Iowa Congressional voting roundup: drought aid and other farm issues (updated)

The U.S. House responded to this year’s widespread drought by passing an agricultural disaster assistance bill yesterday with unanimous support from Iowa’s five representatives. However, not all the Iowans were enthusiastic about the effort.

Meanwhile, four of Iowa’s five House members voted against adjourning for the August recess yesterday, in large part because of unfinished work on a farm bill. Details on those and other House votes affecting the agricultural sector are after the jump.

H.R. 6233, the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act, passed by a narrow 223 to 197 margin yesterday. It would have failed without 35 Democratic supporters, including Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03). Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) were among the Republican yes votes.

I enclose the official reaction from each of Iowa’s representatives below. All bolded sections were emphasized in the original. Some statements were more upbeat than others about the potential benefits of the disaster aid bill. Loebsack offered the most negative assessment. Both Loebsack and Boswell alluded to similar legislation they co-introduced ten days ago.  

Each of Iowa’s House members underscored the need to pass a comprehensive farm bill before federal farm programs expire at the end of September. All five Iowa representatives co-signed a letter urging House leaders to bring up a farm bill before the August recess.

Braley Statement on Agriculture Disaster Program Extension

Legislation includes Protections for Crops and Livestock

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) released the following statement today after voting for a Republican-proposed extension of agriculture disaster programs to help farm and livestock producers suffering from the summer drought. The Agriculture Disaster Assistance Act extends several disaster relief programs from the 2008 Farm Bill that expired in the fall of 2011 and have not been renewed. The bill is similar to legislation first proposed by the five members of the Iowa delegation last week.

“The drought assistance bill passed today is a step forward for Iowa farmers struggling through this summer’s drought, but it’s no Farm Bill.

“It’s a shame that politicians in Congress are behaving like little children.  Instead of taking another recess to go out and play politics, Congress needs to grow up, act like adults, and get the job done.  Iowa farmers aren’t getting a recess from the drought and Congress shouldn’t get one either until the Farm Bill is passed.  Rather than take a month long break, Congress should get to work.”

The Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act will extend the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE), Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Disaster Forage Program (LFP), Tree Assistance Program (TAP), and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) temporarily through 2012.

Loebsack: Republicans Fail Iowa Farmers

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement today after the House voted on an insufficient agriculture disaster package instead of bringing up a bipartisan farm bill.  Loebsack has called on Congress to stay in session multiple times to get critical work done.    

“The worst case scenario came true for Iowa farmers – Republicans are playing politics and leaving early for their summer vacation while there is a historic drought gripping our state. The Republican Majority has refused to pass the single most important piece of legislation for Iowa Farmers – the farm bill.  While I was hoping it would not come to this point, I was afraid it would, which is why I led the delegation in introducing a disaster relief package for farmers and livestock producers.

“The bottom line is – we need a new farm bill and we need disaster aid.  There are bipartisan bills to do both in the House and Senate, but Republicans would rather play politics and pack up and leave for vacation a day early than do the difficult work of actually getting a reformed farm bill done. Unfortunately, today we were forced to take a vote on a bill that is dead on arrival in the Senate to give the Majority Members cover for their August vacation while Iowa farmers suffer and the fields whither.”

Boswell Statement on House Passing Agricultural Disaster Assistance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-3) spoke on the House floor during today’s vote on agricultural disaster assistance. The bill authorizes $383 million for supplemental agricultural disaster assistance for FY 2012 and offsets the cost of the assistance through changes and reductions to two conservation programs – Environmental Quality Incentives Programs (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

This vote comes after Boswell co-introduced similar disaster assistance legislation for farmers and livestock producers last month.

“I rise today on behalf of the farmers and producers in Iowa and in my district who are suffering because of the drought that continues to beat down on our land and live stock. While I am not one-hundred percent pleased with this bill, I will vote today to move it forward.  On behalf of my producers in need, for those who have been grappling for hay and who have begun to liquidate cattle, I will support this disaster aid bill. However, I do so with a heavy heart and the eternal optimism of a farmer,” Boswell said.

“As a cow-calf producer myself, I can tell you exactly what our farmers and ranchers across America want. They want a farm bill – a five-year farm bill that will provide long term certainty in a changing market with an uncontrollable climate.”

Boswell expressed frustration with cuts coming to important conservation programs, particularly since these programs have been one option to help feed cattle during drought emergencies. Last month, Boswell encouraged the USDA to open Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for emergency grazing and haying.

