2012 Farm Bill: Long Row to Hoe! ’08 Farm Bill Extension?

Amidst 73 germane and non-germane amendments offered in the U.S. Senate, the passage of the Farm Bill, a half-trillion dollar bill containing farm and nutrition policies for the next five-years was an incredible feat accomplished by Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Senate leadership last week. Many pundits are now proclaiming that passage of the Farm Bill in the US Senate will build pressure in the US House to complete their version so that the new law will be in place prior to the current law expiring on September 30.

But many factors are leading to the conclusion that the Farm Bill cannot be completed by the September 30 expiration date:

  • According to Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) legislative calendar there remains only 28 legislative days in the House prior to the September 30 expiration of the current Farm Bill. To date, House leaders have not indicated that the Farm Bill is a legislative priority in ensuing weeks ahead.
  • The House has only considered half of the 12 appropriations bills. The end of the annual fiscal year coincides with the Farm Bill expiration deadline, September 30.
  • The Appropriations bill for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Food and Drug Administration will be on the House floor for debate this week. This will be a good precursor for the Farm Bill debate as Members typically offer amendments that impact farm policies. Some amendments, if adopted, could impede the work of the authorizing (Agriculture) Committee.
  • The Obama Administration has already issued a veto threat of the Appropriations bill for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Food and Drug Administration objecting to the overall funding for fiscal year 2013 and taking specific issue with funding levels for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and international food aid. The House Agriculture Appropriations bill cuts CFTC by $25 million. The Senate-adopted version of the Farm Bill cuts SNAP by $4.5 billion (over 10 years). The House version of the Farm Bill will likely cut SNAP by $14 billion. Will this trigger a veto threat of the Farm Bill from the Administration?
  • The differences between the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill with respect to Title I Commodities will be immense. The Senate Farm Bill eliminates direct and counter cyclical programs that were based on historical crop yields and set target prices and replaces them with a new program Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) that insures producers for revenue losses from 11 percent to 21 percent. The House will almost certainly maintain a target price program for major commodities that trigger payments to producers when market prices fall below the respective, set target prices.
  • Once the Farm Bill is signed into law (based upon the complexities of the law) USDA may require up to six months to issue a final rule before program benefits begin to reach producers.

It will be very unfortunate if the current Farm Bill must be extended for any length of time. The budget baseline for agriculture programs will be significantly reduced by the coming budget sequestration. Moreover, during debate on an extension, hostile amendments to farm policy are just as likely as they are during debate to pass a new five-year Farm Bill.

Extended Like Transportation?

Also, it is highly conceivable given Congress’ inability to agree on long-term solutions on key issues that the Farm Bill may get into a similar extension cycle as the multi-year transportation reauthorization. The previous transportation authorization (the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA, P.L. 109-59) was enacted in 2005 and expired on September 30, 2009; since that time, federal surface transportation programs have operated under a series of extensions and uncertainty.

Not Helping Their Ratings

It is unlikely that Congress’ low approval ratings will improve if a Farm Bill is passed before the September 30 expiration. However, NOT passing a Farm Bill and potentially allowing the nation’s providers of food, fiber and nutrition to go through multiple extensions, as the nation’s transportation system has, will only further lower the public’s approval rating of Congress.

Cansler Consulting is an experienced lobbying firm in Food and Drug safety, budgeting, agriculture, rural healthcare, and energy policies and through our Congressional relationships we can help you influence the policy makers on Capitol Hill. You can contact us at info@canslerconsulting.com or at (202) 220-3150.

Tim Cansler