NOBULL: Lawmakers Announce Plans for 2013 Farm Bill

Ferd Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition []

Lawmakers Announce Plans for 2013 Farm Bill

April 26th, 2013

This week, Agriculture Committee leaders announced plans for starting the 2013 Farm Bill process. Because a new Congress started this year, Congress cannot pick up where it left off with the farm bill last year and must start the process over again. Currently, USDA is operating under an awful 9-month farm bill extension that Congress passed in January as part of the fiscal cliff deal. The extension ends September 30.

Senate Plans

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) announced that she plans to hold Committee mark up of the 2013 Farm Bill during the first, or possibly second, week in May. She has indicated that the starting point for the debate in Committee will be the Senate-passed bill from last year. She has also said that the bill will achieve the $23 billion in savings that last year’s bill achieved, and that the cuts to achieve the savings will be distributed as they were in last year’s bill — i.e., approximately $6 billion from conservation, $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and $16 billion from the commodity and crop insurance titles, with the balance above $23 billion targeted to renew programs that do not have automatic funding baselines.

Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) also announced this week that he hopes to have the full Senate debate the farm bill before the chamber debates immigration reform in June. This means that the farm bill could possibly be debated in the full Senate before Memorial Day or at the beginning of June.

House Plans

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas (R-OK) announced that he plans to hold the House Agriculture Committee farm bill mark up on May 15. He has indicated that he expects a shorter mark up with fewer amendments than last year’s full day mark up. In sharp contrast to the Senate’s plans, Lucas intends to change the framework of his bill to achieve $38 billion in savings (instead of the $35 billion achieved from the House Committee-passed bill last year). According to several published accounts, he also intends to take a much bigger chunk of cuts than last year from SNAP and from conservation, including especially from the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, and significantly less from commodity subsidies.

What does this mean?

This is the third time that Congress has started the process of writing a new farm bill in the past two years. It is not clear whether Lucas and Stabenow have an end-game for the 2013 Farm Bill in mind, but they are moving forward with the process nonetheless. Without an overarching budget agreement that would start each house off on the task of writing a bill with the same budget assumptions, getting a bill to the finish line becomes much harder. It becomes harder still with the increasingly partisan battle being waged over SNAP.

While Congress has faced many obstacles in passing a farm bill, each version has been informed by the previous version, which makes it critical to defend and build upon the wins for sustainable agriculture from last year in this year’s process. And who knows, maybe, despite mounting obstacles, the third time’s the charm.