Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Weekend Roundup: Farm Bill 'Squash'

07/13/2012

Doc Gibson The twin bridges crossing the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi, into Vidalia, Louisiana. The Natchez paper reports on a strong broadband initiative in Vidalia.

A Politico headline reports that House Republican leaders "may squash farm bill." 

The bill got both Democratic and Republican votes in committee. But there has been no indication that the bill will be brought to the floor before the August recess. Speaker John Boehner says that "no decisions have been made" about when the Farm Bill will be brought forward. Jake Sherman reports:

Behind the scenes, the plan is far clearer.

The committee’s product won’t see the light of day. Instead, Republicans are likely to try to extend the current farm policy that they’ve consistently decried as broken. And they won’t even do it this month, GOP aides say — they’ll likely wait until September.

The reality is that GOP leaders are worried about a messy floor fight over divisive regional policies months before voters head to the ballot boxes. Odd couples could abound: The far left and far right would likely vote against the bill on the floor, the former thinking the bill cuts too much from food stamps, the latter insisting cuts aren’t deep enough. There’s also division over how much the government should be subsidizing the farm industry and whether it should control commodity prices. Arguing complex farm policy on the House floor in this political climate gives many Republican members pause.

If the House can’t pass a bill, then it would go into negotiations with the Senate with a weak negotiating stance.

•The worst tuberculosis outbreak in 20 years has been kept secret by state officials in Florida, the Palm Beach Post reports. There have been 13 deaths and 99 cases of the illness. 

A report on the outbreak was written in April, but it took an open records request from the paper to make the report public.

The report was written just nine days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott closed the hospital where tuberculosis cases have been treated for the past 60 years. 

• The European Union is seeking to encourage investment in broadband by ensuring financial returns on broadband infrastructure spending. 

"I want all industry players to receive the signal loud and clear—that they can invest profitably in the future connectivity of Europe, and compete on the basis of their investment," EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes told reporters.

• Add Postal Service reform to the number of issues that won't be resolved by Congress by the end of the year, the Washington Post reports

Ed O'Keefe writes that congressional aides and industry observers say the Postal Service bill won't make it to the House floor for a vote this year. The Senate passed a reform bill in April.

As a result, the Potsal Service will have to pay about $5.4 billion by September 30 to pre-fund future retiree health and insurance funds. The Postal Service hasn't paid last year's funding, so this means that the agency will lose $14 billion this fiscal year.

O'Keefe reports:

Even if the House and Senate strike a deal, it’s likely to leave USPS officials unhappy. For more than three years, postal leaders have pushed lawmakers to grant them full flexibility to set delivery schedules, postage rates and the location of postal retail outlets. But lawmakers do not seem eager to make significant changes in the midst of an economic downturn and election year.

Any delay “is potentially disastrous for the 8 million private sector workers whose jobs depend on the mail,” said Art Sackler, a leader of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group representing mailing industry firms. “This issue is critically important to the economy, and the House needs to have its voice heard.”

• Paramedics don't have the money to buy new drugs, so when supplies run low, they use medicines that are beyond their expiration date, the AP reports

• The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association is upset with a House vote that excludes E15 gas pumps from assistance under the farm bill, Dan Piller reports. And this has turned into a fight between the renewable fuels industry and Big Oil.

"All too often over the past year, the House seems more interested in carrying the water to protect Big Oil’s near monopoly on fuel than in providing American consumers with the freedom to choose their own fuel – perhaps a lower-cost ethanol blend – at the pump,” said Monte Shaw, executive director ofthe Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

New York Times writer Matthew Wald, meanwhile, visits with Scott Zaremba, a Lawrence, Kansas, Phillips 66 station owner who is the first in the nation to offer E15 gas. (Currently, all gas contains 10 percent ethanol; E15 has 15 percent ethanol.)

Contrary to the House, Zaremba says, “I’m a firm believer that we have to do something. You can’t just sit there. Being in the Midwest, offering renewables from ethanol and biodiesel fuel are just a natural fit for us.” 

• The National Journal notes that President Obama is sinking to historic lows among white men without a college education — or, at least, lower than for any Democratic nominee since 1980. 

New polls find that Obama is supported by about three out of ten of these voters. 

Louisiana is about to announce hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in Medicaid. 

The Hill sees the Montana Senate race as possibly determining control of the upper chamber. 

Incumbent Democrat Jon Tester is running against the state's lone House member, Denny Rehberg. Rehberg has been running as a "centrist," according to the Hill, but he is managing a bill that would have serious cuts to spending on job training, health and education. Democrats contend a vote on this bill is being delayed in order to help Rehberg.

“Congressman Dennis Rehberg gutted Head Start, Job Corps, Pell Grants, community health clinics, and he voted to disrupt Medicare services for 26,000 Montanans,” Tester campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy said this week.  “If the congressman delays his bill, he's once again putting his own long political career ahead of Montana.”

• A report from the National Governors Association says that to create jobs, states need to encourage startup companies and cultivate entrepreneurs. Paul Hammel of the Omaha World-Herald reports:

The report details 12 actions states can take to grow the economy, such as creating a “more competitive tax environment” and encouraging “clusters” of innovative companies.

Among the main recommendations were to “put entrepreneurial activity at the top of the state's economic agenda,” and step up efforts to encourage growth of small and startup businesses.

Startup businesses, the report said, account for most of the job growth in the U.S., but the rate of new business startups has been declining since the 1980s.

• The Vidalia (Louisiana) Broadband Initiative aims to connect every home with extremely fast fiber optic Internet connection. The Natchez Democrat reports on this home-grown project that is just about complete. 

• The Daily Yonder carried a report late last year about a rural community college that helps its students learn the financial skills they need to stay in school.  Now MDC Inc. reports in detail. You can get it here