House Republicans Coalescing Around One-Year Extension of Farm Bill

July 26, 2012 01:37 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Hurdles include budget offsets, food stamp funding, direct payments, and recalcitrant House and Senate Democrats

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A farm bill extension with ag disaster relief is a distinct possibility – at least in the House. House GOP leaders and House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) are coalescing around a modified one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, a measure that would include lapsed ag disaster aid. A vote could come as early as next week. But a more complex process will be the likely outcome as key issues will likely punt the farm bill into the continuing resolution (CR) process -- both before and after the elections.

Thorny issues include finding budget offsets, defending any continuation of direct payments, and getting both House and Senate Democratic lawmakers on board.

Lucas on Wednesday signaled a push for a one-year extension during a meeting with freshmen lawmakers. "There can be a legitimate argument made that a one-year extension — and still do the farm bill in regular order — will allow for a more orderly transition from the old policies to the new," Lucas said, noting that doing so would not mean abandoning the goal of passing the five-year bill. "A year would be the most orderly, but it can be subject to whatever is determined by management."

Lucas said he is confident that something will happen: "Clearly, this has become a much higher focus for leadership in recent days, and that’s good." If the House goes the extension route, he is in no way giving up on passing the five-year reauthorization, he said.

Democratic lawmakers balk. Key House Democrats, including House Ag Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and many Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), have rejected the extension push and instead continue to urge the House to take up a new farm bill.

"I think, right now, it’s a pretty fluid situation," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who noted a new five-year bill is the best solution, but adding the ongoing drought poses major problems. "The drought puts greater weight behind us fixing this; whether or not that results in getting some momentum behind the farm bill, that remains to be seen."

Not so sure about SURE. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) introduced a drought aid bill Wednesday, but unlike a drought measure introduced in the Senate by Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Emerson's draft would not renew a controversial program called the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE). The 2008 farm bill created SURE as an alternative to ad hoc disaster assistance provided by Congress. Emerson, a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, echoed what others have noted about the program – that SURE was expensive and few farmers in her southeast Missouri district used it.

The topic of the future of direct payments is a major one because both the Senate-passed new farm bill, and the pending House farm bill would eliminate the nearly $4.8 billion in annual payment, using some of the savings to help fund new safety net programs.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a member of the Agriculture Committee, said conservatives are sure to oppose continuation of direct payments. "If you were to announce tonight that direct payments would be extended another year, the opposition would be fierce," he said.

However, one option being mulled is to reduce but not eliminate direct payments for 2013 crops, and to use the savings to help offset the price tag for whatever is agreed to relative to agriculture disaster programs and perhaps some funding for conservation program signups.

Bluffing with 1949 angle. While those pushing a new farm bill frequently warn that key farm programs would revert to 1949 laws, Peterson said that won’t happen until after the winter wheat crop is harvested next spring. "The people who are advocating that have no understanding of the farm bill," he said.

Comments: Doing a short-term farm bill extension/ag disaster relief measure is even more of an uphill climb to get the Republican caucus to support because direct payments would not be eliminated and food stamp funding would not be significantly altered – requirements many House Republicans insist on for the years ahead. Thus, a one-year farm bill extension would not likely garner the 218 votes in the House because very few if any Democrats would vote for it, and some Republicans would balk. A more likely avenue is for the House to pass Rep. Emerson's ag disaster relief bill, with offsets, before Congress adjourns for the August recess that begins next week. When lawmakers return in September, they must pass at least a short-term continuing resolution (CR) for Fiscal Year 2013 spending (appropriations), which could become a vehicle for a short-term farm bill extension. This would would give lawmakers time to work out a five-year farm bill in a lame-duck, post election session. If Congress is unable to complete a farm bill during the lame-duck session, a one-year farm bill extension could be added to a more lengthy omnibus CR or some other must-pass legislation that would be considered during the lame-duck session and include language that would provide certainty for farmers for the 2013 season.


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






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