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Learning From Last Year's Farm Bill Mishaps

DC Dialogue

Farm bill and passing a continuing resolution will be two top items on the House agenda during the week of Sept. 17.

Published on: September 13, 2013

If present-day politics taught us anything, maybe it's that in order to get Congress to act, there must be an imminent problem. And the Sept. 30 farm bill expiration doesn't seem to be presenting that urgency.

The House is in session Sept. 17-20 and then takes another week off before returning Sept. 30. Although the farm bill technically expires Sept. 30, we saw last year that there is some flexibility within that date.

The House nutrition title is expected to come to a vote Wednesday, Sept. 18. But GOP leaders are not releasing the text as the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill which is expected to reduce overall nutrition spending by $40 billion over 10 years. Reports remain mixed over whether House leadership will name conferees if the vote goes sour. Democrats will all oppose it, and some Republicans have indicated the cuts are too deep for them to support.

Under the permanent dairy law that kicks in if the farm bill expires, the government would need to set prices at approximately $39/cwt.
Under the permanent dairy law that kicks in if the farm bill expires, the government would need to set prices at approximately $39/cwt.

Last year's fear of the "milk cliff" or threat of sending milk prices to $8 per gallon was the biggest driver in getting the farm bill rolled into the New Year last minute government deal.

Since it seems like Congress only acts when a deadline is imminent, last week Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) called on Vilsack to begin the process of implementing the 1949-era dairy policies that supposedly would take effect once the farm bill expires Sept. 30.

However, as learned last year, the U.S. Department needs to take time to develop the framework to implement the permanent law which goes back to parity pricing and requires the department to put a floor on milk prices at approximately $39 per 100 pounds.

Peterson hopes the move will move affected industry groups – such as the International Dairy Foods Assn. – into pressure House leaders to enact a bill preventing the cost hike before the end of the year.

If the House and Senate can't come together on finding a bill that could pass both chambers, an extension would be needed.

However, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (audio of Vilsack's comments against extension) and top Senate leaders are denouncing the idea of an extension.

“I do not support an extension because it is bad policy that yields no deficit reduction, no reform and does nothing to help American agriculture create jobs. It’s time to do the work we were sent here to do and finally finish this Farm Bill,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.


Continuing resolution

Congressional leaders are preparing a short-term continuing resolution to be considered by both chambers of Congress. Though the political conversation about the measure is ongoing, it will almost certainly extend spending levels for a few months without major funding changes or policy riders in an effort to gain the necessary votes for passage.

Congress has just two weeks to finalize how it will fund the government after the federal fiscal year expires on Sept. 30. While the timeline for action on appropriations was always tight, even less time has proved to be available with the debate about possible military action in Syria.

Similar to the last funding stopgap measure last March, this one also includes the Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735, which has been coined the Monsanto Protection Act by anti-GMO activists. The provision gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to introduce temporary stewardship requirements that allow for the partial deregulation of a biotechnology product while legal challenges are pending on a prior science-based determination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the product is safe for cultivation. Over 100 groups wrote Senate leaders asking for the rider to be removed. Vilsack has said the rider isn't necessary, since it is only codifying what the agency has already done in past cases.