Optimism remains high for completing a farm bill in January, but time is short and the window narrow for finishing a job that may have one last chance in the near-term. Conventional wisdom holds that the farm bill must get done by the middle of January or there could be problems. Permanent 1940s law, requiring sharply higher dairy supports, and therefore prices, would be in effect right now without intervention.
“I’ve heard Secretary Vilsack mention that folks should not be surprised if he is not going to flip the switch and automatically January 1 provisions of permanent law kick in,” said American Farm Bureau Executive Director Dale Moore.
The House voted to extend through January the expired 2008 farm law, including a suspension of permanent law, but the Senate never followed suit. Moore remains optimistic the extension won’t be needed.
“We have been encouraged by the signals coming from the four principals of the conference, Chairman Lucas, Mr. Peterson, Chairwoman Stabenow, and Senator Cochran, indicating that they feel they’ve made some progress on some of the tougher issues in the commodity title and as we understand similar discussions on the SNAP program.”
But an expected deal among the principals is not the end of the road. All the conferees must vote followed by the full Senate and more Conservative House, where more modest food stamp cuts, payment limits and reuniting farm and nutrition programs could still impede passage. But Moore says there’s a shot as Congress grapples with an expiring extension of government spending.
“The catalyst for mid-January is that the conference leadership sees that Congress will be coming back, they will be working on this budget process, and that provides them a window in the middle part of the month that’s usually relatively quiet as everybody gets ready for the President’s State of the Union, that there’s a shot there that they can get this farm bill done over the next few weeks.”
But if Moore and others are wrong – both chambers would have to scramble to pass a longer extension. Even worse, if a farm bill deal fails to pass both chambers, the fallout could have long-term implications for farm bills, policy and actual programs, an outcome agriculture desperately wants to avoid.