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Shutdown Issues Hold Farm Bill Hostage

Farm bill negotiations take back seat to threats of a government shutdown

Published on: Oct 1, 2013

As the expiration of the farm bill extension comes into clear view, lawmakers have pushed the idea of a new farm bill out of mind for now, instead looking for a way to balance a government funding bill with threats to defund President Obama's healthcare program.

If that's not confusing enough, so is understanding the impacts that lack of government funding will impose on the agriculture industry and farming communities.

According to the USDA, in a memo dated Sept. 27, some of those impacts will include personnel furloughs, thus limiting services provided by the agency.

MONEY, MONEY: Squabble over goverrnment spending prolongs farm bill discussion
MONEY, MONEY: Squabble over goverrnment spending prolongs farm bill discussion

EDITOR'S NOTE: This morning - 10/1/13 - USDA replaced the above link with a blank page that starts: "Due to a lapse in government funding, this website is not available. Even standing Web pages have been turned off.

While USDA noted it is "working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios," the agency said operational plans are still being finalized. However, "in the event of a government shutdown, most USDA activities would be shut down or significantly reduced and most USDA employees would be furloughed," the statement said.

USDA adds that some activities would continue because they are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property, or are financed through available funding (such as through user fees).

Programs and services on the chopping block include: some market news reports and National Agricultural Statistics Service reports; research facility supports; new research grants or processing for existing grants; and Economic Research Service reports and projections, as well as the ERS public website.

Insult to injury?

While potential spending cuts add insult to injury on a farm bill-less farming community, various groups are calling on lawmakers to reach a compromise on a spending provision before the clock strikes midnight on Monday, hoping to avoid the shutdown altogether.

"Shuttering the federal government or defaulting on the nation's financial commitments is likely to reverse our fragile economic recovery, punish the middle class, and deeply harm our most vulnerable neighbors," one of the letters said, signed by some 30 religious groups.

"To hold our governance processes and financial credibility hostage to narrow priorities is not only dangerous to the nation's near term financial being, it threatens the very foundations of our democratic process and our capacity to live united."

But just like the prospects of securing a farm bill before the current extension expires are poor, so are the prospects of lawmakers pulling together to reach a compromise on the spending bill, according to political newspaper The Hill. Much of the discussion rides on Affordable Care Act, which some House Republicans vehemently oppose and Senate Democrats largely support.

That could mean a continued political tug-of-war just as the farm bill was beginning to show signs of forward movement, due to a House-passed rule, supported 226-191 on Saturday. That rule combined the farm and nutrition bills, passed separately earlier this year.

Delta Farm Press reports, however, that the Senate is expected to snub the bill regardless of its combined status, which would allow for a conference later this year.

Read more from DFP's David Bennett.