Farm Bill Conference Talks Hit a Snag, or Two, or Three

November 21, 2013 07:55 AM

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Picking up the pieces at hand | Vilsack talks farm bill implementation

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

As most farm bill veterans expected, conference negotiations today hit a major snag, with House Agriculture Committee and farm bill conference Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) saying it would be "very challenging" now for him to meet the Republican leadership’s schedule of having a final agreement back on the House floor by December 13.

Lucas and the other three farm bill "principals" have been seeking a framework of a deal before the Thanksgiving recess this week. Still, after several meetings, no substantial progress has resulted. "Anything is possible but it is very challenging," Lucas said. He said a "fair assessment" is that he had not made the progress he had hoped for this week.

That progress, sources inform, is getting Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to move off what many contacts signal is an entrenched position, not only on food stamp funding and policy, but on lingering and thorny Title I farmer safety net issues. Some sources speculate that Stabenow may feel she has a better chance of getting more of what she wants if a new farm bill is rolled into a bigger package of budget issues via a continuing resolution. Stabenow today said that she was "disappointed" that there was no agreement. She reiterated that the Senate would refuse to pass another extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that would include direct payments.


Lawmakers will return to "work" after the recess with just two weeks left before the House is scheduled to shut down Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. ET for the Christmas holidays.


Meanwhile, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has jumped the farm bill gun somewhat by saying his department is preparing to implement the programs that would be created by a new farm bill. Importantly, he did not say USDA would be ready for the 2014 crop year, even if Congress finishes the legislation quickly.

"Most of our focus has been on trying to get bill passed, but I have directed our team to begin the process of being able to figure out precisely what rules would have to be enacted, and what rules would be enacted first, second, third, fourth and fifth," Vilsack said.

Asked whether he could support another year of direct payments (the House bill would provide two more years of reduced payments to cotton producers), Vilsack did not answer directly. "We will look for other avenues of assistance and help, if for some reason we can’t get it done in a timely way," he said.

He added, "We’ll do everything we can to try to make these programs available once the Congress passes them, as soon as possible. But I don’t want to commit to getting something done or not done until I see precisely what the range of responsibilities are."

Comments: If the current farm bill process follows historical patterns, there could still be an agreement announced regarding a framework accord as there usually needs to be a period of pessimism near the end zone in order to get into it. But that was before the current dysfunctional Congress came into play -- or lack of it.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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