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Farm Bill Outlook Uncertain: The Beginning or the End?

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Winston Churchill, November 1942

On Tuesday, June 11, the Senate passed S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013, by a vote of 66 to 27. Although there were 260 amendments filed to the bill, only a few dozen were actually considered. This agreement also precluded Democrats and Republicans from crafting a package of amendments that could be made to the bill prior to final passage.

Farm bill action moved to the House the week of June 16. The House bill had savings in the food stamp program of $20 billion over the next 10 years, up from $16 billion in last year’s bill. On Thursday, June 21, the House voted to defeat the farm bill by a vote of 195 to 234 for the first time in history. It was the victim of continued divisions over food stamp cuts and the shape of future agriculture subsidies.

This defeat caps a remarkable year in which the GOP first blocked any farm bill floor action last summer and now was unable to prevail even after Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor won key amendments in the final hours. Both amendments apparently contributed to a deterioration of Democratic support even as the GOP still lost 62 of its own members on the right. The 24 Democratic votes were a clear drop from what Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the Democratic floor manager, had earlier predicted.

The farm bill could be brought back up if a deal can be cut to get enough votes. But the existing extension of the 2008 law expires on September 30, so action must be taken soon in order to get to a conference with the Senate, which has passed legislation.

The key political question however, what change in the bill language is necessary to garner 23 more votes needed for passage?

Key legislators and their staffs in the House met this week to discuss the path forward. Rumors surfaced that one such change under consideration is the removal of the approved amendment offered by Rep. Southerland (R-FL) to apply federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program at state option. Some point to this amendment as the loose thread that unraveled the farm bill process last week. There is no guarantee any changes would secure the votes necessary to pass a bill.

There are several other options for moving the bill (but no really good ones):

  1. Pass another temporary farm bill extension, as was done for 2013.
  2. Take up and pass the Senate bill.
  3. Attach one of the House or Senate bills, or some compromise thereon, to a year-end omnibus appropriations bill or continuing resolution, or some other bill that includes spending for which the farm bill’s $30–40 billion budget “offset” would be desirable.
  4. Or … the Congress could do what it does best—do nothing at all, and enjoy $30.00/cwt milk in January 2014!

Anything goes. There should be a clearer idea of the possibilities after the July 4 Congressional recess. But, as Churchill said, many of us hope it is only the end of the beginning of this process!

Denise BodeDenise Bode
Cornerstone Government Affairs

2 Responses

  1. Can you comment on the likelihood of another full year continuing resolution for the budget? More specifically, I’m interested if an agriculture appropriations bill will be passed, whether or not it is part of an omnibus bill.

  2. Thanks for the question Rafael. Here’s Denise’s answer:

    It depends on the Farm bill being brought back. The agriculture appropriations bill was cleared for consideration after the July 4th recess. But as part of the bargain, Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) kept his right to block action unless he sees some progress in the interim on his priority — the five-year farm bill. Chairman Lucas said it is all intertwined.

    So watch for progress on the House Farm Bill. The appropriations bill is likely to happen rather than an omnibus but not certain when.

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