Farm-bill talks kicking into gear while lobbyists vie for their special interests

Lots of items about the Obama administration and their Congressional allies’ flurry over ObamaCare’s various woes on the docket today, but lest we forget that the government is still performing its regular task of finding new and exciting ways to spend your money, let me momentarily direct your attention to the farm-bill talks picking up steam behind the scenes. The committee tasked with reconciling the Senate farm bill with the House’s two agriculture policy and food stamps bills are getting down to business, with plans to meet next week, and you know what that means: The many special interests with a dog in this fight will not be denied. Via the NYT:

As the House and Senate prepare to meet next week to work out differences in their farm bills, lobbying efforts are intensifying to get last-minute changes to the 1,000-page legislation that sets the nation’s farm and nutrition policies.

A coalition of budget watchdog groups and a seafood trade group are lobbying to repeal a $20 million catfish inspection program at the Agriculture Department, which was put into the 2008 farm bill at the request of catfish farmers to limit imports. Opponents say it is duplicative because there is already a catfish inspection program at the Food and Drug Administration.

Food banks and other advocates are hoping to stop huge cuts to the food stamp program that they say will cause millions of people to go hungry.

And farm groups are asking lawmakers to maintain certain farm subsidy programs and resist making changes to others, like the sugar program, which limits domestic production and imports. Farm groups have also asked lawmakers to resist changes to the crop insurance program, which environmental groups say provides incentives for farmers to plant crops on land that is not suitable for farming.

So, just the usual stuff, really. Nothing to see here.

Meanwhile, over in South Dakota, regional newspaper Argus Leader was urging a federal appeals court today to reverse a previous ruling blocking the outlet from access to data on how much the government pays to stores that redeem food stamps benefits. The Most Transparent Administration Evah, in their usual fashion, is nixing the newspaper’s FOIA request, via Politico:

Jon Arneson, an attorney for the newspaper, told a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that a lower court judge misinterpreted the law by ruling that a confidentiality provision for retailer applications allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withhold all data on payments to those retailers. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper requested the data on annual payments to each retailer approved to take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. …

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Bengford said the confidentiality provision applies because the cumulative amount of payments to each retailer is based on the series of purchase transactions the stores submit to USDA. …

Arneson called that interpretation of the law “crazy.”

“For us to say that that because the program itself requires this sort of payment or swiping of the card that suddenly that transforms all of that information into private information is—is crazy,” the Argus’s lawyer told the judges. “What we’re simply asking for is how are the tax dollars spent. We’re not trying to invade the privacy of the recipient households.”

Decision still to come.