If the farm bill is ever to pass, it will have to go through a more normal legislative process, say lobbyists who have worked on Capitol Hill for years.
It cannot be wedged into larger budget bills that get rammed through Congress without debate.
"If this bill is going to see the President’s desk, it has to pass through the House [of Representatives] floor, including through the amendment process where all members have an opportunity to have input," says Tyson Redpath, senior vice president of government affairs for The Russell Group, Inc. Redpath lobbies on behalf of dairy processors and the International Dairy Foods Association. "We will have to let this process unfold."
Redpath and several lobbyists spoke this morning at Dairy Forum 2013 here in Orlando, Fla.
"Only half a dozen House members understand dairy policy, and only a couple serve on the agriculture committee," adds Harry Katrichis, of counsel , for The Advocacy Group, who lobbies for California Dairy, Inc. "And it’s rarer and rarer to have rural Democrats serve on the ag committees. Those Democrats that do are there because of feeding programs, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program)."
As a result, lobbyists for farm and dairy policy must continue efforts to educate members of Congress and their staff.
The disagreement over supply management still splits dairy producer groups and dairy producers and processors. Jackie Klippenstein, VP, industry and legislative affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, says the dairy stabilization program contained in the Dairy Security Act already is the product of compromise. Originally, the stabilization program was mandatory along with minimum, $4/cwt margin insurance. Only the supplemental portion of the program was voluntary.
Now, dairy producers would have the option of signing up for minimum, $4 margin insurance. If they do, however, they must also agree to the stabilization program. "The program might not be ideal for everybody, but it does suit the needs of the industry," she says.
But opponents of the stabilization program fear it could morph into something more onerous later. "What’s past is prologue," says Redpath. "The Northeast Dairy Compact became the milk income loss contract program and on and on we go."
When—and even whether—a farm bill gets done is anyone’s guess. But the lobbyists were mildly optimistic because so many programs and so many dollars are at stake.
Collin Peterson (Dem., Minn.), the ranking minority member on the House Ag Committee, and
Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) are very good friends and "classmates" who entered Congress at the same time, points out Redpath. They should be able to get a deal done.