Farm bill extension round two in the making

News
Jun 28, 2013

Three Purdue University agricultural economists agree that another extension of 2008 farm legislation is a distinct possibility following the U.S. House’s defeat of the proposed farm bill.

Chris Hurt, Otto Doering and Roman Keeney, who closely follow developments of farm legislation, question whether Republican leadership in the House will allow debate on the contents of the farm bill again anytime soon. With the one-year extension set to expire at the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, farmers could see another extension of the five-year agricultural spending plan.

“There was just too much in the bill to dislike,” Hurt said. “Too many amendments passed at the last moment that changed the bill.”

One amendment in particular, sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-FL, would have given states the power to require food stamp recipients to seek work while on the program. That brought a backlash from Democrats and was key to the bill’s failure Thursday (June 20).

Without passage of a farm bill, farm legislation would revert to a 1949 law that could lead to steep price increases on some items, including milk, for consumers, according to Purdue economists. Legislators avoided that scenario by extending the 2008 farm bill in late December as dairy subsidies were scheduled to expire and the nation also was about to fall off the “fiscal cliff.”

“We cannot go without a farm bill because the 1949 legislation has too extreme of consequences,” Hurt said. “So odds may favor a second year of extension of the old farm bill.”

Doering believes the bill foundered on elements not directly related to agriculture—primarily the battle over how much spending should be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, and from commodity programs.

“There was the lack of real budget cuts in either the Senate or House version for either the food or the commodity titles, which rankled those conservatives wanting to make substantive, deep budget cuts,” Doering said. “The regions, especially the South, had already gained what they wanted most out of the commodity titles, so it came down to an almost ideological battle on how much to cut food stamps and whether the bill actually met any real budget-cutting principles.”

The Republican majority in the House will not follow its leadership and likely will remain fractured on important issues, such as a long-term budget fix, Doering said.

“It will come together primarily on issues of shared values, and the farm bill was not such an issue,” he said.

While it is difficult to predict what Congress will do about farm legislation this year, Keeney said farmers should understand that the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year doesn’t mean that all farm programs would end on that date without congressional action. Programs for corn and soybean crops, for example, remain intact throughout the crop season, which extends well beyond September.

“Sept. 30 is not doomsday for farming and safety nets,” he said. “Expiration of the fiscal year last year wasn’t a big deal at all, and it probably wouldn’t be this year, either.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was less than pleased with the House’s failure to pass the bill.

“The failure by the House leadership, for the second year in a row, to reach consensus on a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is a tremendous disappointment for all Americans.

Twice now, the U.S. Senate has done its job and passed balanced, comprehensive legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the House version of this bill would have unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America. As a result, the House was unable to achieve bipartisan consensus,” Vilsack said.

The 2013 farm bill was defeated by a vote of 195- 234. Only 24 Democrats voted for the bill, while 62 Republicans voted against.

Shortly before the vote on final passage, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, addressed his colleagues. “I implore you to put aside the latest email or the latest flyer, comment, or rumor you have heard, assess the situation, look at the bill, and vote with me to move this forward.”

In a statement following the vote, Lucas said that he was disappointed but looking forward. “We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need,” Lucas said in the statement. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

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