Leahy secures key changes for dairy farmers in budget deal

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Leahy secures key changes for dairy farmers in budget deal

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 10:43am -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced Thursday morning that he has secured significant improvements to a key dairy safety net program, which are to be included in a bipartisan budget deal package to be considered by Congress this week.  Leahy is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been working with the panel’s Chairman, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to address the needs of dairy and cotton farmers struggling with low prices. Leahy also is a leading member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he has long led on dairy policy issues. The overall budget deal would avoid another government shutdown for two years. It was first announced Wednesday. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he will vote against the budget deal (see statement below). The deal was also met with opposition in the House from the left and right. But Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday morning that he believes he has the votes to push it through.

Leahy said of the overal budget deal: "The consequences of the Budget Control Act sequestration cuts since 2011 have been devastating and will last a generation. Its impact on military readiness led Defense Secretary Mattis to say that no enemy on the field has done more to harm our military than sequestration.  By not investing in our domestic priorities, we allowed our infrastructure to crumble, care to our veterans to be delayed, and investments in education to fall behind.  This bipartisan budget deal is the first step toward providing much needed relief from sequestration and stability in the appropriations process.

"This bipartisan deal also advances our priorities by guaranteeing that we make real investments in addressing the opioid crisis, funding medical research, and promoting college affordability.  And it finally fulfills our promise to communities recovering from recent natural disasters, from wildfires out West, to the shores of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida, by providing $89 billion to help them rebuild.

"This two-year agreement provides a path forward to complete the 2018 appropriations process and, through regular order, have a thoughtful debate on the Fiscal Year 2019 bills.  This is not everything I would have wanted in a deal, but that is the nature of compromise.  I encourage all senators to help us pass this bipartisan deal and allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to resume its work.  I look forward to continue working with Chairman Cochran in the coming weeks."

As for dairy, the bipartisan agreement makes substantial improvements to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers, and it would take effect immediately upon becoming law.  Effective for calendar year 2018, the changes would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to reopen the signup period for the MPP and offer farmers an important new chance to select meaningful levels of risk protection at more affordable rates.  For some family dairy farms, protection costs could drop by 70 percent or more.

Leahy said:  “Making these crucial investments and key changes with immediate effect will help stave off setbacks for dairy farmers who are facing another difficult year without access to meaningful risk management protection.  The dairy forecasts for this Spring are deeply troubling. From talking with dairy leaders in Vermont, I know that without immediate changes to protect farmers in these difficult times we will be facing a crisis situation.”

To further improve the effectiveness of the MPP, the Leahy-authored proposal will also provide that the program-backed benefit is calculated monthly, rather than averaged every two months. This will make the program more responsive to farms that must meet important monthly financial requirements

The dairy proposal also benefits dairy farmers and livestock producers by repealing a cap on subsidies and operating costs for livestock insurance policies.  This $20 million statutory annual limit has severely restricted dairy farmers’ access to the Livestock Gross Margin for dairy and has prevented companies from developing new, innovative insurance products.

Last year, Leahy urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to classify milk as a distinct agricultural commodity, and thus be eligible for federal crop insurance coverage.  Perdue, however, did not act on the request.  Eliminating this cap will allow for more companies to develop innovative insurance products for dairy farmers.

The proposal must now be adopted by the full Senate, passed by the House and signed into law by the President.

The Leahy-led dairy provisions make six specific changes:

  • Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately reopen the sign-up period for calendar year 2018 for the Margin Protection Program (MPP) to allow farmers to reevaluate the costs and protections the program can now provide their farm.
  • Immediately moves the MPP calculations and potential payments to a monthly basis (currently bimonthly) to improve the accuracy and timeliness for helping farmers.
  • Immediately cuts the premium costs for Tier I enrollment by nearly 70 percent to incentivize producer participation at meaningful levels of protection and makes that change this year.
  • Raises the Tier I threshold level corresponding to substantially lower premium costs to the first 5 million pounds of production (nationally equivalent to 220 cows), up from the current level of 4 million pounds of production (nationally equivalent to 175 cows). This will better align the program with the median U.S. dairy farm size, 223 cows, and encourage more family farms to participate and secure meaningful levels of protection to offer an effective farm safety net.
  • Waives $100 administrative fees for underserved producers, bringing the program in line with other USDA programs with similar service fee waivers.
  • Repeals the unfair statutory cap for the USDA’s underwriting costs for livestock insurance products.

