CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
By Ellyn Ferguson, CQ Staff
Forty-six groups armed with speeches and “Farm Bill Now” buttons plan to lay out the case this week for Congress to pass a five-year reauthorization before the current law expires Sept. 30.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow
, D-Mich., is expected to attend the Sept. 12 event and stand with leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and other organizations in their call for a new bill that sets policy for agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development and other programs.
But key lawmakers from other farm states have concluded that there is probably too little time to pass a full reauthorization of farm and nutrition programs this month or even in a lame-duck session later this year.
The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said that House leaders seem to have decided that a five-year farm bill is not an option and also seem to have embraced the idea of a one-year extension of the current law (PL 110-246).
“From what I can tell, they’ve decided to go back to doing a one-year extension,” Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota said in a phone call Sept. 7.
Peterson’s comments are similar to those by Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and a senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Both lawmakers’ comments come amid speculation among some on Capitol Hill that a farm bill extension could be attached to a measure in the works to continue funding government programs until April.
Grassley told reporters last week that, with only eight legislative days scheduled in the House this month, a farm bill was unlikely to be finished and that “it is most likely we’ll have a one-year extension.”
The Senate passed its bill in June, but House Republican leaders kept the House Agriculture Committee measure (HR 6083) off the floor because of disagreements among the rank and file on the size of proposed spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The committee bill calls for a reduction of $16 billion over 10 years for SNAP, while the Senate-passed bill (S 3240) would cut $4.5 billion over the next decade.
In July, House leaders bundled a one-year farm bill extension with a drought aid bill that would have renewed farm bill disaster programs that expired in 2011. They dropped the extension and scaled back the aid after determining that they did not have the votes to pass it.
The House passed the revised bill (HR 6233) by a 233-197 vote on Aug. 2. The prime beneficiaries would be cattle and sheep ranchers, who generally do not have access to federally subsidized crop insurance. However, a number of agriculture groups opposed the bill, which they consider too narrowly focused and too limited because it applies only to fiscal 2012.
They also saw it as an effort by House leaders to ease the pressure to take up the committee farm bill that, like its Senate counterpart, would renew the expired disaster programs. The House disaster bill is pending in the Senate, but 13 Farm Bill Now members renewed their arguments against it in a Sept. 7 letter to Senate leaders.
They urged the leaders not to give in to pressure from some senators to proceed with the House disaster bill or any other aid bill, saying they “fear that passage of a bill similar to the House bill could result in further delays in completing a full five-year farm bill.”
A final farm bill, the groups said, would include longer-term programs “that would provide the disaster relief our farm and ranch families need at this time.”
Even Extension Could Face Opposition
So far, there does not appear to be a large enough groundswell from agribusiness or other interest groups to compel House leaders to move the committee bill to the floor for a vote or to allow the Agriculture Committee to bypass the floor, negotiate with the Senate and send a compromise to the full House for a vote.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said in a statement last week that he would still prefer to send to the president a five-year measure. “We need to give producers and the people who do business with them the certainty they need,” he said.
But, he added, “extending the present farm bill one year to allow us to get it done is the next best choice.”
Even an extension could face problems in the House and require some deft maneuvering on the part of leaders. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the fiscally conservative Republican Study Committee, said he does not support adding big policy items, including a farm bill extension, to a continuing resolution.
Jordan may be voicing the sentiments of a significant bloc of House Republicans. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said he probably would oppose an extension of current agriculture and nutrition programs unless it included spending cuts.
But some Republicans say they would accept a farm bill extension on a continuing resolution.
“We don’t want it to become a major bill with all kinds of little provisions. I think they will want it relatively clean. But obviously, there are issues that need to be addressed — time’s running out — like the farm bill,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican on the House Agriculture panel.
But, he added, a farm bill extension should not run longer than the continuing resolution.
House Democrats might be willing to back a farm bill extension because it would delay efforts by congressional Republicans to cut spending for SNAP.
But backing an extension involves other choices. The House and Senate farm bills would end annual direct payments tied to the crop-production history of land, which are paid regardless of economic conditions. After years of challenges by watchdog groups and congressional opponents, most farm groups decided that the payments were bad for public relations with taxpayers and supported efforts to end them and to shift farm programs to a greater reliance on insurance-like programs.
Payments for the 2012-13 crop year go out in October regardless of whether the current farm bill expires or whether there is a new farm bill. If there is a one-year extension, leaders will have to decide whether they want to continue the payments, which could raise opposition among House members.
Alan K. Ota contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the Sept. 10, 2012 print issue of CQ Today
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