Farm bill conference issues
Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have passed farm bills. The process now moves to a Conference Committee, which is composed of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives appointed by the leadership of the respective legislative chamber. It is tasked with working out compromises on the differences between the two bills. This post presents a brief listing and discussion of the key differences. It does not attempt to cover all differences or to provide an extensive analysis of the issues. Its purpose is simply to provide a broad-brush outline of key issues.
Potentially Important Differences between the House and Senate Farm Bills
- Nutrition Programs
- Permanent Law
- Dairy Programs
- Crop Insurance and Conservation Compliance
- Crop Insurance Subsidy Limit
- Payment Limits on Title 1 Crop Safety Net Programs
- Direct Payments and Upland Cotton
- Crop Safety Net
- Moving vs. Fixed Targets
- Price vs. Revenue Multiple Year Targets
- Base vs. Planted Payment Acres
The word, potential, is included to indicate that differences between the House and Senate bills may not turn out to be an issue. One legislative chamber can accept the other legislative chamber's version or the difference may be easily compromised.
The Senate farm bill contains a nutrition title with spending cuts of $4 billion over 10 years. The House farm bill contains no nutrition title. However, reports indicate the House Republican leadership will seek to pass a nutrition title as a separate bill with spending cuts totaling around $40 billion over 10 years. Thus, two potential issues exist in regard to nutrition programs: will a nutrition title be included in a conference committee farm bill and, if included, what will be the level of funding? The debate over spending on nutrition programs reflects a broader debate over the level of spending for safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.
The Senate takes the traditional approach of enacting most Title I (Commodities) programs as amendments to so-called permanent law (usually the 1938 and 1949 farm bills). The amendments also have expiration dates. For example, the Senate's programs for field crops expire after the 2018 crop year. In contrast, the House proposes to replace permanent law with the current farm bill and, more importantly, it has no expiration date. The combination of expiration date and outdated permanent law has provided impetus to reconsider not only the farm safety net but also the entire farm bill. The House proposal reduces and could negate the need to consider farm bills in the future, making it harder to enact changes. Thus, adopting the House approach will likely mean that farm bill actors will want to be more certain than normal that they are getting the programs they want, which in turn could reduce the likelihood of getting a new farm bill.
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