This latest update is courtesy of our friends at The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The Farm Bill That Wasn’t
After missing their original November 1 deadline, the House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders continued to work on hammering out a deal on what might have become the 2011 Farm Bill. Things really heated up the week before Thanksgiving when the new farm bill deal appeared imminent. Friday November 18th came and went, however, with the bill drafters still waiting on a final budget scoring on the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, delaying its official unveiling.
The Agriculture Committee leaders intended to send the bill to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Super Committee”) for inclusion in the big government-wide deficit reduction bill, however it became clear the Super Committee would not succeed in producing a budget bill for consideration by the full House and Senate in December.
With the Super Committee process now dead, the Agriculture Committee leadership on Monday decided to simply scrap the deal they had nearly reached and issue no details, no summary, no budget score, and no bill. Instead, House Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Senate Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) issued a simple statement, saying:
“House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders developed a bipartisan, bicameral proposal for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that would save $23 billion. However, the Joint Select Committee’s failure to reach a deal on an overall deficit reduction package effectively ends this effort. We are pleased we were able to work in a bipartisan way with committee members and agriculture stakeholders to generate sound ideas to cut spending by tens of billions while maintaining key priorities to grow the country’s agriculture economy. We will continue the process of reauthorizing the farm bill in the coming months, and will do so with the same bipartisan spirit that has historically defined the work of our committees.”
What’s Next for the Farm Bill?
There are many scenarios with respect to what might become of the next Farm Bill. The wildest one, and most unlikely of the lot, is that it would still happen in 2011.
Scenarios for 2012 include two variations on taking it up early in 2012 and finishing it by summer, before nearly all attention focuses solely on the elections. Variation one would pick up where things left off, with the draft deal from last week serving as the initial draft that would then be open to amendment. Variation two would start the whole process over from scratch. And of course there would be combination approaches in which some pieces would start over, but others would start from where things left off.
Under either of those variations, there could be a continuation of the goal of cutting total farm bill spending by $23 billion over ten years, or that number could change. Also under either variation, there could be a return to more normal legislative process, with hearings, subcommittee and full committee markups, and floor amendments and floor votes, or there could be a continuation of a less open process, especially if there is a new deficit reduction budget deal that emerges in the meantime.
At least four things tend to weigh toward a one-year extension of the existing farm bill and delay work on the new one until 2013. Two are budgetary and two are political.
First, the overall budget situation is confusing and without knowing how much to cut, the Agriculture Committees could start down the wrong path and turn out to be out of sync with a long-term deficit reduction deal. Second, if a reduced-cost farm bill is written and becomes law in 2012, but sequestration is allowed to move ahead as per current law, then the new farm bill would be cut a second time barely before the ink has dried on the actual farm bill. A 2013 Farm Bill, on the other hand, would have the advantage of being able to revise the shape of the automatic cuts before they go into effect permanently.
Third, it is an election year and legislative time will be short, with interruptions for primaries and campaigning. Fourth, for those Agriculture Committee Republicans who may assume their party will regain control of the Senate in the November election, there is also a strong incentive to wait a year.
There are also strong countervailing forces to the 2013 scenario. It is probably safe to say that at this particular point in time, no one really knows under which scenario the farm bill debate will play out. It may take time for the dust to settle and new strategies to emerge. Stay tuned!
Learn more at: sustainableagriculture.net