The passage of a new farm bill continues to remain elusive as Congress fails to act, much to the frustration of farmers, farmer advocacy groups, policy makers, and many others. The current farm bill is set to expire on September 30th, 2012. In this post I lay out the current situation and possible next steps, as well as new calls to action from prominent farm groups.
Despite the fact that the full Senate passed it's version of the farm bill back in June, and the House Ag. Committee passed it's version on July 12th, the House leadership has failed to bring the legislation to the House floor. Many analysts believe that with an election looming, Republican leaders in the House are reticent to allow passage of a costly bill that could both hurt Republican incumbents elected on a promise to reduce spending, and aid Senate Democrats and the President with a bipartisan legislative success. In addition, there is speculation that Republicans are hoping the election will bring about a change in the Senate of the Presidency that would make it easier to cut the funding for food assistance for the poor contained within the bill.
Yet while this political game continues to play out, there is rising concern within the agriculture community, which relies on the provisions within the bill for crop insurance, ag. loans, disaster assistance, conservation, energy programs, and much more. Recently, a new coalition calling itself Farm Bill Now representing "commodity crops, livestock, dairy, specialty crops, state and local governments, minor crops, energy and bio-based product groups, farm cooperatives and financial groups, as well as the nation’s two largest farm groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union" was formed. The coalition's expressed purpose is to pressure Congress to pass a new farm bill before the present bill expires on September 30th. According to a recent press release, "each organization has strong and distinct policy priorities, yet all 39 members are committed to passing a new, comprehensive bill this year".
According to political insiders, it is unlikely that the five year farm bill will be brought to the house floor prior to the November election, though it is not impossible. And individuals wishing to promote this possibility should contact their legislators individually, or through the Farm Bill Now coalition to advocate for this solution. A second possibility is that the ranking members of the Senate (Stabenow (D-MI), Roberts (R-KS)) and House (Lucas (R-OK), Peterson (D-MN) Agriculture Committee’s could negotiate a farm bill compromise, which is then brought to the floor of each body for a vote. A third, perhaps more likely possibility, is that these four could negotiate a compromise which is then attached to a much larger “must-pass” bill, which goes through in the “lame duck session” between the election and the seating of new members of the House, Senate, and possibly the Presidency, before which the current bill is given an extension so that it’s provisions continue until such action can take place.
Because it is highly unlikely that Congress will simply let the farm bill expire (the consequences would be disastrous for the estimated 1 in 12 Americans whose jobs are in some way tied to agriculture) another possibility involves a one year extension of the current farm bill, in which case the full bill would wait to be passed until next year. Two possibilities exist within this scenario: 1) Congress passes a straight up one year extension, in which case a number of important provisions will expire and remain unfunded for up to a year; or 2) Congress passes an extension with funding for disaster assistance and a number of other programs attached.
Most agriculture organizations, advocates, and policy makers agree that the preferable scenario is the passage of the full 5 year farm bill as soon as possible. If you are of this opinion, then now is the time to act.
By Taylor Reid, www.beginningfarmers.org founder and administrator.