New Farm Bill Not as Hard to Get as Most Think

December 4, 2012 12:40 AM
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Inserting farm bill with end-of-year fiscal cliff package still a viable option

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

New farm bill provisions have been dissected many ways for longer than most farm bill watchers care to admit. While many observers think some hard decisions remain, veteran observers signal a farm bill compromise between the Senate and House versions could still be part of an end-of-year package dealing with fiscal cliff issues.

A farmer-choice safety net. Odds are high that the final farm bill package, which could have a framework agreement yet this year but with details fleshed out in early 2013, will contain a farmer safety net option of either revenue assurance or increased target/reference prices, along the lines of the pending House proposal – especially after Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) recently shifted his views against target prices.

Key farm bill staff aides know the thorny issues, and along with the key Ag panel leaders, could make compromise decisions to meet a year-end direction by House and Senate leaders to come up with a compromise bill to include in any final fiscal cliff package that some see very close to Dec. 21. Some are not ruling out lawmakers returning to Congress for a few days after Christmas.

But getting an actual new farm bill and other fiscal cliff issues agreed to by Congress may take until early 2013 via language very similar to the failed Super Committee process in the fall of 2011. If so, lawmakers would have until a specified date in 2013 to implement the framework agreement. If not, triggered reductions would ensue.

Any “accelerated” farm bill action would be largely aided by any decision to avoid House floor debate and move farm bill provisions into a fiscal cliff package designed for a single vote with no amendments allowed. That strategy is by no means decided on at this juncture. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) continues to say the “votes are not there” on the House floor for a farm bill – but more than a few Washington contacts challenge Cantor's assessment. However, some farm bill stakeholders would be more than happy to see House floor action on a farm bill bypassed, due to expected controversial amendments likely to be pushed by some lawmakers.

Meanwhile, White House officials, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, continue to push for a farm bill conclusion yet this year. But again, any framework agreement including around $30 billion or so in 10-year budget savings would likely need time to be implemented, and despite Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-Minn.) objection to any extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, such an extension still seems probable at this point.

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


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