Legislative Action News, November 20, 2012

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Congress Returns for Lame Duck Session
By Stephen Frerichs

Following the election, members of Congress returned to Washington last week to start the final weeks of the 112th Congress.  While the press focused on upcoming negotiations to resolve the pending “fiscal cliff,” for most members last week was devoted to leadership elections and incoming congressional member orientations. Congress is not in session this week due to Thanksgiving but will return the week of the 26th. How long Congress remains in session will depend greatly on how quickly a deal comes together around the fiscal cliff.

The farm bill’s fate should be decided soon — hopefully. So far no decision has been made but several Senators and Congressmen are suggesting that the farm bill could be part of any final deal revolving around the fiscal cliff because of the savings generated by it.  Because the fiscal cliff discussions will include entitlement reform and the farm bill encompasses entitlement spending (farm and conservation programs, crop insurance and nutrition) its fate is tied up in any potential deficit reduction resolution. 

EPA Rejects Petitions to Waive Renewable Fuels Standard
By Stephen Frerichs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week that the agency has not found evidence to support a finding of severe “economic harm” that would warrant granting a waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). The decision is based on economic analyses and modeling done in conjunction with the USDA and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

In a statement the EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation said: “We recognize that this year’s drought has created hardship in some sectors of the economy, particularly for livestock producers. But our extensive analysis makes clear that Congressional requirements for a waiver have not been met and that waiving the RFS will have little, if any, impact.”

To support the waiver decision, EPA conducted several economic analyses. Economic analyses of impacts in the agricultural sector, conducted with USDA, showed that on average waiving the mandate would only reduce corn prices by approximately one percent. Economic analyses of impacts in the energy sector, conducted with DOE, showed that waiving the mandate would not impact household energy costs.

USDA Analyzes Impacts of Direct Payment Elimination
By Stephen Frerichs

The Economic Research Service (ERS) released a report detailing the impact of the elimination of the direct payment program to farm revenue and farmland values.  Both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill would eliminate the direct payment program. Overall, the analysis suggests that an abrupt end to the direct payment program could reduce the number of farms with a favorable financial status (profitable farms having relatively low debt burdens) by about 11,000 nationally, or about 2 percent of farms that received direct payments in 2009. The estimated effect varies regionally and is more pronounced in the Delta and Southeast regions, where direct payments per farm tend to be higher, on average, than elsewhere.  You can find the full report here: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib103.aspx 

Agriculture Committee Changes in the 113th Congress
By Stephen Frerichs

Following the mid-term election in 2010, the Agriculture Committees ended up with new Chairs and new Ranking Members. Nothing so dramatic will occur after the 2012 election. In the Senate, Senator Stabenow (D-MI) won re-election and will continue to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee as the Democrats added 2 seats to their majority.  For now Senator Roberts (R-KS) appears to remain the ranking member on the Committee. A wild card is whether Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) will step down from the ranking member position on the Senate Appropriations Committee or get a waiver from the term limits for that position. If forced to step down, it would be possible for Senator Cochran to reclaim the top Republican position on the Agriculture Committee if he were inclined as he has seniority over Senator Roberts on the Agriculture Committee. 

Assuming the ratio stays the same on the Senate Agriculture Committee (11 Democrats to 10 Republicans) and sitting members return, there will be two vacancies on the Democrat’s side.  Senators Conrad (D-ND) and Nelson (D-NE) both retired and did not run for reelection. Senators Brown (D-OH), Casey (D-PA), Klobuchar (D-MN) and Gillibrand (D-NY) all won reelection. There will be one Republican vacancy. Senator Lugar (R-IN) was defeated in the primary. No other Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee were up for reelection in 2012.

Congressman Lucas (R-OK) returns as House Agriculture Committee Chairman and Congressman Peterson (D-MN) returns as Ranking Member. Four members of the House Agriculture Committee were defeated on Election Day – commodity and crop insurance subcommittee ranking member Leonard Boswell (D-IA), nutrition and horticulture subcommittee ranking member Joe Baca (D-CA), Bobby Schilling (R-IL), and Larry Kissell (D-NC). Congressman Mike McIntyre’s (D-NC) race against David Rouser was officially called on November 16th. Congressman McIntyre won by roughly 700 votes.  His opponent has until November 20 to request a recount. Assuming the result stands, Representative McIntyre will be the second most senior Democrat on the Committee as 4 out of the top 6 Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee are not returning (Holden–PA, Boswell-IA, Baca-CA and Cardoza-CA).  In total, there are 3 Republican and 5 Democrat vacancies on the House Agriculture Committee assuming the ratio (26 to 20) stays the same and sitting members return.

Consumer Group Supports ASFMRA-AI Request for AMC Fee Disclosure
By Bill Garber

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition announced Nov. 6 that it has joined the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and the Appraisal Institute in an effort to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to separate the appraisal fee from the appraisal management company fee on mortgage disclosure forms.

The joint comment letter urged the CFPB to require “disclosure of AMC fees separate and apart from the fees paid to a professional appraiser for appraisal services when AMCs are used by banks and financial institutions.”

Under the proposed rule, the disclosure of AMC fees is only optional — despite clear authorization under the Dodd-Frank Act to require such disclosure. This situation can be perceived as a conflict of interest since lenders provide instructions to settlement agents relating to the fees to disclose. The groups note that “this is likely to result in inconsistency in disclosure of AMC fees, with some lenders listing only an appraisal fee and others listing both an appraisal and an AMC fee without any explanation. We believe this will confuse consumers, rather than empower them to make rational and responsible decisions.”

Read the comment letter: http://www.appraisalinstitute.org/newsadvocacy/downloads/ltrs_tstmny/2012/consumer-disclosure-industry-letter-2012.pdf

Don’t look for a five-year farm bill in Dec
Kiplinger Agriculture Letter

Don’t look for a five-year farm bill in Dec. as lawmakers slog through a brief lame-duck session. Instead, budget and tax items will eat up the clock.

But expect these ag changes by year-end: A fix to put farm programs back on track… because, with the recent lapse of the ’08 farm bill, the ag programs of ’49 are now the law, forcing USDA to pay exorbitant farm supports unless Congress acts.
Log in to Member Resources to read more: http://portal.asfmra.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=27&Time=820983562&SessionID=62057594yhofx712z58m6ib178uofz4n8xa01t8fypx92ywdh85706r0j6bv566f&MenuKey=123

Now It’s $21,900/acre for Northwest Iowa Cropland
LandOwner Newsletter

You’ve probably read the story by now about that eye-popping $21,900-per-acre price paid Oct. 25 at a northwest county Iowa auction. Those following LandOwner on Twitter (@walstenm) or reading our blog (Your Precious Land at profarmer.com) caught the news before the headlines rippled across the land market. Login to Member Resources to download the latest issue: http://portal.asfmra.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=27&Time=820983562&SessionID=62057594yhofx712z58m6ib178uofz4n8xa01t8fypx92ywdh85706r0j6bv566f&MenuKey=123