By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Members of the House Agriculture Committee voted late Wednesday to advance a farm bill that would cut projected spending for farm programs and nutrition programs by an estimated $39.7 billion over 10 years.
The bill advanced on a vote of 36-10. Opposition broke down to eight Democrats and two Republicans.
As in the Senate, it was deja vu all over again. The House Agriculture Committee had passed a nearly identical farm bill last July that had failed to get a floor debate during an election year.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., expressed confidence in the bill, given bipartisan support coming out of the committee. He said he expects the legislation would see a floor debate in June.
"I like to think we have a well-balanced bill and that we can draw from all sides," Lucas said. "The extremes will never support us, but I think we have enough of a coalition."
Lucas also praised his "wingman," committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. The bill got 13 votes from Democrats despite $20.5 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. Peterson said a majority of Democrats voting to move the bill out of committee should carry some weight with his fellow party members to garner support on the floor.
Part of the ability to pass the bill may come down to the rules for debating it on the floor. Peterson said the bill needs a rule that would manage the number of amendments that can be brought and debated on the floor. "Otherwise it would just be chaos and you would have 600 amendments to deal with," Peterson said. He added, "There has to be some limitations."
The bill is estimated to cost $940 billion over 10 years. The bill would reduce baseline spending by $33.3 billion. Adding in the $6.4 billion in sequester cuts, the House version would reduce spending by $39.7 billion over the next decade.
The committee had spent most of the day sifting through proposed amendments to the bill's 12 titles.
For dairy producers, the committee defeated an attempt to rework the dairy program. The farm bill would retool dairy programs with a new margin insurance and market supply-management program.
In nutrition, the agriculture committee stuck to cutting $20.5 billion from nutrition despite an aggressive push from some Democrats on the committee to avoid any cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
For organic promoters, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, got an amendment passed that would allow USDA to create an organic checkoff program. Critics questioned how a checkoff program would work that doesn't promote a single, particular commodity. They also argued whether organic backers could promote organic products without criticizing conventional agriculture. Still, eight Republicans joined with Democrats to back the provision. Schrader noted organic production represents a market of more than $35 billion.
"The American consumer understands what organic means to them," Schrader said.
In livestock production, lawmakers voted to repeal a livestock marketing provision from 2008 known as the GIPSA rule that proved to be a controversial attempt to rewrite the rules of the Packers & Stockyards Act. Congressmen argued USDA overreached when the department crafted the rule, which would have affected the ability of producers to continue long-term marketing contracts.
"I'm going to support this amendment because the department overreached" Peterson said. "They deserve it."
The committee also voted to block states from implementing laws that would restrict production or sale of agricultural products from other states. Sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the bill mirrored language King offered last year. The provision largely targets the cage-size referendum in California that would restrict egg sales from other states that do not meet the same standards.
"It protects the production of our agricultural products," King said.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., argued King's amendment was out of order and superseded the rights of states. After a protracted debate, a competing amendment by Denham failed while King's language was adopted by a voice vote.
In another long debate, the committee voted to end catfish inspections by USDA with supporters of the amendment arguing FDA already inspects imported catfish and the USDA program is largely duplicative. The amendment was adopted in a 31-15 vote.
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
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