Despite the failure of linking the farm bill to the supercommittee, legislative leaders and policy experts at the Farm Journal Forum remain hopeful the agriculture committees will rally Congress to get the bill passed in 2012.
The bill linked with the supercommittee failed. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) says that agriculture policy is not at an easy spot right now. "We’ve had a farm bill that wasn’t and a supercommittee that wasn’t so super," he says. Despite all of the mess, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) are working diligently to get a bill drafted that will pass and will represent farm country well. "Rather than having others decide what should happen in agriculture policy, I believe that we should be deciding where to take cuts and to decrease the deficit ourselves," Stabenow says.
Jim Wiesemeyer of Informa Economics says if this bill isn’t out of the House and Senate by May, it will be bumped to 2013. Historically, the farm bill has a bipartisan spirit; however, Wiesemeyer says, this bill faces unique challenges. With the 2010 elections, there are many new Republicans in Congress who are seeking to reduce spending and who look at spending in different ways than previous Congresses. There is also an education factor playing into this farm bill, he says, in that many new members don’t understand the bill and its importance. He also says that linking this bill with the supercommittee and the secretive nature that followed is causing problems. "Because of the ill will of some farm state lawmakers who feel like they weren’t briefed during the process and some commodity groups that feel that some regions will do better because of the Stabenow and Lucas approach, you’ve got a lot of frustration," Wiesemeyer says.
Wiesemeyer says there will likely be many things in the bill linked to the supercommittee that will not be included in the reworked bill, but, according to Stabenow, the supercommittee bill proposals will not be released in their entirety. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) would like to see the bill proposal released, and he is working with Lucas to release the dairy title, if nothing else.
Peterson says that there is an effort by some to offer the farm bill without amendments or a filibuster to offset some of the stimulus spending they would like to see happen. Whether that is extending the payroll tax cut or extending the unemployment benefits soon to expire, however, Wiesemeyer doesn’t believe Republican House members will allow it to happen.
Stabenow assured Forum attendees that she understands there are inherent risks farmers face and she is dedicated to keeping crop insurance programs in the bill. According to Wiesemeyer, it is safe to say that commodity programs will be cut and that crop insurance programs will take their place. "Almost every lawmaker in a leadership position is saying direct payments will be eliminated and a portion of that will be used to generate a better farmer safety net," he says.
Listen to an interview with Jim Wiesemeyer of Informa Economics: