The Farm Bill Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 of  our 2012 Farm Bill overview…

Farm Bills have traditionally been tough to write, in many respects. Other things to consider that will be unique to writing the 2012 Farm Bill are:

  • Other forces will play in this Farm Bill. In an extraordinary move, the Brazilian cotton case resolved in the World Trade Organization in August 2009 maintains a caveat that authorizes the Brazilian government to retaliate against the U.S. by suspending U.S. intellectual property (IP) rights (patents & copyrights)  if it believes the 2012 Farm Bill contains trade distorting policies, targeting mainly the commodity marketing loan and counter-cyclical payment programs. Watch for more non-traditional IP-intensive industries and their high-powered lobbying corps to enter the fray of the 2012 Farm Bill debate.
  • Already dimishing support. Support for farm programs has already begun to diminish as the Administration’s FY 2011 fiscal year budget proposed to reduce farm supports.
  • Every candidate in 2012 must take a position on farm policy. 2012 is presidential election year. 23 Democrats and ten Republicans will be up for re-election in the U.S. Senate.  Several Democrat Senators witnessed losses or serious challenges in their home states.  New Republican members in the House and Senate were elected by a grassroots movement with a mandate to cut government spending and balance the budget.
  • John BoehnerDiversity of Opinion Among Leaders. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) will have 242 republicans, a 51-seat majority to move legislation forward.  He can lose up to 24 republican votes and still be able to pass legislation.  Both Boehner and incoming Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not support adoption of either the 2002 or the 2008 Farm Bills (

Incoming House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) is a supporter of non-trade distorting direct (commodity) payments (about $5 billion annually) to producers.  Incoming Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) wants to see the funds used in a different approach. Both seem to be close on farm policy matters while timing to complete the bill seems to be their greatest difference of opinion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) now needs support from seven Republicans to  get to the magical 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and pass legislation.  With the scent of “majority party” in the air given the number of seats to defend in 2012 largely favoring Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should have little trouble maintaining Republican opposition.

Debbie StabenowIncoming Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), hails from a state that produces more than 200 commodities and in 2008 generated nearly $8 billion in total agriculture output.  Senator Stabenow  authored specialty crop provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill.  Some of those programs may be among the 38 that do not maintain a budget baseline beyond 2011-12. Lawmakers with diverse constituencies in agriculture will particularly face difficult decisions ahead as they try to craft farm policy in a balanced approach.  Incoming Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS) has experience crafting farm policy in such a manner when he served as Agriculture Committee Chairman in the House of Representatives during the 1996 farm bill debate.  He will be a huge help to Chairwoman Stabenow in balancing priorities for U.S. farm policy during the writing of the 2012 Farm Bill under budget reconcilitation. 

  • Education curve. Half of the 28 Democrats on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee suffered defeat in their re-election bid. To retain their current and respective level of membership and assuming those returning stay on the Committee, Republicans may add up to eleven members and democrats up to nine members. This means that at least one-third of all the members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee could be writing their first Farm Bill.  Moreover, how many of the eleven Republican members added to the Committee will be reform-minded tea party coalition members?
  • Details. Given the “shellacking” in the mid-term elections coupled with the previous budget submission to Congress reducing farm programs, means distrust toward the Administration will linger in the Farm Bill debate.  Moreover, if the Farm Bill is re-authorized close to the September 30, 2012 expiration date, this could impact implementation as the Amercian electorate may change the administration.  That means any new, or changes to program provisions must be written in the statute with careful detail so that interpretation is confined to the lawmaker’s intent (i.e. No more, “put the language in the bill let USDA figure it out”).  Besides, reform-minded tea party members are going to love that one.

NEXT: The impact of the Farm Bill…

(These are my opinions and I’d love to hear yours on the 2012 farm bill.  Email at [email protected] or Twitter me at:

Tim Cansler is the Founder and Chief Strategist for Cansler Consulting, a lobbying a firm in Washington D.C. To subscribe to this blog via a news reader or email, please click here or for more information on the Farm Bill and other government items that may impact your organization, please take a look at

Tim Cansler