King: Farm bill a good one for farmers
Although he sees the 2014 farm bill as a win for farmers in the long run, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, had a political defeat in the process, but vowed he is not finished yet.
The win was five years of ag program stability, including crop insurance, maintaining conservation funding and tying conservation compliance with farm bill programs.
The losses include no Country of Original Labeling and his controversial amendment opposing a California law to force states to produce eggs in a manner it deems is appropriate.
Early in the farm bill process, King submitted his controversial amendment that was overwhelmingly approved in the House ag committee.
King called the California measure trade protectionism for its egg industry, as well as unconstitutional. He said it violates the interstate commerce clause.
As it moved forward, King said, it became the most contested amendment. He said the Humane Society of the United States leveled “200 allegations against my amendment.”
“Almost everything they said about it was untrue,” King said.
He said his amendment was tied to the Constitution and the commerce clause.
“It was conceived even before I knew there was an ag issue,” King said. “I wrote a bill that covered all of the products traded through interstate commerce to prohibit states from regulating means of production.”
When the farm bill started to move, he said, he focused on covering specific ag products.
He said it was the longest debated amendment concerning the farm bill in the House committee.
When it passed the House, King was named to the 41-person conference committee from both houses.
“This amendment was not discussed by the committee,” King charged. “There was no debate, no dialogue or staff interchange.”
He said “all evidence establishes” that conference chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ordered her staff not to discuss the amendment.
When negotiating teams brought up the subject, King said, “they wouldn’t answer and they wouldn’t speak to it.”
King said he denies the argument that California egg industry needs the trade protectionism in order to stay in business..
“It’s a pretty weak argument,” King said, “but it’s the only honest one they had.”
As the conference work was boiled down to decisions by the four ranking members and finally the two ag committee chairmen – Stabenow and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla. – King’s amendment was cut from the basic farm bill.
“I refused to sign the conference report,” King said, “sending a message of my dissatisfaction with the process, but when the bill came to the floor, a vote no would have been about me, rather than the people I’m pledged to represent.
“You just can’t put up a vote that looks like, ‘I didn’t get my way, so I voted against it.'”
Vows to continue
King said he is not finished with the issue.
“I won’t be defeated by people who can’t debate or discuss their position,” he said.
He said he will garner support from other states, the federal government and through litigation.
“We cannot tolerate this policy,” he said, “and let California dictate policy to the rest of the country.”
He said he’ll expand the fight to more than egg production.
It’ll be “on all our agriculture products, lay the foundation constitutionally,” he said.
His amendment not withstanding, King said the farm bill offers solid risk management.
“Our grain producers should be happy,” he said.
Livestock producers were short-changed, he said, “because my amendment and COOL wasn’t in.”
He said the livestock disaster relief written into the law will see a large chunk funneled to the Dakotas to compensate for the large loss of breeding cattle herds to the May 2013 storm.
On balance, he said, the farm bill made progress and the farm sector would have been hurt if it wasn’t passed, providing five years of program stability for farmers.
Concerning the nutrition side of the farm bill, King said he never expected conservative efforts to get more than $8.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
“We got some programmatic changes in the food stamps piece of thing that will let us continue forward with reforms,” King said. “If we hadn’t done that, food stamps would continue to grow.
“They’re out of control, but they’re not out of control as they used to be.”
Amid criticism among various groups that the farm bill did not reform programs as much as hoped, King said, the new law does axe the direct payments program.
“Producers stepped forward and volunteered to give up direct payments about two-and-a-half years ago,” King said. “They got nothing for it, not even credit.”
He said the farm bill’s consolidated safety net target prices are below the price of production which won’t make anyone rich, but might keep them in business.
“I don’t think any of our Iowans are going to farm the program,” King said. “They’re going to farm the fields and turn it into market prices.”
He said he worked to keep Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding in place.
“It’s property rights issue,” King said. “If the federal government comes through to regulate you out of the business of farming the land, it needs to provide a softer landing for you as you meet those requirements.”