measure to allow USDA to develop a process to establish an organic checkoff for promotion was approved. A similar measure is included in the Senate version of the farm bill. The vote was 29 to 17 - though Chairman Lucas opposed the measure because it would be on a process rather than a product. An amendment that repeals the section of the 2008 Farm Bill directing USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration to address practices by meatpackers and poultry companies that farmers and ranchers said were hurting them was also approved. Even though he put the provision in the 2008 measure - Ranking Member Peterson supported the repeal.

The committee passed an amendment that would make it illegal for a state to restrict sales of products based on production standards by voice vote. The amendment is aimed at standards on eggs sold in California following a state initiative that sets cage sizes for egg-laying chickens. California Representative Jeff Denham opposed the proposal - sponsored by Iowa's Steve King - arguing it would affect more than 150 laws in other states. Vicki Hartzler won enough support to repeal the provision in the 2008 Farm Bill to move inspection of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to USDA. Chairman Lucas opposed the amendment - but the vote was 31 to 15.

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