cows in field

DC Update, June 6, 2008

By Ed Maltby, Executive Director, NODPA

Access to pasture and the origin of dairy livestock
The proposed rule clarifying the access to pasture is slowly winding its way through the USDA, the rumor is that its at the Office of the Chief Economist, USDA for their assessment on the economic impact of the rule. The passage of both rules, origin of livestock and access to pasture, has had another curve ball thrown at it with the memo from the administration restricting which rules can be finalized before the end of the year, “Except in extraordinary circumstances, regulations to be finalized in this Administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than November 1, 2008,” (see memo at bottom of page as PDF). NODPA is working with the National Organic Coalition and WhiteWave Foods to ensure that the rules move quickly to the Executive Office of the OMB and are not subject to the restrictions of the “Bolton Memo,” or any other of the rumors that flow out of the USDA, for example the issuance of a guidance document instead of a rule. With the whole industry, all consumers, certifiers and environmental advocacy groups behind the need for a rule, it should be simple…………?

Farm Bill update
The House and Senate overrode the veto of the President of the version containing a typographical omission of Title 3 that covered 14 other Titles and then considered what to do about Title 3 (that contains trade programs.) The House decided to take up and pass a new comprehensive version (all 15 Titles) of the Conference Report (CR cannot be amended on the floor and is subject to an up or down vote.) They also passed a stand alone version of Title 3 as a separate bill.

On June 5 the Senate took up the comprehensive 15 Title version with the new number (H.R. 6124) The Senate passed H.R. 6124 by a roll call vote of 77 yeas to 15 nays. The bill passed the House by a vote of 306 years to 110 nays on May 22. It will now be enrolled and sent to the President where it is expected to be vetoed, and then there will be override votes in each House of Congress. The override is again expected to be successful and then Title 3 will join all the other titles in being in law.

The Senate had expected to re-pass the bill earlier in the week, but Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) put "holds" on the vote and threatened to bring up amendments. By week's end they settled for 50 minutes of floor time, prior to the re-vote, to catalogue their views of the bill's failings.

Constitutional scholars and parliamentarians are agreed that the 14 Titles in the original bill vetoed by the President, but overridden by the House and Senate, are all law at the current time and should be in effect. So why did the Congress not just pass Title 3 separately? Because had they done that it could have been subject to amendment and was expected to become a "Christmas Tree" full of other provisions for the Farm Bill. So they are in the midst of passing a new complete version instead.

What happened the first time around?
On Monday, Politico, a Capitol Hill newspaper, ran a story on what happened to cause the missing trade title fiasco that necessitated a second round of farm bill voting. According to the story, standard practice prior to 1994 and the Newt Gingrich-led Contract with America was for the bill enrolling office to print out two copies of the final bill on parchment paper. One copy was proof-read word for word, and if everything was in order, the pristine second copywas sent to the White House for the President's signature and then ultimately off to the National Archives. As a Contract with America cost-cutting measure, only one parchment version has been printed since 1994, and the enrolling office has instead proof read a plain paper version of the bill. So, in this instance, the two versions did not coincide and the mistake was therefore not caught.

Effective immediately, the process has been changed so that only one parchment version is printed and that very version is proof read and then sent to the White House. Evidently a few staff fingerprints and possible smudge marks from proof reading will be a small price to pay for avoiding any more trouble in the future.

Budget Resolution Passes Both Houses: On mostly party-line votes, the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday adopted the FY 2009 budget resolution. The budget blueprint serves many purposes, but none more important than establishing the amount of money the Appropriations Committees have to work with as they craft their funding bills for the coming year. The appropriations leadership will now gather to carve up the overall pie into slices for each of its 12 subcommittees, at which point we will know what the Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittees have to work with as they put together their bills.

House Ag Appropriations Scheduled: With the budget resolution complete, all attention now turns to the appropriations bills. Congressional Democratic leadership has already made it fairly clear, however, that most appropriations bills for the FY 2009 fiscal year that starts October 1, 2008 will not be finalized until February 2009, after President Bush leaves office, so as to avoid veto threats and subsequent showdowns. Nonetheless, the appropriations subcommittees will still be holding their mark-ups now and, generally speaking, the final bills in most years do not look very different than what comes out of subcommittee. The House Appropriations Committee announced that the mark-up will be in subcommittee on June 19, with full committee consideration of the agriculture bill to follow June 25. Senate subcommittee and full committee action would likely follow sometime in July.

With thanks to OTA and SAC for some of the contents of this update

For more information and many analyses of the Farm Bill go to:
National Organic Coalition:
Sustainable Agricultural Coalition:
Organic Farming Research Foundation:
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture:
Organic Trade Association:

This Farm Bill includes many improvements in programs for the organic community thanks to the work of the National Organic Coalition, Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, Organic Trade Association, Organic Farming Research Foundation, and many other groups.

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