Farm bill progress or posturing?

The coming weeks will tell if lawmakers are truly serious about passing a new farm bill.

May 10, 2024

4 Min Read
House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson and Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow
FARM BILL FRENZY: House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson and Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow plan to release farm bill proposals soon. Will progress be made before election season or will party lines stand in the way? Joshua Baethge

We are about to find out how serious lawmakers are about passing a new farm bill. House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson plans to release details of his farm bill framework as early as May 17. Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow says she is close to releasing a proposal as well, though she hasn’t specified a date.

Over the past two years, members from both parties have stressed the importance of passing truly bipartisan legislation. I tend to believe them when they say they’ve been working hard to enact a bill benefiting those in the food and agriculture sectors. Despite their philosophical difference, Thompson and Stabenow, as well as ranking committee members Rep. David Scott and Sen. John Bozeman, have been through these battles before and managed to produce bipartisan compromises.

But make no mistake—at the end of the day, it all comes down to politics. After all, this is a presidential election year. In addition to choosing an incredibly old commander in chief, voters will also cast their ballots for 34 Senate seats and the entire House of Representatives.

Now no lawmaker wants to tell their constituents they did nothing about the farm bill. I suspect that’s why we are finally seeing some movement on the bill-drafting process. By considering legislation now, lawmakers can say they did everything within their power to get a new farm bill. Of course, “working” on a bill and passing one are completely different things.

It’s important to remember how a bill actually becomes law. While lawmakers have an arsenal of procedural tools to manipulate the process, the basic timeline goes something like this.

The House Ag Committee will hold a “mark-up” session on May 23 to consider Thompson’s farm bill proposal. During this session, committee members will propose various amendments and changes to the legislation. At the conclusion of the mark-up, the committee can release the bill by majority vote. Since Republicans have the majority in the House, they have 28 committee seats compared to the Democrat’s 24.

If the committee is unable to reach a consensus, the full House could call for a “discharge petition” to release the bill. That would require a majority vote in the House, which the GOP currently controls by a slim 217 to 213 margin.

Regardless of how it happens, once the bill clears the committee, it can then be considered by the full House, and passed with a majority vote.

The bill must go through a similar process in the Senate. The major difference here is Democrats hold a one-vote majority in both the Ag Committee and the full chamber. In the event of a tie, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote.

Since Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate, there a good chance their bills will have some differences. If that happens, a bicameral committee would be created to craft a compromise. The revised bill they agree to would next have to be approved by majority votes in the full House and Senate. If that happens, President Biden could then sign the bill into law or veto it.

If you didn’t follow all that, don’t fret. Just know that a bunch of things have to happen, and they will require support from both parties.

Some House Democrats are already on record opposing the House framework. They say Thompson’s proposal is completely partisan and ignores their concerns. However, Democrats in close re-election races will have to carefully consider the intensity of their opposition.

Does it benefit them politically to support a farm bill they don’t like? Or would they be better explaining to their constituents why they opposed the bill? For lawmakers from so-called swing districts, the answer is not so clear.

Of course, as we’ve seen repeatedly, Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has been unable to get full support from his party on nearly any piece of legislation. That’s forced him to work with Democrats on things like 2024 appropriations package and aid to Ukraine. Could another compromise be in the works for the farm bill? Or will he stand with far-right conservatives, knowing full well that whatever the House passes must also be approved by a Democratic Senate and president?

Sen. Stabenow is set to retire at the end of her term. She’s earned much praise for her efforts on past farm bills and would like nothing more than to get one more done. The question is what priorities will she concede to make that happen. Will her legacy be passing one more bill, or standing up to what she perceives to be Republican overreach?

There’s not much time left for lawmakers to decide their next move. By mid-summer, most will likely turn their full attention to the upcoming elections. If there’s no new farm bill by then, expect endless accusations over who’s at fault.

How voters perceive those arguments may go a long way toward determining who controls the House, Senate, White House and farm bill negotiations next year. Perhaps that’s the battle lawmakers really want.

For now, the powers that be say they are committed to passing a new farm bill this year. We’re about to find out if they mean it.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Feedstuffs is the news source for animal agriculture

You May Also Like