“We have heard time and time again in this House how uncertainty in the marketplace hinders job creation and economic growth,” Boswell continued. “Not passing a long-term farm bill is bringing uncertainty to family farms across Iowa and across the nation and this uncertainty must end. We must pass a five-year farm bill as soon as possible.”

A video of Boswell’s remarks can be viewed here.

U.S. HOUSE APPROVES LIVESTOCK DISASTER RELIEF MEASURE

LATHAM: “ACTION GIVES NEEDED CERTAINTY TO SUFFERING LIVESTOCK PRODUCERS”

Washington, Aug 2 – The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved disaster relief legislation Thursday to help America’s livestock producers hit hard by this summer’s drought. Thursday’s House passed measure retroactively extends the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) for the current budget year. The programs expired at the end of 2011 as part of an accounting gimmick in the nation’s current Farm Bill which was enacted in 2008.

Iowa Congressman Tom Latham hailed the measure as an important first step in needed action to bring relief and certainty to livestock producers.

“Iowa farmers are really hurting and feeling the pain of this year’s horrific drought,” said Latham Thursday in a speech supporting the relief measure on the House floor. “Rain and temperature forecasts for the future are not promising and conditions appear to be worsening every day. We’re at a critical point, and while Congress can’t legislate rain or temperatures we can certainly provide farmers the certainty that they need to address this disaster which is the worst to hit farming in decades.”

The legislation, which now requires a vote in the U.S. Senate before it can move forward, is a stop gap measure to provide immediate relief while work on a comprehensive new Farm Bill continues in Congress. Latham has expressed his great frustration with the gridlock that has hampered consideration of a new Farm Bill to replace the measure expiring at the end of September. In his floor statement on Thursday, Latham was very adamant that House leaders must move quickly on bringing the long-term farm policy measure up for consideration to give all of agriculture certainty for the future.

King: “The Votes are There” for House approval of the Farm Bill

King Supports Drought Relief; Re-emphasizes Need for Farm Bill

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Steve King released the following statement after voting in favor of legislation passed by the House to provide drought relief to agriculture producers hard hit by the severe, record dry spell affecting much of the country. In a statement submitted for floor debate of the measure, King noted that while the relief measure will be helpful, especially to Iowa’s livestock producers, the need for action on the Farm Bill is growing by the day.

“I am pleased that the House acted today to provide some assistance to those in our state’s and nation’s ag community who have been hit hard by this record drought,” said King. “I am troubled, though, that our leaders here in the House decided that this is all the legislative action that could be mustered to support the ag industry. I worked hard with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee to pass a bi-partisan Farm Bill out of the House Agriculture Committee. In the weeks since the Committee’s approval of the bill, I have been urging House leaders to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.”

“Conversations I’ve had with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle tell me that the votes are there to get the Farm Bill through the House and to Conference with the Senate. As I travel across the Fifth District during the August district work period to meet with farmers and producers, I will continue working with Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Peterson and my colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee to press for action on the Farm Bill. The agriculture community needs predictability.”

Although King asserts that “the votes are there” to pass a comprehensive farm bill, House Speaker John Boehner does not agree, according to Pete Kasperowicz’s report for The Hill.

Republicans settled for the one-year disaster relief bill after they were unable to bring up a multi-year farm bill before the August break, in part due to some GOP opposition to the cost of a longer-term bill. But Republicans also had trouble calling up the drought aid bill – they originally hoped to consider it under a suspension of the rules, but when it became clear that a two-thirds majority was not possible, they called it up under regular order.

Before the vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged that the divisions in the House stalled a full-fledged farm bill.

“I’ve made pretty clear that the House is pretty well divided,” he said. “You’ve got the left concerned about reductions in the food stamp program. You’ve got the right who don’t think the cuts go far enough in the food stamp program to bring it into … compliance with what the law has been. And frankly, I haven’t seen 218 votes in the middle to pass the farm bill.”

The Senate approved its version of the farm bill in late June, but I’ll be shocked if the House passes a new farm bill before the November election.

Meanwhile, House members rejected a resolution to adjourn yesterday for the remainder of August. King was among 78 Republicans who joined a united Democratic caucus against adjourning (roll call). Latham was one of the 150 Republicans to back the resolution to begin the August recess. I expect this vote to be mentioned in an attack ad against Latham, either by Boswell’s campaign or some outside group that is advertising in the IA-03 race.

