By Seymour Klierly
The most recent session of Congress has been extremely frustrating for the agriculture committees and their members. Back in 2011, despite successful field hearings, nobody gave the House or Senate Agriculture Committees an honest shot at passing a full farm bill reauthorization. Even when the Senate Agriculture Committee passed their farm bill from the committee in record time, there were still doubts it could pass the Senate.
This last June, the farm bill cleared the entire Senate body as a bipartisan, reform orientated, and deficit reducing piece of legislation. Forced into action, the House Ag Committee similarly passed a full farm bill that saved even more taxpayer dollars. To top it off, the full House of Representatives passed a livestock disaster bill before adjourning for the November campaigns.
What do we have to show for it all? No reforms and continued direct payments, all due to an extension of the 2008 farm bill that lasts through the end of September 2013. While livestock disaster programs, the energy title, and other programs without baseline funding were all included in the extension, they are solely authorized for appropriations and do not have mandatory money. However, given the alternative of implementing permanent law and the "dairy cliff," a straight extension should work for agriculture, for now.
Leaders in Washington are already posturing for the 2013 farm bill. Ranking Member of the House Ag Committee Collin Peterson, D-MN, sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, seeking assurances that House leadership will allow a new bill to come to the floor for consideration. "'If they will not give me that assurance, I am not interested in writing a farm bill,' Peterson said.
Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, has also canceled a previously scheduled hearing on the farm bill for February. "'I, too, would like to have a commitment from House and Senate leaders that a farm bill will be voted on this year. I don't see how you can have a markup at the same time as the next swarm is swirling over the debt ceiling and everything else," Lucas said.
In the upper chamber, changes of in the committee could impact the farm bill's future. An unintended consequence of GOP party term limits on committee leadership positions caused Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, to assert his seniority and become the ranking member over Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS. Roberts held that position the last two years, will remain on the Agriculture Committee and is now the ranking member on the Rules Committee.
Intent on moving quickly to provide certainty for producers, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, says "we're moving ahead. We're not going to wait for the House." Looking to the future, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, stated, "the majority of the committee and the majority of the Senate was very strongly in support of what passed the Senate and I would hope that it would stay the same." For a successful farm bill in 2013, these leaders must keep their eyes on the road ahead and not the ones already traveled.
Editor's note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.