Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 Farm Bill Extension Measures Filed In House - UPDATE: CBO Releases Score For One-Year Farm Bill Extension

Congress has run out of time to pass new Farm Bill, says House Ag Chair Lucas...
UPDATE, Jan. 2:  Details of the Farm Bill Extension

*Update at bottom of post

By Jerry Hagstrom 
Founding Editor, The Hagstrom Report

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., is urging passage of a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, but the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said on Sunday that House Republican leaders had filed three different versions of an extension on Saturday night, and that each is problematic.  In addition to Lucas' One-Year Farm Bill Extension, a Temporary One-Month Farm-Bill Extension was filed, as was a One-Month Dairy-Only Extension.

In a statement on Sunday, Lucas said the one-year bill is a result of “discussions” with House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate “colleagues,” but he did not say specifically that the others were backing the bill.

“Clearly, it is no longer possible to enact a five-year Farm Bill in this Congress,” Lucas said.

“Given this reality, the responsible thing to do--and the course of action I have long encouraged if a five-year bill was not possible is to extend the 2008 legislation for one year. This provides certainty to our producers and critical disaster assistance to those affected by record drought conditions." 

The measures also attempt to avoid America going over the so-called "dairy cliff," which would cause an increase in milk prices.  Without a new Farm Bill or an extension of current law, milk prices could revert to levels set in 1949, per the last "permanent" farm legislation in the US.  Retail milk prices could potentially spike to between $6.00--$8.00 a gallon without an extension; current price levels are about $3.50 per gallon for non-organic milk.  The spike would happen gradually, a Department of Agriculture spokesman told Reuters.

An extension also means that farmers might get crop subsidies for another year; at certain levels, these were eliminated when the Senate passed a new five-year Farm Bill last June, and the House Agriculture Committee followed with its own version in July, though it never received a full House vote.

“The legislation posted is the result of discussions with ranking member Peterson and my colleagues in the Senate," Lucas said.  "It is not perfect--no compromise ever is--but it is my sincere hope that it will pass the House and Senate and be signed by the President by January 1."

In a statement issued on Sunday afternoon, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, firmly laid the blame for no new Farm Bill on the shoulders of House Republican leadership, while voicing support for an extension. 

“While the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year Farm Bill in June that cut subsidies and reduced the deficit, the lack of action by the House Republican leadership has put us in a situation where we risk serious damage to our economy unless we pass a temporary extension,” Stabenow said.

“If a new Farm Bill is not passed in the next few days, Agriculture Committee leaders in both chambers and both parties have developed a responsible short-term Farm Bill extension that not only stops milk prices from spiking, but also prevents eventual damage to our entire agriculture economy." 

Stabenow added that a new Farm Bill is "crucial," and said "if a new Farm Bill doesn’t pass this Congress we’ll soon hold another mark-up and just keep working until one is enacted next year.”

There has been no indication about when the extension measures will be brought to a vote.

Ferd Hoefner, head of the NSAC office in Washington, said in an email that the extension bills are problematic.

“The House Republican leaders filed three different versions of measures to extend the 2008 farm bill, a one-year version and two one-month versions, with the one-year version including disaster assistance funding and a new dairy stabilization program, and the two short-term measures delaying the so-called ‘dairy cliff.’ ”

“All three draft bills are sorely lacking and should be significantly amended or defeated,” Hoefner said.

“All three fail to take the minimum steps required to allow USDA to run the Conservation Stewardship Program for 2013. All three fail to provide 2013 funding for beginning farmer, minority farmer, rural jobs, farmers markets, and specialty crop research programs,” he said.

“The one-year version does provide funding for renewable energy programs and some but not all organic agriculture programs, but as with the two one-month versions, leaves the other critical farm bill programs that lack 2013 funding high and dry. Leaving out the newer, innovative, job and opportunity-creating programs from a farm bill extension is unacceptable.

“No one who cares about new farmers, healthy food, or rural job creation should agree to the packages as drafted,” Hoefner said.

Both the House and Senate Farm Bills passed over the summer had cuts in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as Food Stamps, which has remained a stumbling block to getting a new bill passed.  The number of Americans enrolled in the SNAP program has continued to rise monthly throughout the Obama Administration, with the number for September at an all-time high.


Update, 6:30 PM:

The Congressional Budget Office on Sunday released its score for an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill until September 30, 2013.  Download the CBO score here [PDF].

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also issued a revised statement of its views on the bill.

The NSAC said the score “shows 2013 funding being provided for many of the programs that received mandatory funding in the 2008 farm bill and that received mandatory funding in the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed versions of the now defunct 2012 farm bills.”

“While we question the way the bill was drafted, we are delighted it provides 2013 funding for beginning farmers, rural development, minority farmer outreach, specialty crop and organic research, direct farmer to consumer markets, and a variety of other programs,” said policy director Ferd Hoefner in a statement.

“We are still awaiting word as to whether the bill would also allow USDA to resume sign-ups and sign contracts with farmers for the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program-Transition Incentive Program,” Hoefner said. “In our view, those are critical pieces that need to be included in a farm bill extension measure.”

Jerry Hagstrom, founder and editor of the best online, subscription-only agriculture and policy newspaper The Hagstrom Report, cross-posts at Obama Foodorama.  If you're not a subscriber to The Hagstrom Report, you're missing crucial coverage.