Democrats Against Short-Term Farm Bill Extension

July 25, 2012 11:46 AM

Via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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Politics being played on both sides of the aisle.

Farm bill politics is nothing new, but this year lawmakers and others are taking it to another level. Add a key House Ag Committee Democrat, ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), to the list of Democrats, including Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who want no part of a short-term, one-year farm bill extension, even with some ag disaster aid and conservation program funding.

Peterson in recent weeks has issued thinly disguised political warnings at Republicans should the House GOP leadership not bring up the pending farm bill. "There is no need for an extension," Peterson said today. "The extension doesn't get at the problem we've got … If you add the disaster to it, how do you pay for it?" Peterson said, estimating the price at about $2.5 billion. There is "probably no way to pay for it," he added. "No one has a real plan at this point." It was unclear whether or not that Peterson price tag included a one-year (2012 crop) extension for the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE) - a controversial program that lapsed with the 2011 crop, and has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to cost around $1 billion annually.

But Peterson must know what is being bandied about among key farm-state lawmakers and some House GOP leadership. One way to pay for the ag disaster funding, sources say, is to limit direct payments for 2013 crops. Direct payments now total around $4.8 billion annually.

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has made it know that his staff will begin talks about a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, likely with some key changes designed to garner votes needed for passage. "The feeling of (House GOP) leadership is that a one-year extension provides certainty to people out on the farm," Lucas said after leaving the House floor this afternoon where he had several conversations with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "Clearly, they (GOP leaders) understand the importance of the drought," Lucas added. "I believe that adding one year to the present farm bill would add certainty, which is always good for how farmers and ranchers sleep at night," Lucas said. "I know that something has to happen on the livestock part of the equation. Those people are not only going to be hammered by the drought but also be treated differently than other producers."

But Lucas warned of potential resistance in the Senate and said adjustments would be needed for specialty crop and conservation programs that risked being left unfunded.

Farm bill extension resistance will come from Stabenow and likely Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who, sources say, sees a political advantage in seeing House GOP leadership struggle with both the ag disaster aid and new farm bill issues.

Always quotable Peterson today said he thinks a farm bill extension is "the worst idea that I have heard. And I will oppose it. I don't see it gets us any place other than get them (Republicans) out of this corner that they've painted themselves into. That's what this is about." An extension, Peterson continued, "goes against everything that people want."

Disaster aid for livestock producers and perhaps fruit and specialty crops (think Stabenow) would likely be added to a farm bill extension, along with perhaps funding for some conservation programs where no new acres can be enrolled after Sept. 30.

It comes as no surprise that Stabenow wants no farm bill extension, having helped move a farm bill through the full Senate chamber.

As for House GOP leadership, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) does not want to debate and vote on a new farm bill prior to Nov. 6 elections because he and many other observers think the needed 218 votes for passage cannot be found at this time. The political trap, some say, would be if Boehner becomes pressured to hold a vote and it is defeated, Democratic members from both the House and Senate would pounce on the inability of the Republican-controlled House to deliver for farmers and food stamp recipients -- around 80 percent of the estimated new farm bill spending goes for food stamp expenditures.

But another reason for a farm bill extension is practicality, something sources say is in short supply on Capitol Hill. Those sources say it would take USDA some time to fully implement some of the major reforms in the pending farm bills.

The following is a chart released by USDA officials after the 2008 Farm Bill. It shows it takes from 200 to 300 days to fully implement a farm bill via the following steps:

07 25 12 FarmBillProcess


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