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Farm Bill Slips Away...For Now

Monday's expiration of the farm bill won't bring immediate issues to farmers, though long-term there are worries.

Published on: Sep 30, 2013

All eyes will be on Congress Monday as the fight over the new budget and the threat of a government shutdown move front and center. Behind that fight is the fact that the farm bill extension passed last year runs out at Midnight.

Key provisions of the farm bill - crop insurance and food stamps for the poor - won't see an immediate impact since those are actually permanent measures that continue. Longer term, however, lack of a farm bill will begin to show.

Over the weekend, the House moved to combine its measure to cut SNAP payments with its farm bill measure. That will allow a future House-Senate Conference Committee to get working on a final bill. However, there's little sense of that happening anytime soon. Hill watcher say it'll be some time before House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, moves on appointing conference committee members who can hammer out that bill.

LEFT BEHIND: The showdown over the government shutdown leaves farm bill debate behind...for now.
LEFT BEHIND: The showdown over the government shutdown leaves farm bill debate behind...for now.

Tim Walz, D-Minn., chastised House members last week as he pushed GOP leadership to appoint a conference committee to get work started on the new farm bill. Says Walz: "My farmers and ranchers and millions of them across the country are going about their work every day - getting up before dawn, doing their work - feeding us, clothing us, and powering this country. They've asked us to pass a farm bill. Four months ago, the Senate did it. Four months ago the House Ag Committee did it. That wasn't good enough. We came to this floor, we created drama, we tried to make being hungry a sin - now you've got a monstrosity."

As Politico reports, the House is moving forward. The challenge is the House title for SNAP would cut $40 billion over 10 years, while the Senate version aims to cut just $4.5 billion. Reconciling those parts of the farm bill (the House is reconnecting the SNAP part to the farm part for conference committee purposes) will be the biggest stumbling block.

And Reuters notes that the farm bill - right now - is on the slow track. It'll take some time to appoint the conference committee. And as the Reuters report notes, it may take a crisis - like milk prices skyrocketing based on 1949 provisions of the "permanent" law to get action from Congress. The last time that crisis neared the answer was an extension of the 2008 law. That may be what happens again.

For now it's the threatened shutdown that looms over markets.