Dairy Talk: Farm Bill's Winding Road

January 31, 2012 07:11 PM

Jim DickrellIf the next farm bill becomes law this year, the road it takes to the President’s desk will be one that no farm bill has traveled before.

There is some pressure to move it this spring. Legislators want to get it wrapped up before election campaigning kicks into full gear. Plus, there is significant budget pressure to get it done sooner rather than later.

The process will likely be flipped this year, with the Senate moving first, and final passage—if it ever comes—on the House floor, say former House and Senate staffers speaking at Dairy Forum 2012 in California last month.

Because it now effectively takes a 60-vote majority to pass anything in the Senate, the House will not act until the farm bill passes the Senate first.

House Majority Leader John Boehner simply will not move anything in the House because it would be such a monumental task. With so many anti-everything Tea Party members in his caucus, Boehner will have to rely on the Democrats if he hopes to pass a bill. And he’s not going do that if there’s even a remote chance the Senate will blow it up later.

So the Senate has to move first. Since many of the Senate leaders serve on the Ag Committee, there’s a reasonable chance they will actually pass a bill out of committee. "They could get something done simply because these are all experienced leaders and know how to get things done," says Ed Barron, former chief of staff of the Senate Ag Committee.

The biggest hurdle, however, will be the House of Representatives. Boehner has operated his chamber under "open rules," meaning any member can add any amendment he or she wishes. That approach could result in hundreds of farm bill amendments.

"The farm bill could be on the floor of the House for a very long time, and supply management could be subject to a vote by the full House," says Bill O’Connor, former chief of staff of the House Ag Committee.

Barron and O’Connor give the farm bill a better than 50% chance of passage. Given the hurdles they’ve outlined, I’m not holding my breath.

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