Lacking Votes, House GOP Leaders Scrap Move for One-Year Farm Bill Extension

August 1, 2012 01:15 AM

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House GOP will now push solo ag disaster aid bill on Thursday

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In a widely expected move on Tuesday, House GOP leaders yanked a one-year extension from a bill (HR 6228) linked with ag disaster aid focused on livestock producers and instead will vote Thursday only on the ag disaster package.


The substitute bill would restore livestock indemnity and forage programs that have expired in the current farm program, with some assistance also for specialty crops. To keep down costs, the aid will apply only to 2012, while offsets will come from imposing caps on two conservation programs (the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program) much as the House Appropriations Committee has already proposed in its 2013 budget bill. Early estimates indicate the net savings would be about $256 million. 


Without Democratic support, especially from House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), it had been clear there would not be enough Republican votes to garner the 218 needed for the bill's passage. Peterson linked his support to getting a commitment from House Speaker John Boehner or another top GOP leader that the farm bill extension would lead to a new farm bill conference with the Senate. Peterson is betting Republicans are going to be under political pressure to pass a new farm bill when they return to Washington in September. "They're going to catch hell, and when they come back they are going to be motivated, I think," Peterson said.


House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said there "seems to be a bipartisan consensus" in the House and Senate on drought aid. Dreier said his committee would extend the days for the suspension calendar until Thursday to allow for a vote on the stand-alone aid bill. A bill taken up on suspension requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass, but Dreier said, "I think it’s something we can do with strong bipartisan support on the floor."


The disaster aid package will be funded solely from cuts in conservation spending, House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) said Tuesday. In a written statement, Lucas said action on drought aid was critical, and he would continue to work on farm bill legislation. "My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed," Lucas said.


Lucas said he would work with Peterson. Peterson and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) want to work on a compromise farm bill over the August recess with their GOP counterparts. "We're negotiating about negotiating," Lucas said. Peterson said he wanted the House GOP leadership to formally approve such negotiations, but that isn't happening. Boehner is opposed to allowing the Agriculture committees to conference the farm bill but would not object to Lucas working on the issue informally, sources inform.


Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said would not consider a one-year extension of farm programs, insisting the House consider provisions in the Senate-passed five-year measure (S 3240). But he also signaled the Senate might accept a stand-alone drought aid bill. "I think that what the House should do is take the provisions we have in our bill that we sent to them, and if they want to do something about drought relief, send that to us," Reid said. "We’re willing to do anything that’s reasonable, but an extension some of them are talking about is not reasonable."


Many House Democrats oppose any cuts to SNAP, a program that provides monthly food aid to more than 46 million low-income people at a cost of nearly $80 billion a year. GOP leaders are unlikely to find enough Democratic votes to counter GOP opposition.


Comments: The most likely strategy ahead for a new farm bill is that it will be dealt with in the post-election, lame-duck session, even though Ag Committee leaders and members will continue to push for a more accelerated timeline and could likely discuss various compromises between the two bills. But by far the biggest issue is food stamp funding. The Senate bill cuts food stamp funding $4 billion, but the House Ag Committee-passed measure cuts funding by $16.1 billion. Sources say the only way a compromise on the difference in such funding could be made if it is attached to a must-pass bill in the lame-duck session. A limited farm bill extension will be needed under that scenario and will likely be extended until the end of 2012, allowing for the lame-duck strategy to play out. If not, the matter would be punted to a new Congress in 2013, a scenario few predict or desire at this time.


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






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