The House has released an expected one-year extension of farm-related programs, in a bill which would also deliver needed relief to drought-stricken farmers in the Midwest. But the plan is imperiled by the continuation of direct payments to farmers, which members of both parties oppose.
Direct cash payments would be trimmed modestly to help cover the costs, but their extension is controversial in itself since both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have recommended reforms that would end the multibillion-dollar subsidies [...]
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a former Agriculture secretary in the Bush administration, has roundly criticized any extension of direct payments, now costing $5 billion a year. And in what appears a slap at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the House draft specifically repeals a desert lakes program he has championed.
This may not even pass the House, let alone get to the Senate. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) opposes the extension. He considered the bill in the context of getting the longer-term, five-year bill into a conference committee (a version has already passed the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee), but that doesn’t look to be on the menu for the House leadership. This could turn plenty of Democrats away, and House conservatives oppose the direct cash payments to farmers as well. In addition, while the House farm bill cut almost $30 billion from the budget over ten years, this measure, which includes aid for livestock producers from the drought, only saves $400 million.
So who knows if the House can even get this bill across the line, let alone have it get taken up in the Senate. The deadline would be September 30, when farm programs run out of authorization. But House Republicans in farm districts don’t really want to return this week without pointing to some tangible action they can take. It’s unclear if they’ll have that opportunity or not.