Speaking of Latham and Boswell, last week the House approved by voice vote a bill Latham introduced to prevent any new Department of Labor regulations on youth farm labor. This bill was unnecessary, since the department withdrew its planned rules in April. All five Iowans in the U.S. House applauded that move. Only Senator Tom Harkin warned against walking away from “our obligation to protect vulnerable workers, especially children.”

In any event, Latham and Boswell both wanted Iowans to know that they were 100 percent behind this legislation. Here are the statements each representative released on July 24.

U.S. HOUSE APPROVES LATHAM’S LEGISLATION TO PROTECT IOWA FAMILY FARMS

GIVES CERTAINTY TO FAMILY FARMERS IN WAKE OF MISGUIDED REGULATORY OVERREACH BY WASHINGTON

Washington, Jul 24 – The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday approved bipartisan legislation authored and introduced by Iowa Congressman Tom Latham that blocks federal agencies from enacting regulations that threaten the ability of farm youth to work on operations owned by their families and threatens youth project activities centered around the FFA and 4-H programs nationwide.

“The family farm is one of Iowa’s most cherished traditions and a cornerstone of our culture and economy,” Congressman Latham said. “Growing up on our century family farm in Franklin County, Iowa, my brothers and I learned important life lessons about hard work, dedication and responsibility. We have to protect that tradition for the next generation of Iowans. I applaud the majority of my colleagues in the U.S. House for taking up my common-sense proposal to protect America’s family farms from this outrageous and misguided government intrusion.”

In response to a U.S. Department of Labor proposal that could have kept some farm youth off their family-owned operations and affected FFA and 4-H activities, Congressman Latham introduced the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act in March to stop the federal government from implementing any such proposal by restricting finalization of the rule.

Historically, family farms have been exempted from child labor rules, but concerns arose when the Department of Labor proposed a new rule that could have jeopardized that exclusion for operations that are partly owned by extended family members such as grandparents, aunts or uncles.  Such practices occur often in modern agriculture as families employ a variety of legal structures to remain financially viable.  

The Labor Department withdrew its proposal in the spring after a coalition of agricultural and farm youth organizations opposed the new rule, but the department’s decision is not a guarantee that the same, or a similar rule, won’t be proposed or attempted at a later date.  While Congressman Latham welcomed the decision to withdraw the proposal, he has continued to push his legislation as a means of giving Iowa family farmers greater certainty over concerns by citizens that possible regulation regarding the youth could still be pursued later.

Congressman Latham introduced the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act with Rep. Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat.  The legislation is the product of an effort by Congressman Latham to gain grassroots input from farm youth organizations such as FFA as well as a range of family farmers across Iowa.

The legislation has attracted support from many leading agricultural organizations.

“The National FFA Organization is pleased that the debate regarding on-farm youth labor has led to the passage of the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act,” said Kent Schescke of the National FFA Organization. “Many students of agriculture and FFA members across the country learn lifelong skills and lessons in hard work, character development and leadership by working on family farms and ranches. Through Rep. Latham’s leadership, student members of the FFA will continue to have access to these hands-on learning opportunities, and they will continue the time-honored tradition of experiential learning that develops their potential for leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”  

“NPPC thanks Rep. Latham for his leadership on the important issue of on-farm child labor,” said National Pork Producers Coalition President R.C. Hunt. “Farmers and ranchers, more than anyone, are concerned about the health and welfare of kids working on farms. Most men and women in agriculture today grew up working on farms as children. It was here that they learned invaluable lessons and the ethic of hard work. Rep. Latham’s common sense approach ensures youth in rural America will be protected and will continue to be allowed the opportunities to learn and work on farms.”

“Rather than preventing American youth from learning the ropes of food and fiber production from today’s farmers and ranchers, regulatory agencies should work with farmers and ranchers to ensure the rules on the books are workable,” said Iowa Cattlemen’s Association President Ross Havens. “Rules and regulations, including those related to America’s youth working on farms and ranches, need to ensure safe working conditions. But the original proposal simply goes too far. Cattlemen’s voices were heard when the rule was pulled. However, we need certainty. Our children should be allowed to garner a solid work ethic by participating in day-to-day farm chores. Congressman Latham is working to ensure commonsense prevails and out-of-touch agencies are prevented from turning the next generation of farmers and ranchers into couch potatoes.”

