Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: House Jockeying Continues
July 20th, 2012
The future of the 2012 Farm Bill remains unclear. While many members of Congress, and agriculture, environment, and advocacy groups have repeatedly called for the farm bill to be brought to the House floor, leadership continues to stonewall the effort. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently do not plan give a contentious bill floor time during an election season.
Today, 82 members of both sides of the aisle of the House of Representatives sent a letter to their colleagues in leadership urging them to send the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor for debate. The effort was led by Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Peter Welch (D-VT) and includes members representing the political spectrum, indicating that though lawmakers don’t agree on all provisions of the bill, they want the opportunity to move it through the full political process.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) released a statement today saying, “There is no excuse not to bring the farm bill to the floor. We’ve wasted the last two weeks on political messaging bills that are going nowhere. If the House Republican Leadership were serious about creating jobs and growing our economy they would bring up this bill. There is no good reason to put one of our nation’s economic bright spots, the rural economy, at risk.”
Earlier in the week, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to NSAC and the American Farm Bureau Federation echoing their support for bringing the farm bill to the House floor. Pelosi acknowledged that the floor debate would not be an easy process with the vast differences between the left and right on issues such as SNAP and crop insurance, however, she stated that gives “all the more reason to bring the bill up for a vote under an open rule.”
While many people, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), have voiced concern over expiring disaster aid in light of the current drought, CQ Roll Call reports Boehner does not view this as pertinent to bringing the bill to the floor, noting crop insurance will cover any drought losses. Though true for grain and cotton farmers, livestock, dairy and other specialty crop and smaller producers will not benefit as fully from insurance protection. Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill include disaster assistance extensions for livestock and would retroactively provide assistance for 2012 crops.
While opposed to the bill reported out of the House Agriculture Committee, NSAC continues to advocate for floor debate of the bill in order to have an opportunity for Representatives to offer amendments to make the bill more of a reform bill and more favorable to sustainable agriculture interests.
If the status quo does not change and there is no House floor action during the two weeks left before the scheduled summer recess starting August 3, then when Congress returns in September attention will be fixed on extending the current farm bill for some period of time, likely a period of several months. Debate at that point will focus not only on timing, but also whether or not to begin the reform process of reducing or eliminating direct payments and keeping farm bill programs alive whose existing funding also expires on September 30. Action on a short term extension will likely take all of the short number of legislative days available in September, and may spill over into early October, given the difficulties this Congress has had in meeting deadlines.
If the new farm bill does not go to the House floor, and once an extension of the current farm bill is hammered out and passed, the working assumption is that then the leadership of the two committees will attempt to work out a final version of the farm bill in closed door negotiations. If that effort to meld the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed bills is successful, they would then attempt to attach the melded product onto one of several “must pass” bills during the lame duck session of Congress in November and December. The prospects for this lame duck strategy is anything but certain, but it may be the best hope for getting a bill done this year. For now though, the jockeying continues to see whether the bill can get to the House floor in the next two weeks under more normal legislative procedure.