Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a rare “Dear Colleague” letter to House members asking them to support an amendment that would change the farm bill’s dairy program.
The letter raises the stakes in what was already a climactic amendment vote on the farm bill set for Thursday afternoon. Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has opposed the changes that Boehner is seeking in order to keep a key group of rural Democrats, led by ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), behind the bill.
Boehner supports an amendment sponsored by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) to stop the government from imposing supply management production limits on milk producers.
The underlying farm bill replaces current milk subsidies with a margin insurance program that guarantees dairy farmers who participate a $4 difference between feed and milk prices. The bill requires these farmers to limit production when milk prices plummet.
Boehner and members supporting dairy processing industries say that such limits punish consumers and hurt economic growth.
“Taxpayers have shelled out $5.44 billion for dairy programs since the 2002 Farm Bill (which I voted against). And staples like milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese all cost families and small businesses more than they should,” he said. “The Members of the Agriculture Committee deserve credit for recognizing the need for reform and proposing that we eliminate several current dairy programs. But we have to go further.”
Eliminating supply management would save $15 million, according to a disputed Congressional Budget Office score that Boehner cites in his letter.
“Families are already having trouble making ends meet in this economy. This amendment will help bring prices down for our constituents while providing more opportunity and fairness to dairy producers across the country,” he said.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a friend of the Speaker, is leading the GOP whip effort against the Goodlatte amendment. Peterson is leading the Democratic opposition, backed by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Welch told The Hill he believes farm bill supporter and GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will vote against Goodlatte. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is expected to support it.