Farm Bill Update: Why Few Think Farm Bill Will Get Done This Year

February 8, 2012 11:58 PM
 
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

A bogged-down Senate and disagreements over provisions main reasons for lengthy timeline

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


Leaders and top staff of the House and Senate Agriculture panels last December had new farm bill language that they were prepared to attach to the ill-fated Super Committee attempt to find at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction. But that farm bill draft, which was never released, has apparently met with continued farm and commodity group, and some farm-state lawmaker, opposition. So much so that some sources signal a rewrite is in order.

The ongoing farm bill wrangling has led most observers to give low odds that a farm bill will be completed this calendar year – even during a very likely lame-duck session of Congress following Nov. 6 elections.

While many think Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) can get a farm bill markup session completed by the end of May, those same observers do not believe she will be able to obtain Senate floor time to complete the task. Some others note, however, that the Senate schedule is murky at this time, and few major bills are expected to be debated and finalized, thereby leaving a potential opportunity for farm bill debate.

House Republicans have told the Senate to go first on the farm bill because of the Senate's lack of consensus on nearly anything. In essence, House Republicans do not want to consider any sensitive bill ahead of elections if there are low odds it will be finalized before Nov. 6 elections.

Of note, there is a lack of consensus on what budget savings will be needed. The House GOP will push a new budget resolution as soon as March but more likely in April. That should provide some details on farm bill spending cuts.

Adding to the possible slow-walking farm bill timeline is continued discord about farm bill provisions among a host of farm-state lawmakers and other stakeholders, including national farm and commodity groups. For example, a recent meeting among some commodity groups revealed no major consensus, with a pledge simply to meet again.

Some provisions of the current farm bill expire at the end of September, and an effort will be made to extend them ahead of their expiration. While some contacts believe that process could be delayed until after Nov. elections, others are not so sure. Nothing is simple any longer in the Senate and House, so a simple farm bill extension would not be so simple, as would-be farm bill reformists would want to offer amendments to any extension bill, and thus a farm bill debate would or could ensue.

And, with any farm bill extension, direct payments would remain and there would have to be budget reductions to offset the $4.8 billion payouts.

Those outside Washington looking at the farm bill timeline situation are, as most other voters, frustrated at the developments because of Congress' inability to move the ball forward on major legislation.

Some ask, Why would it be any easier to get a farm bill completed in 2013? Others note the budget situation could be worse in 2013 than the current situation. Others believe that after November elections, Congress and the White House may finally get serious about deficit and debt reduction and farm bill spending could face budget cuts even beyond the $23 billion offered in the ill-fated Super Committee process. Finally, 2013 could likely bring GOP control to the Senate and if so, a new Senate Agriculture leader, most likely Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who appears to have more than a few disagreements over some farm bill provisions pushed late last year.


Comments: When I present this topic during my many speeches throughout farm country, listeners scratch their heads and ask if Congress can do anything. Some believe that the 12 members on the so-called Super Committee should be targeted for defeat because they let Americans down. Others say those who came up with the Super Committee idea should be defeated because they simply pushed responsibility of dealing with the huge U.S. government debt to a gang of 12 who couldn't get anything done. And those same observers say that if the farm bill cannot get done this calendar year, after possibly being done late last year via the Super Committee process, then members of the Ag panels should also be asked serious questions why they should remain in office ahead of their next elections. Voters are increasingly using the term accountability when it comes to Washington -- lawmakers and the White House.



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


 

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