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Farm Bill Finish Line Still Uncertain

March 10, 2012
By: Roger Bernard, Farm Journal Policy and Washington Editor

Lawmakers are focused on finalizing a new farm bill in 2012, but even with nine months left in the year there’s an alarming amount of work to be done. The farm bill framework that Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas

(R-Okla.) drafted this past fall in an effort to be proactive has been set aside for now, and the development of the new bill is taking a more common route.

Senate takes action. To draft its version of the farm bill, the Senate Ag Committee is conducting four hearings, the first of which was in early February. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack gave an overall perspective on what the administration thinks is essential for farm legislation.

Conservation issues rank high in importance, with the majority of the commodity ag groups supporting the conservation plans that were part of the supercommittee’s failed debt

reduction efforts this past fall. In a letter to ag committee leaders, ag groups applauded the "simplification, flexibility and consolidation" of the revamped conservation programs.

Watch the Meet the Freshman Roundtable

New lawmakers serving on the House Agriculture Committee discuss their priorities for the year, including the 2012 farm bill.

The package put conservation programs, which were reduced from 23 to 13, into five toolboxes, explained Stabenow at the Farm Journal Forum in late 2011.

It’s likely that the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will see a lower maximum acreage level in the new farm bill, reportedly down to 25 million acres. Currently, the cap on CRP acres is 32 million; at the end of January, 29.7 million acres were enrolled in the program.

In its fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, the Barack Obama adminis-tration caps CRP acres at 30 million, but lawmakers have not shown much interest in the budget plan.

As the Senate Ag panel moves forward with hearings, the House Ag Committee has yet to schedule any hearings related to the farm bill.

Lucas continues to focus on regulatory issues. The House is expected to shift to the farm bill as spring rolls around, closely monitoring what the Senate Ag panel is working on.

Hurdles to cross. Despite the move to a more common route for constructing a farm bill, several hurdles stand in the way of Congress reaching the finish line.

Panel action: Once the Senate Ag Com-mittee completes its schedule of hearings, the legislative language has to be compiled. From there, members of the panel will likely want to shift various provisions in the package.

It’s unlikely the framework package that Lucas and Stabenow produced this past fall will be the final bill emerging from either panel.

CBO baseline: Even though the Congressional Budget Office issued its budget baseline in January, it’s still not clear exactly how much money the panels have to work with, except that it is less than they had at their disposal for the 2008 farm bill.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - March 2012

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