Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: House Moves Toward Extension Rather than Reform
July 26th, 2012
With daily national press accounts on the serious drought affecting substantial segments of the heartland as backdrop, the House Republican leadership decided this week to use the drought as a cover story for extending the current farm bill for a year rather than passing a new farm bill with substantial reforms. NSAC opposes extending the current farm bill and continued to call this week for passage of a new farm bill with comprehensive reforms.
The only drought-related issues that might need to be acted upon by Congress at this time are the various livestock disaster provisions and the tree assistance program for fruit and nursery crop producers. These are extended in the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill and the House Committee-passed 2012 Farm Bill, albeit with some minor differences, and in both bills program funding is made retroactive to 2012. In other words, if Congress passes the farm bill, there is no need at all to pass separate disaster legislation. If there is a delay in finishing the farm bill, then stand alone legislation on livestock disaster could legitimately be taken care of sooner rather than later.
A stand alone livestock disaster provision, however, is not what the House GOP leadership is proposing. Rather, what they apparently will be proposing is a one-year extension of the current farm bill with no changes other than one year emergency funding for livestock and specialty crop disaster assistance, at a cost of about $300 million. Whether and how that cost will be offset has yet to be revealed, though there have been some hints it might be offset by a modest cut to the $5 billion a year direct payment program for major commodities.
No actual extension/disaster aid legislation has been introduced yet for the debate and vote to take place on the House floor next week. This clearly is a rushed and very haphazard process being controlled by the top majority leadership who are trying to respond to their political needs related to the drought while simultaneously trying to escape the hard work of having to stitch together a coalition to pass a farm bill on the House floor.
A one-year extension would mean another full year of the widely discredited direct payment program that pays commodity farmers regardless of whether prices, yields, and incomes are good or bad. Both the Senate-passed farm bill and the House Committee-passed farm bill eliminate direct payments effective in 2013. This bicameral, bipartisan decision would be completely reversed by a one-year extension.
So too would be all the historic commodity program payment limitation reforms, the national sodsaver prairie protection reform, the reform to extend of conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance subsidies, and the reform to reduce insurance subsidies to wealthy individuals, all provisions included in the Senate-passed bill.
Also lost in an extension versus passage of a new farm bill would be renewed funding for a wide variety of important food and agriculture reform and economic renewal programs including:
- Value-Added Producer Grants
- Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
- Rural Energy for America Program grants and loans
- Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
- Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers
- Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
- National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
- Specialty Crop Research Initiative
- Farmers Market Promotion Program
- and others.
Each of these programs is renewed and funded in one or both of the pending House and Senate farm bills. With a one year extension, each and every one of these programs goes completely dormant for at least a year. With the death of those programs, so goes support for new farming opportunities and new economic opportunities that will help reform the food system and stimulate the economy.
On Wednesday, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) re-iterated his vehement opposition to a farm bill extension. By Thursday, however, he and Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) did a partial about face, acquiescing to the extension move as a way, they hope, to go into a House-Senate farm bill conference that could conclude its work in time to secure final passage of a melded 5-year bill before the September 30 expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill.
However, to our knowledge there has been no pledge of support for that strategy by House majority leadership. Having passed an extension, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his leadership team could simply hold firm and reject any other path forward, thus killing any hope for a new farm bill, not only this year but quite possibly for years into the future.
Therefore, based on current information, NSAC strongly opposes passage of an extension bill and is calling on Representatives to reject such a measure next week.
There are very few farm bill observers who think the process will be easier in 2013. If a one year extension were to become law, this would be the first Congress in history to not get a farm bill finished within the same Congress as the scheduled renewal. If the context for passing a farm bill is indeed worse next year than this year, it could become the Congress that killed farm bills for a long time to come.
It is not too late to stop this disintegration. Just say no to extension, and get back to the business of getting a reform farm bill done on time, this year.