Marin Bozic, a University of Minnesota economist who has immersed himself in dairy issues within the farm bill, believes there’s only a 60% chance of farm bill passage.
Despite the rhetoric of politicians who say they want a farm bill, neither party has a real incentive to pass one, he says. "For Democrats, is no deal better than a raw deal?" he asks.
No new bill means food stamp spending will remain unscathed, a prime issue for Democrats. The Senate has passed $4 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years while the House has passed $40 billion in cuts. The Senate/House Conference Committee would likely compromise on a number somewhere in between. But no new farm bill means the Democrats wouldn’t have to compromise and cut anything, says Bozic.
On the other hand, Republicans believe they have a good chance of gaining the majority in the U.S. Senate in the 2014 elections. "Can they get more after the election?" asks Bozic.
Currently, Democrats hold 53 seats, Republicans, 45 and Independents, 2. But 21 Democrats are up for re-election in 2014 compared to 14 Republicans. A swing of just five seats gives Republicans control of the Senate, and would allow them much greater say in legislation.
Bozic doubts a farm bill will pass by the end of the year, and that permanent, 1949 law will govern farm programs for the first few weeks of 2014. But don’t expect milk prices to double in that time. USDA will have to implement rules and place bids for dairy commodities at 75% of parity (mandated under permanent law), and that will take time. By then, it’s likely Congress will either pass an extension of current law or cobble something else together.