Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Is there a Farm Bill Plan B?
December 20th, 2012
Much of the national policy news this week has focused on House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) sudden move, in the middle of negotiations with the President over the so-called fiscal cliff issues, to take time out to have the House vote (this evening) on his “Plan B.” That Plan B would combine votes on tax cuts and spending cuts that bear almost no relationship to where the two-party negotiations had been heading. Whether this proves to be a mere detour in the road to a negotiated agreement or a step in the direction of blowing up the talks for the rest of the calendar year remains to be seen.
In the meantime, talks on a negotiated settlement between the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed farm bills have also stopped, with little prospect for a path forward on a new five-year bill before next year. Absent a last minute miracle, which — while welcome — frankly appears remote, there seemingly must be a Plan B for the farm bill. The contours of that Plan B have long been known, but not frequently talked about while hope remained for finishing the new farm bill this year.
The key ingredients would likely be –
- An extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through some specific date in 2013, likely late spring or summer, to ensure that mandatory farm bill programs with permanent funding can continue, that discretionary farm bill programs are reauthorized for the interim, and that permanent and very antiquated law with respect to commodity programs does not come into force.
- An amount of spending cuts that the Agriculture Committees will be tasked with achieving as part of a broader deficit reduction plan as they develop the 2013 Farm Bill by whatever deadline is agreed upon.
- An agreement to provide FY 2013 funding for the innovative farm bill programs, highlighted in our recent “What’s At Stake” series, that had mandatory funding in the 2008 Farm Bill and have renewed mandatory funding in either the Senate-passed or House Committee-passed version of the 2012 Farm Bill or both, but that will not have funding for 2013 unless the extension includes such funding.
- A negotiated deal on either a temporary or permanent fix for the dairy program, likely in the form of either an extension/enhancement of what was the Milk Income Loss Contract program or the start-up of the new Dairy Market Stabilization Program included, with some differences, in the Senate and House bills.
Presumably too, there must be some give on commodity direct payments for 2013. With both the Obama and House-passed budgets calling for direct payments to disappear after 2012, and with both the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed farm bills following through on that termination, it would be remarkable and more than a bit ironic for direct payments to continue to be held completely harmless in a final 2012 Plan B deal for agriculture.
Also in the mix for an extension may be funding for 2012 agricultural disasters (drought, freezing, etc.), if the Senate fails in passing a disaster-aid bill to deal with Hurricane Sandy and other 2012 disasters that includes the Senate farm-bill disaster provisions for livestock and tree fruits, as well as the Non-Insured Crop Assistance Program (NAP).
Placing one year of the disaster-related provisions from the pending farm bill on the Sandy bill makes good sense, though a vote on that proposal has yet to happen and, predictably, the Senate and House are far apart on the overall spending levels and provisions making up the disaster relief bill. House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) has also mentioned the Sandy bill as a possible vehicle for a farm bill extension — think of that idea as a possible Plan C that would include the extension pieces but not the deficit reduction targets mentioned in the outline above of an agriculture Plan B.
Needless to say, there is very little time remaining to work out the final contours of a farm bill Plan B package if it is to be ready in time to be attached to the fiscal cliff package – if in fact there is a fiscal cliff package at all. The same holds true for any potential disaster aid bill-driven Plan C package for the farm bill, if indeed that idea has any legs at all.
The lame duck session of Congress that is likely to pick up again on December 27 may well continue all the way until New Year’s Eve or maybe even until right before the new session of Congress begins on January 3. Much is at stake for the nation as a whole, but also for the farm bill.