Tuesday, July 03, 2012

House to Begin Work on the Farm Bill Next Week

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed its most recent activities report for the third quarter of 2012. Additionally, the Agriculture appropriations bill was scheduled to get floor time but the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill and the Highway reauthorization bill took up most of the floor time last week. This is a missed opportunity as the debates during the Agriculture appropriations bill would have given us a glimpse of potential issues to be raised during the Farm bill reauthorization.

Although Congress is in recess this week, the House Agriculture committee will release the draft version of the Farm bill by the end of the week, most likely Thursday. In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling, House leadership has scheduled a symbolic repeal vote of the Affordable Care Act on the same day as the Farm bill markup. House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has made it clear that he will be moving forward with the July 11 Farm bill markup.

The House Farm bill will contain some similarities to the Senate version and will look to spend around $900 billion. There will be significant differences that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking member Pat Roberts (R-KS) anticipate will be worked out during conference. Differences include:

1.      SNAP- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be an issue in conference as the House will make significantly larger cuts from this program than the Senate bill has made.
2.      Southern Commodity- A National Journal article does a great job describing the conflict between regional farmers in the Farm bill. To paraphrase, Southern peanut and rice growers complain that they are being treated unfairly in the Senate Farm Bill in regards to commodity pricing and crop insurance. The House will likely add a provision that will help to address crop insurance and commodity prices for these farmers by allowing the government to set price floors. This is very different from the Senate Bill as it bases prices on the market.
3.      Fiscal Restraint- Deficit hawks in the House will be looking to make major cuts in the House bill. Things like conservation, nutritional programs, and rural development initiatives may all be in danger of funding cuts in the House Farm bill.

Even with these differences, both Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Lucas are committed to passing the Farm Bill this year. Most sources I have spoken to agree that the Farm bill will take up most of the summer.

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