Farm bill planned for January, maybe
By Larry Dreiling
The long-awaited U.S. House and Senate floor votes on a compromise farm bill will be some time this month, if you take congressional leaders at their word.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, released a memorandum to his colleagues Jan. 2, laying out an agenda that includes not only the passage of the farm bill conference report but also a report for legislation funding the nation’s water programs, as well as an appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal 2014 and a vote—unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate—to roll back regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Also included in the GOP-run House will be still another assault to the Affordable Health Care Act, with a measure to address potential security breaches on HealthCare.gov, and further sanctions to Iran, according to a report in Roll Call.
Meanwhile, congressional farm-bill leaders—House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, who is chairing the conference; Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI; House Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN; and Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-MS—have yet to release their conference report or hold a final public conference meeting, but all have expressed confidence that their product will be accepted.
This is despite predictions by many Hill insiders that the farm bill could once again become bogged down in a debate over whether its savings should be used to offset an extension of unemployment benefits.
As it is right now, various reports and bloggers are saying the final bill likely will retain the best of both the House and Senate version’s commodity and conservation titles while cutting about $8.5 billion in payments from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, program over 10 years. House GOP members want further cuts, and that’s where the unemployment benefit debate will kick in.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reacted to the early news of the negotiations in a couple of interviews. Vilsack was quoted at DTN/The Progressive Farmer as saying the critical element to farm bill passage will be exactly how House conservatives react to the final product.
“I haven’t seen specifically the SNAP proposal,” Vilsack said. “I have seen people opine on what the proposal would be. I will continue to say what I have said before, which is if you get the policy right, you are going to get a number that works.
“I think the key here is to get the policy right. I am confident at the end of the day that we will get the policy right. We won’t get it right if people are insistent on a $40 billion cut or a $20 billion cut. We have already seen $11 billion cut out of this program, so people have to be reasonable about it.”
If a compromise cannot be reached and a farm bill remains unsigned by President Barack Obama by the end of January, Vilsack told AgriTalk his department would work on implementing a resumption of the permanent farm law.
“Now, if it looks like in the next week or two that Congress is not going to get its work done, that there is once again a breakdown and a failure, then at that point our focus will shift back to the implementation of permanent law, which is our legal responsibility,” Vilsack said. “But right now our focus is really on making sure we can implement what we hope to be a passed law this month.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.