Today is the last day of the legislative session before Election Day. Lawmakers will go home to campaign on September 21, which is the earliest date during an election cycle in decades. And they leave a lot of pending legislation on the table. As John Boehner announced in the above clip, the House plans to adjourn without dealing with the farm bill. A bipartisan farm bill has already passed the Senate, and the House Agriculture Committee cleared their version months ago. But Boehner has been unable to line up support on the floor for it, out of an insistence that most of his caucus support it. The belief is that he could cobble together enough bipartisan support to pass a farm bill, but he has chosen not to. Without an extension, this means that the current farm bill will expire on September 30.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said yesterday to reporters that she was “shocked” there hasn’t been action in the House, and that they would leave without taking up a farm bill. But she was determined to get something moving in the lame duck session quickly to make up for it. “I am absolutely committed to doing everything possible on behalf of farmers and ranchers to complete the farm bill in November and December,” Stabenow said on the conference call. “The Speaker said he would bring up the farm bill in the lame duck session, we have to hold him to that.”
What does it mean that the farm bill will expire on September 30? It means that we revert back to the 1949 permanent legislation, for starters. Stabenow cautioned that “there have been extensions put into appropriations,” presumably the continuing resolution to fund the government, to get through the next few months. But by the end of the year, the old system would begin to kick in. This means no federal participation for crop insurance, and increased federal payments for commodities set to 1949 levels that would significantly disrupt the market. The impact would probably be most immediate for dairy payments. “We would begin in the new year to see high subsidies and policy that would not work for today’s agriculture,” Stabenow said. Conservation programs would also essentially be removed. The food stamp program, the biggest part of the farm bill, would continue without disruption.
In addition, the lack of resolution on the farm bill also cancels out any disaster relief programs to deal with the summer drought. At the end of July, the House passed a standalone disaster relief bill, but the Senate refused to follow suit until the broader farm bill got a vote. As that didn’t happen, farmers without crop insurance – and this also hits the dairy and livestock industry particularly hard – will suffer without targeted relief programs.
Stabenow said that “the votes are there” in the House for a bipartisan bill. “If (Speaker Boehner) feels he has to have all of his own caucus, then there’s a problem in moving this forward. There are enough votes if you allow a bipartisan vote to occur.”
The options in the lame duck session include the House finally getting a farm bill to the floor so that it can be reconciled with the Senate version in a conference committee, or failing that, a short-term extension into 2013, which would forestall the reversion to 1949. Stabenow currently does not support an extension, saying “we need to get the farm bill done now.” The current farm bill eliminates most direct subsidies to farmers in exchange for subsidized crop insurance, and there’s not likely to be much support for extending the direct payment program. In addition, a new revenue baseline would kick in for 2013, which means that the bill would have to get rewritten almost from scratch. “There’s no excuse not to get this done in the lame duck,” Stabenow insisted. “If the House will pass a bill, we can very quickly conference it.”
The lack of a farm bill could impact several House elections, particularly in rural areas which are typically dominated by Republicans. It has become an issue in the rural state of North Dakota where there’s a contested Senate election between House Republican Rick Berg and former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. “They will be held accountable as anyone should be,” Stabenow said, referring to House Republicans, particularly the leadership that refused to move the farm bill forward. “I’m sure this will be an issue in the fall elections.”