Economists predict farm bill extension

Economists predict farm bill extension

AS the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year approaches, a farm bill fix will be needed since the House failed to pass its farm bill in June.

Like last year, economists expect that Congress will need to pass an extension of the farm bill, or else it will revert to 1949 legislation if not adjusted. However, the top agriculture leader in the Senate has said she will fight against an extension and put pressure on the House to find a farm bill solution.

In discussions last week, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said she does not support a farm bill extension and will do all she can to prevent another one. She has criticized continuing programs that have little support, such as direct payments.

The House's failed farm bill vote reiterated the division in the country and rural voters' inability to unite urban counterparts over funding for key agricultural programs. The two divisive issues remain funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and costs associated with crop insurance.

Purdue University economist Chris Hurt said, "Odds favor a second year of extension of the old farm bill."

Roman Keeney, Purdue agricultural economist, explained that programs for corn and soybean crops, for example, will remain intact throughout the crop season, which extends beyond September.

"Sept. 30 is not doomsday for farming and safety nets," he said. "Expiration of the fiscal year last year wasn't a big deal at all, and it probably won't be this year, either."

Carl Zulauf, agricultural economics professor at Ohio State University, said the House's failure reflects a divided farm bill constituency. The real question, he said, is, "What do we do from here?"

"It's not clear why individual members voted against this bill," Zulauf said. "The SNAP program was an issue, as was cost, but in my experience, few legislators vote against a bill for a single reason."

The objective must remain to get a bill passed, Zulauf said. However, the farm bill is an omnibus bill and, thus, has to satisfy a broad range of constituents' concerns in order to advance.

At a Republican conference meeting June 26, farm-district Republicans criticized the House leadership's handling of the bill during its demise.

Still, Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas), a senior member on the agriculture committee, said it isn't time to panic and suggested that Republicans should try to seek support from more of the 61 Republicans who voted against the bill rather than cater to Democrats.

Going forward, the House Agriculture Committee could come up with a new farm bill formulation and then move it through the approval process, although most observers think this is unlikely at present, Zulauf said.

On the other hand, he added that "the House could take up the Senate farm bill and vote on it with no amendments. If it passes, then we would have a farm bill, but it is likely the House won't pass the Senate version since the House-proposed farm bill differed from the Senate farm bill."

House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said another option would be to ask the House Rules Committee to consider bringing the House's version of final form minus one or two very contentious points in a closed rule.

Some in the policy arena have said the farm provisions should be in one bill and the SNAP program in its own bill. During the Republican conference meeting, however, farm-state senators continued to resist calls for splitting up the bill.

"Separation of the bill could lessen broad-based support to get a farm safety net passed," Zulauf said. "So, that leaves the possibility of a one-year or multi-year extension of some version of the previous farm bill. That's something that we will have to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks."

Volume:85 Issue:26

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