Thursday Roundup: Postal Hunger Strike

Farm Bill amendments favor specialty crops • EPA overflights of farms will continue after inconclusive Senate votes • Protesters will begin hunger strike over Postal Service policies

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The Senate trudged ahead yesterday and this morning, weeding through a thicket of amendments proposed for the Farm Bill. The Senate expects to vote on the full bill after it deals with a final 10 amendments. 

Passing the Senate, however, is only half the ticket. And things are looking a bit dicey in the House.

The House Agriculture Committee announced this week that it will put off deliberation of the Farm Bill until after the July 4th recess. This came after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican, intervened. Politico reports

Cantor’s involvement is an ominous sign for farm bill advocates, but his aides insisted that the Virginia Republican was not saying “no” to any House farm bill this summer. Instead, they said the majority leader wanted to “push the pause button” and allow time for some assessment of the political situation.

Indeed, top House Republicans appear caught by surprise by the progress made in the Senate on its farm bill, having assumed it would collapse amid the typical partisan fighting. Instead a deal was reached Monday night allowing for orderly votes, and the measure has steadily advanced to a point where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) predicted passage will be completed Thursday.

The crop insurance industry suffered a series of setbacks in narrow votes Wednesday. But in both cases, the results add to the “reform” image boasted by proponents. And the bill now boasts over $24 billion in 10-year savings and on a 59-40 vote Wednesday, it rolled over a conservative attempt to recommit it to committee.

Lucas said the changed House schedule is driven too by the fact that floor debate is scheduled next week on a $19.4 billion Agriculture Department appropriations bill that touches on farm programs. After his meeting with Cantor, the chairman agreed that it made sense then to have his committee members on the floor in what could become a preview of the whole farm bill debate.

How has the amendment process in the Senate changed the Farm Bill? As usual, the most thorough rundown comes from Chris Clayton at DTN. See his story here. These are a few things that stand out to us:

° The Senate voted 66-33 to reduce the taxpayer share of crop insurance premium for farm businesses with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income. This will save $1.1 billion over ten years.

° The bill was amended in several ways to promote specialty crops

For example, federal law had prohibited farmers who get direct payments from also growing fruits and vegetables for sale. With the demise of direct payments, this prohibition will go away. And the Farm Bill will have more money for specialty crop research and promotion.

“This is a strong farm bill for specialty crops,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group of fruit and vegetable growers.

° The Senate voted 52-47 to require farmers who receive insurance premium subsidies to meet conservation compliance rules.

° Thursday morning, the Senate took two votes on the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of airplanes to monitor runoff from feedlots and other agriculture operations.

The use of flyovers has ticked off farmers and feedlot owners, who find it intrusive and big-brotherish. The EPA says it is a cheap and efficient way of finding violations of clean water laws.

The Senate votes were inconclusive. The Senate tied 47-47 on an amendment from Sen. Barbara Boxer of California that would allow the flights. And the Senate voted 56 to 43 in favor of an amendment from Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska that would ban the flights. Since these amendments would require 60 votes to pass, both amendments failed. Presumably, the EPA flights will continue.

° Thursday morning, the Senate voted 73 to 26 against an amendment that would have required food labels to say if any ingredients contained genetically modified foods. The amendment was offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

•Also in the Farm Bill is a large increase in USDA’s annual appropriation for rural broadband.

Funding will jump from $25 million to $50 million, the National Journal reports

• The Senate voted 53-46 on Wednesday to defeat Sen. James Inhofe’s resolution that would have prevented new limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The Oklahoma Republican’s resolution was really a vote on claims that the Obama administration was waging a “war on coal.”  This has been a consistent theme of those opposing new coal regulations and by Republicans over the last several years. Two stories down, on the front page of the Daily Yonder, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, responds to the “war on coal” rhetoric

• A judge has ruled that Arch Coal engaged in “blatant discrimination” against a Kentucky coal miner who spoke out about unsafe conditions at his mine. The federal administrative law judge ordered an Arch subsidiary to reinstate Scott Howard and pay a $30,000 penalty. 

What did Howard do? The Lexington Herald-Leader’s editorial page explains:

Howard’s offense? The year after faulty mine seals contributed to fatal explosions that killed 17 miners, he showed a video of faulty seals at the Cumberland River Coal mine where he worked. Howard shared the video at a public hearing on mine safety after he and co-workers informed company management of the danger.

In a business that’s famous for brutally stifling dissent, Howard, who lives in Letcher County, testified before Congress. He reported to regulators underground hazards, such as blocked escape routes and insufficient ventilation, which resulted in federal citations against the Arch subsidiary.

Howard had waged a successful legal battle against Arch’s attempts to fire him, until, working alone in an Arch mine two years ago, he was struck in the head and suffered brain trauma.

Although he recovered from that injury, company e-mails make it clear Arch and its subsidiary really did not want Howard back, and he was fired again. The judge said there was “open hostility” toward him.

Howard’s hard-won battle is a victory for his fellow miners (even if they are afraid to celebrate publicly).

• A Consumer Reports survey finds that 86 percent of Americans want meat raised without antibiotics to be sold at their local markets. Shoppers from Consumer Reports, however, found that in several large grocery store chains that they could not locate meat raised without antibiotics.

More than a third of shoppers (37 percent) said they would be willing to pay an extra dollar a pound for meat raised without antibiotics; 60 percent said they would pay at least five cents a pound more. 

• People protesting cuts in the Postal Service will stage a four-day hunger strike in Washington, D.C. next week, Save The Post Office reports.

The notion is to call attention to the gradual demise of the Postal Service — in this case, an end to overnight delivery for about 20 percent of First Class mail. Over 400 community groups, citizens and postal workers have endorsed the strike. 

 

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