I hope to bring you some answers next week.
The questions? What’s up with the farm bill? Why is it taking so long to finalize? Why is the president threatening to veto it? And why is an extension of the 2002 farm bill even being talked about?
I’m headed to Washington this week, which is excellent timing for all things farm bill-related. That’s because on March 15, the temporary, three-month extension of the current farm bill expires. Then, lawmakers must decide whether to revert back to the 1949 law, pass another short-term extension (an April 15 deadline is the date that’s being tossed around), or pass a longer-term extension. The longer extension could mean the new farm bill won’t see action until there’s a new person in the Oval Office.
(Of course, negotiators could reach a compromise before my plane even leaves the tarmac, so I’ll have answers before I even get to ask the questions.)
The House passed its farm bill last July; the Senate, in mid-December. Yet, the two bills still haven’t been reconciled in conference committee. What are you waiting for, guys?
It all comes down to what final funding is provided for the farm bill and where that money will come from. The conferees’ work was stalled until the Congressional Budget Office finalized its cost analysis of projected spending for all the farm bill proposals.
As of last week, the latest figure was $10 billion in new funding above the baseline, according to Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate ag committee. Now, Harkin said, “we’re moving forward” within that funding framework, working with the Senate finance committee and the House Ways and Means committee, to figure out how to pay for it all. That has to happen before the conference committee can do its work. Stay tuned.
The good news is that agriculture is finally emerging as more than a food provider, and that makes the farm bill hot, hot, hot. In fact, as with the recent energy bill, I expect agriculture to find its way into more pieces of legislation.
Provisions in the final farm bill will give insight into the sense of the Congress. For example, there’s increased support for new and minority farmers on the discussion table. And there’s a lot of support for organic production, specifically payments to farmers during that initial three-year conversion transition window.
That interests OSU ag economist Carl Zulauf, who says he’s never seen this many provisions that deal with organic agriculture in past farm bills. “It’s a fascinating insight as to the thinking of Congress regarding the food and fiber sector,” he commented last month. And Zulauf calls the newer emphasis “a potential leading indicator of future legislation.”
But still we go back to money. Increases in these programs will likely mean cuts to others. The National Corn Growers Association was quick to blast the Congressional Budget Office projections that came out late last week because traditional commodity program spending is now at greater risk of cuts.
The old saying is that making legislation is like making sausage: No one should watch.
How true — but we expect lawmakers to roll up their sleeves and get busy.