2013 Farm Bill Update - July 2013
Weather and price/revenue trends matter in a farm bill, if for no other reason, than farm program payments are based on production, price, and revenue. A decline in price/revenue will increase the budget baseline of the ACRE program and the target price programs in the 2008 farm bill. On the one hand, this consideration could enhance the likelihood of another extension since a higher budget baseline for a 2014 farm bill increases the ability to address legislative concerns. On the other hand, farm groups may wish to lock in the higher target prices of the 2013 House farm bill. Groups concerned with Federal spending will not favor this outcome.
The latter paragraph highlights one of the key divisions at play in this farm bill debate: the desire on the part of those concerned with the level of federal spending vs. traditional farm bill supporters. What makes this division even more interesting is that many members of Congress who are most concerned about federal spending are representatives from rural America, an area that traditionally has backed the farm safety net. Thus, which of these divisions win out could well go a long way to deciding how the 2013 farm bill debate is resolved.
The preceding discussion has noted that there is no necessary reason for a farm bill to contain a food assistance title. However, not including a food assistance title in a 2013 Farm bill could potentially alter the dynamics of future farm bill debates. Conventional wisdom is that farm safety net programs are easier to enact when the farm bill includes a food assistance title because more constituencies have a stake in the bill. Thus, an important decision that all farm safety net supporters will need to consider is the strategic, long term consequences of having or not having a food assistance title in a 2013 farm bill.
A parallel discussion exists for inclusion of the revision to the 1938 and 1949 permanent laws. Revision to permanent law means that farm commodity programs will need to be considered in the future. Thus, it acts as a catalyst for the entire farm bill. Many actors that support the farm bill have interest other than commodity programs. In addition, knowing that the farm bill will be reconsidered in the future probably encourages compromise since policy actors know that the possibility exist that their concerns will be revisited in the not-too-distant future. Thus, an important decision that all farm safety net supporters will need to consider is the strategic, long term consequences of having the ability to modify farm safety net programs at a known time in the future and the value that this known revision date has to bringing policy actors with other concerns into the farm bill portfolio.
As mentioned in earlier farmdoc posts, the U.S. is currently engaged in a debate about the safety net provided to Americans, a debate that commenced with the extension of medical care to all Americans. It looks like the farm bill will be the next major confrontation in this broader debate. The outcome is uncertain but may have importance beyond traditional farm bill concerns.
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