Statement of Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

On The Bipartisan Budget Deal

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018

The consequences of the Budget Control Act sequestration cuts since 2011 have been devastating and will last for generations.  Its impact on military readiness led Defense Secretary Mattis to say that no enemy on the field has done more to harm our military than what we have done ourselves through sequestration.  By not investing in our domestic priorities, we allowed our infrastructure to crumble, care to our veterans to be delayed, and investments in education to fall behind.  The bipartisan budget deal announced yesterday by Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer is the first step toward providing much needed relief from sequestration and stability in the appropriations process. 

Defense caps are increased $80 billion in Fiscal Year 2018, and $85 billion in Fiscal Year 2019.  Non-defense caps are increased by $63 billion above the caps in Fiscal Year 2018, and $68 billion above the caps in Fiscal Year 2019.  This additional funding will allow us to increase support our troops, improve care for our veterans, repair our crumbling infrastructure, take care of our seniors, and invest in our economy in real ways.  

This bipartisan deal also advances our priorities by guaranteeing that we make real investments in addressing the opioid crisis, funding medical research, and improving college affordability.  I am particularly pleased that this bill includes an important provision that I worked on with Chairman Cochran that will improve assistance to our nation’s dairy and cotton farmers.  In Vermont and across the country, this will mean immediate relief for struggling dairy farmers who cannot wait for the next farm bill for assistance.  And this deal finally fulfills our promise to communities recovering from recent natural disasters, from wildfires out West, to the shores of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, and Florida, by providing $89 billion to help them rebuild. 

The agreement also provides continued funding for several health care programs that Congress has allowed to expire.  The bill includes long overdue funding for community health centers that have been struggling with the uncertainty of continued funding for months. The bipartisan agreement funds the Special Diabetes Program to make advancements in Type I diabetes.  It ensures ambulances can continue to serve rural areas, and closes the Medicare Part D coverage gap by 2019.  It continues the maternal health home visiting program and permanently repeals the Medicare Therapy Cap, allowing Medicare beneficiaries the certainty of therapy services after an accident or a stroke without an arbitrary cap on coverage.  And the bill extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for an additional 4 years, ensuring children and their families can benefit from the program for the next 10 years.   

I am also pleased this deal finally extends tax provisions, many of which lapsed in 2016, that will benefit individuals and small businesses. Inexplicably, the $1.5 trillion Republican tax bill left these important credits orphaned when they passed their corporate tax bill.  With this deal, we finally restore them.

Not everything I want was included in this deal.  It does not provide protection for our nation’s Dreamers – law-abiding strivers who call America home and seek nothing more than to contribute to our society.  Individuals like Dr. Juan Conde of Vermont, who came to the United States as a child and is studying to treat cancer patients at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  We must not forsake their cause, for their cause is our cause.  Their dreams are part of the American dream.  Leader McConnell has given his word that he will allow votes on legislation to protect Dr. Conde and hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers.  I can assure you that the American people expect him to keep his word.

I am also disappointed the agreement does not include the CREATES Act, a bipartisan solution to lowering the cost of prescription drugs by prohibiting the anti-competitive behavior that keeps generic drugs from entering the market.  We can all agree that high drug prices are a problem as President Trump noted in his State of the Union Address, and the CREATES Act offers a commonsense, bipartisan way forward.  I hope the Senate passes this important legislation soon. 

But while this agreement does not contain everything I would like, on balance it is a good bill for the American people.  It provides a path forward to complete the 2018 appropriations process and, through regular order, have a thoughtful debate on the Fiscal Year 2019 bills. 

I thank Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer for their hard work in coming to this agreement.  Compromise is not always easy, and it certainly is not always popular.  I encourage all senators to help us pass this bipartisan deal and allow the Senate Appropriations Committee to resume its work.  I hope the House will do the same before tonight's midnight deadline.  I look forward to continue working with Chairman Cochran in the coming weeks.    

Sanders Will Vote No on Budget

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 – Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, issued the following statement Thursday on the budget agreement:

“As the ranking member of the Budget Committee, I am proud of the initiatives that I fought for in this agreement that increase funding for child care, the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, community health centers, student debt relief, our crumbling infrastructure, the opioid epidemic and disaster recovery efforts.

“Unfortunately, there are two fundamental failings in this deal that will prevent me from voting for it. First, this bill does not address the great moral issue of our time – the fact that in three weeks 800,000 young Dreamers will lose their legal status and be subject to deportation. Second, the $165 billion increase in defense spending is much too large. I believe in a strong military, but at a time when the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 12 countries combined, the last thing we should do is massively increase the Pentagon’s budget."

Source: WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Feb. 8, 2018) – US Senator Patrick Leahy. Senator Bernie Sanders.