Skip to content Skip to navigation

Federal News

Racehorses, rum, honeybees: The surprises in the budget bill

Politico | Posted on February 13, 2018

Doctors. Honeybees. A small Christian college in Kentucky. Racehorses. The rum industry. The Federal Reserve. Livestock producers. Advocates of nuclear energy. Critics of the federal budget process. They all got a piece of the massive budget bill. Born of bipartisanship and propelled by a “must-pass” urgency, the measure, which includes disaster relief and stopgap spending, has been loaded up with little-noticed deals for lawmakers’ favorite causes. The list includes:The revival of tax credits for maintaining short-distance railroad tracks that feed long-haul routes, tax breaks for producing rum and write-downs for racehorses and auto-racing venues. Renewal of a tax deduction for mortgage insurance and a tax credit for miner rescue teams.A win for the American Medical Association and other doctor groups, who persuaded senators to drop a provision that would have let the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shift Medicare money from high-paying specialties to more primary care services or implement an across-the-board cut. Two provisions that appear aimed at protecting colleges in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state. One would shield Berea College, a small Christian college that serves low-income students, from a new tax on wealthy university endowments by exempting schools that don't charge tuition. Another is narrowly crafted student default language that appears to apply only to Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College.In the disaster aid portion of the bill, forgiveness of loans made to four historically black colleges and universities in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.A provision secured by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to remove a $125,000 cap on payments to livestock producers under the Livestock Indemnity Program and to expand it to cover animals sold at a lower price in the event of a natural disaster.A $20 million annual cap on the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish program that would be lifted.

Winners and Losers in the Trump Budget in One Chart

Roll Call | Posted on February 13, 2018

The Trump administration submitted its fiscal 2019 budget request to Capitol Hill on Monday, outlining the president’s priorities for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.  Roll Call analyzed the documents and put together the following graphic on the departmental winners and losers in the proposed budget The agriculture budget loses more than 15%.  About the same level as defense gains.

What’s Hidden in the Senate Spending Bill?

The New York Times | Posted on February 12, 2018

Tucked into the Senate budget bill are a host of provisions that help a broad array of industries and sectors, including energy, health care and education, through increased spending and tax credits. The Senate deal would raise strict spending caps on domestic and military spending in this fiscal year and the next by about $300 billion. It would also lift the federal debt limit until March 2019 and provide nearly $90 billion in disaster relief to deal with last year’s fires and hurricanes.It also includes a series of unexpected spending increases, including restoring some provisions that were jettisoned from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax package. And the bill includes an extension of 48 different tax credits that expired at the end of 2016, including several incentives meant to help particular sectors like mining and horse racing.

Cruz scapegoating the renewable fuels standard

My San Antonio | Posted on February 12, 2018

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently took to the Senate floor to object to a unanimous consent agreement that would have allowed a confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s choice to be USDA’s undersecretary for farm production and conservation, a critical post as Congress begins deliberations on the farm bill’s reauthorization. Cruz objected to the motion, not because he thinks Bill Northey is not qualified for the position; he agrees Northey is a terrific person, but because he wants to use the leverage of holding up Northey to force changes to an energy program completely unrelated to USDA.He wants to see changes to the Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, a program requiring refiners to blend an increasing amount of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel into gasoline that is enforced by EPA, not USDA.

Health insurance is a make-or-break issue for farmers

Politico | Posted on February 12, 2018

Almost two thirds of commercial farmers say the cost of health insurance poses the biggest threat to their livelihoods — bigger even than land costs or market pressures, according to a new study. Most farmers viewed insurance as a must-have in a dangerous occupation where a single accident could be catastrophic. But the study found that while most went to great lengths to get insurance, they cobbled it together with great difficulty.“We really would love it if we didn’t have to worry about me having a full-time job for insurance so that we could just farm and ranch,” one rancher who commuted to a full-time job 45 minutes away told researchers. "You’d get more done so you’re not doing everything in the dark at 11 o’clock at night. I’m a believer that my family would have been a little better off if I was just working part time.” Thirty-eight percent of farmers surveyed rely on public health insurance plans including Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare.


