Path to 2012 Farm Bill: Expiration, Election, and ???
September 18th, 2012
It’s official. A spokesperson for House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) said today they are throwing in the towel on any farm bill action this week in the House. Neither a new farm bill nor an extension of the existing farm bill will be brought up for a floor vote. The September 30 expiration date of the current farm bill will be allowed to come and go with no action at all from the House.
After this week, both Representatives and in-cycle Senators will scurry home for campaigning, meaning nothing will happen on the farm bill until after the election. Whether the post-election lame duck session of Congress will deal with a new farm bill or a modified extension of the existing farm bill remains to be seen.
The three E’s – expiration, election, followed by extension – is a depressing future to contemplate. We greatly prefer the three R’s – rigor mortis (aka. expiration), referendum (aka. elections), followed by renewal and reform.
To tell the truth, judging by events to date, neither an extension nor a renewal/reform lame duck path will be easy. Expiration of a farm bill without even an extension of current law is without precedent — a once unfathomable option that is now suddenly treated as no big deal. “Kick the can down the road” has become part of the normal legislative lexicon in this Congress, and moving beyond that mantra during the last-ditch, lame duck moments of this session of Congress is a lot to expect.
By any measure, renewal and reform is by far the best option, but also the harder one. If the bill goes through regular order, not only does the full House need to act on its farm bill, but it must be conferenced with the Senate-passed version and the conference report has to be passed in both bodies. All in just a few short weeks.
Renewals of important farm bill programs for economic growth and equity, new and beginning farmers, food system and market development, and conservation and renewable energy need to be included. Reforms to farm subsidy programs are desperately needed.
Neither the Senate-passed bill or the House Committee-passed farm bills do the job that is needed, though the Senate bill certainly comes much closer to the mark on both counts.
For many reasons, the extension option holds nearly as many political difficulties as getting the new bill done. If that were not the case, a short term extension of existing law would have already passed.
In our view, an extension must extend funding for all the farm bill mandatory programs, and not leave the newer, more innovative programs behind as the short-lived House extension bill tried to do in July. An extension bill should also not include cuts to conservation programs and in fact should reverse cuts made to conservation in the Continuing Resolution that will be the last measure to pass Congress before they leave town this week. And an extension bill should include a significant down payment on subsidy reform.
We continue to hope there is in fact a path to a 2012 Farm Bill and continue to work toward that end. Clearly, there will be a great deal at stake for our nation’s farm and food policy in the few short weeks that will be the lame duck session.