The House Agriculture Committee Wednesday kicked off mark-up on their version of the 2013 Farm Bill, leaving the bill largely intact through 10 hours of debate.
Chairman Frank Lucas began the session at 10 a.m. Eastern, and was able to move through the first four titles and some of the fifth before adjourning briefly at 3 p.m. The Committee returned at 6:30 p.m. Eastern to resume debate, which continued until 11:45 p.m.
Though many amendments were either withdrawn or voted down, several garnered more than fifteen minutes of discussion each. Hot topics, as expected, were dairy policy reforms, restoring cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, catfish inspection and interstate commerce.
Wild cards included late-night discussion regarding ability of organic products to have a checkoff program and labeling and quality standards of imported olive oil.
Under the commodity title, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., proposed to eliminate the Dairy Market Stabilization component from the Dairy Security Act in the Farm Bill.
Dairy processing organizations have led the charge behind eliminating the DMSP and retaining standalone margin insurance for dairy farmers, though the National Milk Producers Association stands counter to that proposal.
Representatives spoke on Goodlatte's amendment for nearly an hour, with some concerned that the DMSP program would stifle exports and eliminate growth in the dairy sector. Despite the arguments, Goodlatte's amendment failed 20-26 via roll call vote.
Also in the commodity title, Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, proposed an amendment to eliminate target prices, which was withdrawn in favor of floor discussion.
In the nutrition title, Committee members spent more than an hour debating an amendment from Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., proposing to restore the nearly $20B in cuts to SNAP, ultimately voting the amendment down in a 17-27 vote.
The discussion, lively at times, yielded a range of reactions but Committee members largely agreed the issue was a touchy subject.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., said the cuts should have been examined at a hearing for a more in-depth look at all of the issues and unintended consequences.
"These cuts aren't based on info on what is good but more or less trying to get a figure for deficit reform on the backs of the people that need our help," Scott said.
Contrary to Scott's comments, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., questioned rising SNAP enrollment but falling poverty levels and unemployment.
Moving on to the second half of debate, legislators considered rural development, crop insurance and miscellaneous amendments.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., offered amendment 76, the Organic Promotion Order, to allow for the creation of a checkoff program in the future for organic products. Though the amendment faced considerable opposition from Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, it was eventually approved by a vote of 29-17.
Legislators also discussed an interstate commerce amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for more than an hour. The amendment, which would ultimately nullify laws set by other states regarding how products are manufactured and create a "level playing field" for interstate commerce, passed via voice vote.
However, full passage did not come until after California Rep. Jeff Denham offered a secondary amendment challenging King's first amendment, which failed 13-33.
Olive oil was a hot topic as well during second round discussion. An amendment to prohibit imported olive oil from essentially being added to a list of products that require rebranding to U.S. standards was voted down.
Though the heated discussions regarding SNAP, dairy policy and interstate commerce took center stage, Committee members did approve a series of amendments en bloc, which accounted for approximately one-quarter of the amendments offered to the bill.
Among them, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Rodney Davis, R-Ill. and Bob Gibbs signaled support for greater oversight on the Environmental Protection Agency as related to agriculture.
Specifically, Davis had two amendments in the en bloc – one to rein in EPA oversight of seeds treated with pesticides, which he said are already regulated by USDA, and another to ensure USDA works more closely with the EPA.
Gibbs' amendment mandated that EPA, USDA and other federal agencies many not release any personal information of participants enrolled in Title I and Title II programs of the Farm Bill.
"This should be a no-brainer," Gibbs noted. "These farmers have done nothing wrong and yet their personal information, emails, phone numbers and addresses are being disseminated to groups who are opposed to their livelihood."
Also in the package were amendments to eliminate loopholes in the SNAP program, improve river infrastructure to mitigate drought and flooding effects, and create a study to examine the long-term effectiveness of certain Farm Bill programs.
Representatives also approved a measure to eliminate what some legislators called a "duplicative" catfish inspection program and a measure that would support rural technical and community colleges.
Also approved was an amendment to repeal USDA's Grain Inspectors, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule. Legislators did not consider amendments regarding Country of Origin Labeling.