Congress outlines details of dairy, cotton provisions in budget deal

Politico | Posted on February 12, 2018

The budget deal unveiled by congressional leaders late Wednesday would authorize more than $1 billion in spending on farm bill programs for dairy farmers and $3 billion for cotton growers over the next decade. The cost of making seed cotton eligible for commodity supports, including Price Loss Coverage, would mostly be offset by eliminating other programs in the farm bill that specifically benefit cotton. The dairy provisions, which would make changes to the Margin Protection Program — such as lowering premiums for small- and medium-sized producers — would not be offset, however. The two-year budget agreement, H.R. 1892 (115), also includes $2.3 billion in ad hoc disaster funding for farmers and ranchers from California to Florida who suffered losses as a result of wildfires and hurricanes last year.The spending package would make changes to USDA disaster programs, as well. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) secured a provision to remove a $125,000 cap on payments to producers under the Livestock Indemnity Program and to expand it to cover animals sold at a lower price in the event of a natural disaster. Under current law, only mortality is covered. The changes would be retroactive to 2017. A $20 million annual cap on the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish program also would be lifted.


The FCC considers reducing the minimum speed for broadband

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 8, 2018

But those speeds are not readily available in rural areas. The FCC is actually considering reducing the standard, which critics say may make the rural digital divide disappear on paper, but not in real life. Rural residents have few choices of internet service providers – or none at all. They pay higher prices for lower quality service, despite earning less than urban dwellers.A related issue is that fewer rural Americans are online: 39 percent of rural Americanslack home broadband access – in contrast to only 4 percent of urban Americans. And 69 percent of rural Americans use the internet, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. That means less participation in the culture, society, politics and economic activity of the 21st century.

Why the Bundy crew keeps winning in court

High Country News | Posted on February 8, 2018

Last week a Las Vegas jury acquitted two men — Ricky Lovelien of Montana and Steven Stewart of Idaho — for their parts in the 2014 armed standoff between the federal government and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy. The jury found co-defendants Eric Parker and Scott Drexler not guilty of most charges but deadlocked on some. When it comes to trying the Bundys and their supporters, federal prosecutors now have a terrible record, winning just two convictions after two trials of six defendants in Nevada this year. Last fall, Bundy’s sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and five others were acquitted for leading an armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016. The recent acquittals in the Nevada case raise big questions for prosecutors. Some legal experts say the nation’s current political climate, characterized by distrust of federal authorities, may help explain the acquittals. In some ways, the government itself, alongside the defendants, went on trial in the Las Vegas courtroom. Many outside observers assumed the Bundys or their armed supporters would get prison time. Even friends of Bundy and other ranchers with similar disdain for federal land agencies told me in 2014 they thought the Clark County rancher had gone too far. But the Bunkerville trials have revealed the depths of Americans’ distrust in federal authority. The recent verdict was not a result of jurors’ sympathy for the Bundys, Lovelien’s attorney, Shawn Perez, concluded after speaking with them after the trial. “I think most of the jurors thought (Cliven) Bundy is an idiot for not paying the grazing fees,” he says. Instead, Perez credits the prosecutors’ failure to prove their case, as well as their overreaching tactics during the trial. “This is not a rogue jury. It is a failure of truth on the part of the government.”

Montana legislators again push for FSIS investigation

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on February 8, 2018

A state congressional delegation from Montana has sent a second request to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service asking for an investigation into the actions of federal inspectors overseeing meat plants in that state.   The lawmakers first sent a letter in December to the agency’s Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong expressing concern that small meat processors in the state were “intimidated, coerced and tormented” by federal inspectors in incidences dating back to 2005.  The stories detail complaints that a Butte, Mont., processor and others made about a federal inspector who routinely required expensive upgrades that were not required by federal regulation, and allegedly issued unfounded non-compliance reports in retaliation for complaints made to the agency.

The USDA predicts a 12-Year Low in Farm Profits

Pacific Standard | Posted on February 8, 2018

Lackluster crop prices and signs of stress for agriculture have continued in 2018, as the United States Department of Agriculture predicts net U.S. farm profits to hit a 12-year low, according to a new report.

The first USDA Farm Income Forecast of 2018, released on Wednesday, predicts a 6.7 percent decline in net farm income, in addition to the lowest average of net cash farm income since 2011.

The 2018 net farm income is predicted to reach $59.5 billion, a $4.3 billion decrease from 2017. That figure would mark the lowest since 2006, and a 50-plus percent decrease from the 2013 net income of $123.8 billion.