Sugar and Ag Subsidy Debates

Amendments to Farm Bill Would Take on Sugar Program and Phase Out Farm Subsidies

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
The House has started floor debate of the farm bill and some amendments that will come up Thursday in debate could affect sugar farmers and all commodity subsidies.

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Crop insurance and overall farm subsidies will face a challenge from one amendment on the House floor after proposed amendments to the bill were thinned out Wednesday evening.

The amendment affecting crop insurance that was made in order was a broad one introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., that would phase out agricultural subsidies. Yet another amendment will seek to overhaul the sugar program.

The Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau late Wednesday sent out a letter signed by 418 organizations asking Congress to do no harm to crop insurance. The CIRB petition "asks Members of Congress to oppose harmful amendments to crop insurance, including those that would reduce participation in crop insurance, make insurance more expensive for farmers during a time of economic downturn in agriculture, or harm private-sector delivery."

The House is expected to resume debate on the farm bill and its amendments at about noon Thursday and to vote on final passage of the bill on Friday.

On Wednesday evening, the House Rules Committee agreed to a list of amendments that will be considered in addition to the 20 relatively noncontroversial amendments that were approved Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the House began general debate on the bill and considered and passed several relatively noncontroversial amendments by voice vote.

The House Republican leadership and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, still appear to be trying to round up enough Republican votes to pass the bill. No Democrat is expected to vote for the bill, while a few Republican moderates are expected to oppose it due to changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Hard-line conservatives say the SNAP changes are not strict enough and the bill is too generous to farmers, particularly big farmers.

Conaway enthusiastically introduced the bill on the floor while ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., rose in opposition, saying the bill fails both farmers and consumers.

The rules and the amendments and whether they have been made in order may be found on the House Rules Committee website.

The most controversial amendment to be considered is likely to be the one sponsored by Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Danny Davis, D-Ill., to make changes to the sugar program. Foxx told reporters she believes she has the support to pass the amendment, Politico reported.

The Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, backed by candy companies and other industrial-scale users of sugar, said, "We are encouraged by the groundswell of bipartisan support in Congress and among a broad coalition of small businesses and organizations of all stripes for modernizing the outdated sugar program. This level of support for sugar reform is unprecedented. Now it's time for the House to say yes to fairness, yes to competitiveness, and yes to protecting and creating American jobs."

But the battle with the sugar growers continued.

Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, said in an email, "It is unfortunate that an elected official of the United States of America would ever feel enthusiasm about the prospect of bankrupting U.S. farmers and sending U.S. workers to the unemployment line. Of course, the authors of the five failed sugar amendments during the last farm bill expressed their 'enthusiasm' on the eve of votes, too, and their colleagues defeated those amendments in bipartisan manner. We are hopeful that Rep. Foxx's scheme to outsource U.S. sugar jobs to subsidized foreign industries will be likewise rejected. The choice for lawmakers is easy: If you support America's farmers, you will vote no on Foxx's anti-farmer amendment."

The Rules Committee did not agree to allow consideration of some of the more controversial amendments, such as forbidding the use of SNAP benefits to buy sweetened beverages or removing the classification of hemp as marijuana.

An amendment to restrict commodity checkoff programs offered by Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., was made in order, and a large coalition of farm groups issued a letter opposing it.

An amendment by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ga., would keep the Conservation Reserve Program cap at 24 million acres. The bill coming out of committee raises the cap to 29 million acres.

An amendment co-signed by several Republicans would again repeal the 2015 waters of the U.S. rule by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. The rule is being repealed by EPA, but facing litigation from environmental groups and states that defend the 2015 rule.

Another amendment that will be up for a vote would prohibit federal interference with interstate traffic of unpasteurized milk and milk products between states.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@njdc.com

Follow Jerry Hagstrom on Twitter @hagstromreport

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Jerry Hagstrom