The proposal now awaits required consideration by members of the U.S. Senate.  Latham worked in March of this year with South Dakota Sen. John Thune to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.  The Senate version of Latham’s legislation, S.2221, currently lists 44 cosponsors including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley.  

“Family farms and ranches depend on young people to carry on the torch as the next leaders in the agricultural community,” Sen. Thune said. “The DOL threatened to deprive future farmers and ranchers of valuable experience and training opportunities by restricting their participation in normal agriculture related activities. I am pleased that the House has acted to support farmers and ranchers and I am committed to ensuring that this bill receives consideration in the Senate.”

Boswell Votes for Preserving America’s Family Farms Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-3) today voted in favor of H.R. 4157, the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act. The legislation codifies the Department of Labor’s decision earlier this year to not regulate youth working on family farms.

“I am proud that many of us joined a bipartisan effort earlier this year to tell the Secretary of Labor – through multiple letters – that this ruling is wrong. Fortunately, the Department did rescind this ruling so that the youth in our districts could continue to learn important lessons taking place in the most successful sector of our economy,” Boswell said.

“This bill will clarify the intention of Congress with respect to youth education on farms and it will prevent the Department of Labor from implementing or enforcing this very specific proposal. In codifying our intention and passing this bill, we will help all farmers gain access to education and retain their family’s traditions – two things that are critical in our changing society.”

Congressman Boswell’s floor statement in support of H.R. 4157 can be viewed here.

Loebsack also hailed the House approval of this bill:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today praised the passage of legislation that would stop the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) from finalizing the proposed rule that would limit the work children could perform on family farms.  When the rule was originally proposed earlier this year, Loebsack personally met with the DOL officials to urge them to review Iowans’ concerns while working to keep our children safe.  Shortly after the meeting, DOL withdrew the proposed rule.

“Iowa farmers have a long and proud history of feeding their neighbors, state, country and the world,” said Loebsack.  “I heard from family farmers earlier this year about the possible negative effects of the rule and personally urged the Department of Labor to not move forward with it.  I was pleased when the Department of Labor withdrew it.  Today’s bill takes another step to ensure Iowa’s way of life is protected.”

In addition to meeting with the DOL, Loebsack urged the Secretary of Labor to ensure Iowa farmers and families had the opportunity to be heard regarding these proposals and also urged the Department to reconsider the provisions relating to the parental exemption for children helping on the farm.  

Zama Coursen-Neff of Human Rights Watch provides some pertinent facts you won’t hear from any Iowan in the U.S. House.

The claims were just wrong: the proposed rules didn’t apply to family-owned or – operated farms and in any case, rural communities don’t depend on children being able to do jobs likely to injure and kill them. Children could still work on farms – they just couldn’t perform the most dangerous tasks. Job training shouldn’t require children to risk their health and their lives.

Child labor laws are already far more lax in agriculture than in any other sector. US law allows 16 and 17-year-olds to work on farms under hazardous conditions, while the minimum age elsewhere is 18. Kids under 14 can’t work at all, and those under 16 can work only three hours a day when school is in session. But on any farm, children can work at age 12, with no hourly limits outside of school hours. On a small farm kids of any age can work legally. This dangerous double standard between agriculture and other sectors is also discriminatory: 85 percent of farmworkers are Hispanic, and this group alone faces uniquely lower safety standards.

To make matters worse, existing regulations prohibiting hazardous farmwork for children are rarely if ever enforced. In 2010 the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department cited only three violations of agricultural hazardous orders, or 0.3 percent of the 1,064 hazardous occupation violations it found that year.

UPDATE: Senator Tom Harkin says the Senate won’t vote on the drought assistance bill until after the August recess. It sounds like the upper chamber will not support the funding approach in the House bill either.

“I think we let the House know that we’re not going to pay for disaster assistance by cutting conservation or other programs. The Budget Control Act gave us money. We have money in there for this disaster just like we did for Katrina and everything else,” Harkin says. Harkin says the Senate will make corrections to the funding for the relief bill after the August recess.

“There’s no reason for them to cut conservation or any other things like that to pay for this,” Harkin says. “And we’re not going to let them just sort of pass it and then go home, we’re going to be back here in September and try to fix it in September.” […]

“We obviously, we have to do some kind of continuing (budget) resolution to keep the government running after September 30th. I know there is some kind of tentative agreements for a six-month continuing resolution until next spring, however that’s kind of in flux. But something will have to be done in September to do that,” according to Harkin.

Harkin made his comments during his weekly conference call with reporters.

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