Bumpy farm bill path ahead

Bumpy farm bill path ahead

CONGRESS was granted a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill in last year's 11th-hour deal to avoid a government shutdown. This year, it doesn't appear like the looming government shutdown will offer the same reward.

So, Sept. 30 again will come without new life for farm bill programs, and as seen last year, the impacts will take several months to come into effect, which provides some hope that Congress can get its act together before the end of the year.

Crop insurance and nutrition programs are effectively permanent programs and will continue without specific reauthorization. Conservation program contracts will remain in place, although new enrollments will not be accepted until a new farm law is in place. Commodity-specific programs run on a crop year versus fiscal year basis, so they won't be affected until next spring. Dairy prices will not be affected until Jan. 1, 2014. Programs that lost mandatory funding in the extension will continue without new funding authorizations.

Mixed in with the continuing resolution talks over the weekend, the House was also set to vote on marrying the two bills it passed as a result of separating the farm bill into food and farm pieces. It will need to do so before a bill can be sent to conference with the Senate. Additionally, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) must name conferees for those negotiations. Farm groups have been vocal in their demands that conferees be named and the process move forward.

Two years ago, the House and Senate agriculture committees developed a potential farm bill framework that was being looked at for inclusion to prevent sequestration. At the time, the two chambers claimed that they'd struck a balance on farm policy.

In 2012, when each tried to advance individual bills, and now, through 2013, instead of again striking a compromise, the similarities between the two bills are actually decreasing.

Although the House passed two individual bills this year that, on the surface, appear to be mostly what the House Agriculture Committee approved, there are some very significant differences between the bills now approved that will need to be conferenced.

The farm-only farm bill inserted a provision that would strike the permanent law provision and make the current farm bill's commodity title the new base. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and House Agriculture Committee member Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) both have voiced deep reservations on the approach.

Stabenow worries that not only does it take the pressure off Congress to prevent 1949 law from going into effect, but for anyone who cares about anything other than the commodity title such as funding for conservation, research and disaster assistance, it no longer provides a vehicle to accomplish those objectives.

On the flip side, House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) said the latest string of political impasses on the farm bill emphasize the need to provide more permanency to farmers.

In the nutrition title, it's well known that the proposed cuts in the House are 10 times as much as those proposed in the Senate. No doubt, this will be problematic in reaching a compromise. The House Agriculture Committee's initial proposal of $20 billion versus the Senate's $5 billion already faced an uphill battle.

In the stand-alone nutrition title, the House has Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding running for just three years instead of five, which would put the food and farm programs on different paths forward.

So, if Congress can ever get the farm bill to conference, the markers heading into conference could signal a bumpy road if legislators draw deep lines in the sand. This isn't even taking into account the controversy surrounding dairy policy as well as the price support system in the commodity title.

Hold on, because it could be a long, bumpy road before farm bill completion.

Volume:85 Issue:40

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