Farm Bill Finagling Brings 1-Year Extension

Agriculture committees overlooked in fiscal cliff discussions with the end result an extension with no reform or budgetary savings.

We saw ag committees work hard on a full five-year farm bill in 2012. Then again on a one-year extension in the final weekend before New Year's, but in the end it wasn't the normal players who wrote the farm bill fix.

Thoughts of any farm bill fix looked dim after Christmas, but pressure on the White House to prevent a dairy cliff ahead of New Year's may have been the catalyst to get a short-term extension of the farm bill into the final fiscal cliff bill.

Ag groups welcomed the certainty the bill provides for spring planting decisions and providing for continued operations of critical foreign market development programs. However, aggies were less than appreciative in not coming away with a five-year bill, how the deal was brokered and the fight that now lies ahead in trying to get money appropriated.

Over the weekend when it appeared the final fiscal cliff deal would address the farm bill, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., worked together to form a 78-page thoughtful farm bill extension, targeting smaller programs as well as funding farm and food system reform, $850 million in disaster aid and the change in dairy policy included in both the Senate and House Agriculture Committee farm bill versions from 2012.

Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden decided to move a more straight-forward extension forward. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the extension at zero cost, but the only way to do that was to take the 2008 Farm Bill and eliminate mandatory funding and require appropriators to come up with it, a difficult task in today's budget environment.

Stabenow voted in favor of the bill, but went on record saying it was "Mitch McConnell's farm bill" and she was not happy with how agriculture was handled, adding it proved that agriculture was not a priority. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said while the extension through the end of September 2013 is not the best bill, he believes it is the "best possible bill at this time."

All commodity programs (including dairy, but excluding the Milk Income Loss Contract Program) are continued at the same funding levels as they were on September 30, 2012.

The MILC Program is continued at the same payment rate and feed cost adjuster as it was on August 31, 2012 through August 31, 2013 at a cost of $110 million.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) noted that the bill authorizes limited disaster assistance for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 with $80 million for livestock indemnity payments, $400 million for the livestock forage disaster program and $50 million for emergency assistance. Again, funding for these programs is subject to receiving the money from appropriations committees.

The bill also continues direct payments at a price tag of $5 billion for the year, despite the consensus that direct payments should be eliminated to pay for new and expanded programs. This brought criticism from groups as well as Stabenow.  

American Soybean Assn. (ASA) president Danny Murphy said while the extension is certainly preferable to the alternative of no bill at all, it is only a stopgap measure, which does not provide the long-term certainty and stability that farmers need.

"Once the extension expires at the end of the fiscal year in September, we will be left at the same impasse we’ve had since the House Agriculture Committee passed its farm bill in July unless our elected leaders can find a way to come back to the bargaining table with a renewed focus on what’s important, not just for soybean farmers, but for all of agriculture and for the nation as a whole. It’s imperative that our members of Congress in both chambers and in both parties move past party politics and get the job done this time."

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