Farm Bill Votes Not in House for Passage

July 17, 2012 01:54 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Bill likely kicked to lame-duck session, or into 2013

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

The House Ag Committee-passed farm bill would face a rocky floor vote and at this time would not likely pass that chamber, veteran House sources inform. That ups the odds that House GOP leaders will punt the farm bill either into the post-election, lame-duck session of Congress, or extend the farm bill and work on the measure in 2013.

But sources readily admit that waiting until 2013 includes the same thorny issues that currently exist – mainly major differences from lawmakers and groups wanting more food stamps cuts versus those who want far less than the $16.2 billion in the House-passed measure.

Food stamp funding biggest issue. If House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders bring the farm bill up for a floor vote before elections, the fear is that it would go down to defeat over the previously mentioned food stamp funding issues and such a situation would not help his fellow Republicans in the coming election. Meanwhile, very few Democratic members would vote for the food stamps cuts in the pending House bill whereas conservative House Republicans want more to a lot more funding cuts for that program.

Some lawmakers have even suggested breaking off food stamp funding from the farm bill, but few sources give that suggestion high odds of happening. 

Some observers compare the farm bill with the surface transportation reauthorization bill that the House did not pass on its own and instead bumped to a conference with the Senate after which it eventually passed both chambers and was signed into law. However, some contacts say it would be quite unusual for a nearly $1 trillion bill such as the farm bill to follow that same course. 

The farm bill strategy ahead is murky. Sources signal some type of farm bill extension will likely be wrapped into a continuing resolution late in September. Any such extension could be limited to the end of 2012, in order to see if a new farm bill could be cleared in what is now looking to be a very busy lame-duck session of Congress. If that is not possible, then a longer extension is likely.

What would be included in any farm bill extension is also unclear. Farm-state lawmakers want to resurrect funding for lapsed livestock disaster programs. Meanwhile, farm bill reformists would want at least a "down payment" on either eliminating or significantly reducing direct payments should the be extended into the 2013 crop season.

While USDA officials have indicated they can implement most new farm bill provisions, other sources are not so sure, especially if the farm bill debate goes into the lame-duck session and definitely into the 2013 timeframe.

Comments: When a group of seasoned congressional observers were polled and asked to predict the final timing of a new farm bill, they were nearly evenly split between the lame-duck session and 2013, with a slight nod to the lame-duck session -- a few suggested before the election but they quickly acknowledged that was more of a hope than a prediction. One contact noted that the US farm economy has experienced, by some measures, historic prosperity while the rest of the economy staggered through recession and remains fragile. House leadership, according to the source, may believe that focusing on an anemic economy more broadly takes precedent over a vibrant sector. But we are entering county fair season when politicians of all stripes, urban, suburban and rural, interface with the rural electorate. It is a must-see event on any number of Congressional district calendars. How will the politics of fear, driven by Mother Nature's dehydration, sway the political mood coming back in September? Will it compel action on a Farm Bill or on Ag appropriations measure to carry a disaster relief package? Or will crop insurance be allowed to prove its mettle during a time of true disaster?

Also, there is the issue of elevated use of US food aid programs such as SNAP, reflecting the overall US economy’s difficulties. All of these factors continue to form clouds on the horizon for the next version of US farm policy. Unfortunately, it is still unclear whether these clouds will deliver relief in the form of a new farm bill or whether they will evaporate like rainfall potential has over much of the US this growing season.


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






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