Thursday, November 15, 2012

Farm Bill Update

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) indicated earlier in the week that he plans to continue to push a Farm Bill "motion to discharge" effort that he started this summer.  If it gathers enough (218) signatures of supporting House members, the motion (available here) would force a  vote on the House floor on the version of the Farm Bill passed earlier this year by the House Agriculture Committee. Beside that piece of “hard” Farm Bill news, absolutely nothing regarding the legislation’s fate is clear. Possibilities abound, and they presently include:
  1. Do nothing at all on the Farm Bill. Although this is a remote possibility, and probably the least favored by almost all Farm Bill stakeholders, this option is not out of the realm of possibility. 
  2. Pass a comprehensive Farm Bill during the lame duck session. There simply doesn't seem to be the time available to accomplish this legislative feat between now and when Congress breaks for the holidays, ostensibly in mid-December. House floor action on the House Agriculture Committee-passed Farm Bill would arguably take up three or four days of floor debate before passage (assuming it would pass). And then the Senate and House would have to resolve the differences between their two bills before bringing a conference committee bill back to each chamber to be considered. 
  3. Incorporate a Farm Bill into a fiscal cliff settlement deal, if one is agreed upon among the Administration, and House and Senate leaders during the lame duck. This alternative would involve consideration of and passage by the full House of its Farm Bill, an agreement among Congressional leaders on which provisions in the Senate and House bills would be acceptable (reconciling the differences between the bill versions), subsuming the agreed-upon Farm Bill into the debt bill, and then passing the debt legislation. This is a daunting task, and the prospects for a fiscal cliff debt deal are not at all strong, in any case. That larger fiscal issue could be punted into 2013 if the key players agree on some mini-fiscal cliff deal that defers the big money decisions until the 113th Congress. Such a deferral would make incorporating the Farm Bill into the mix in 2012 a moot issue.
  4. Extend the 2008 Farm Bill, including in the extension some set of provisions to address (i.e., pay for) disaster (drought) relief, fix dairy supports so they don't skyrocket beginning on January 1, and correct a Conservation Stewardship Program funding technical appropriation's error, among other items. House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) seems to be leaning toward the extension option; an alternative that Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) has to date steadfastly opposed.
House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he intends to make a Farm Bill pronouncement by the end of this week. What that announcement will entail is anyone’s guess, but it may shed light on which of the above fates awaits the Farm Bill.  Stay tuned.  It should be an exciting ride!

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