D.C. Watch: Farm bill troubles continue to mount
It is still unclear if the House will bring up and vote on the farm bill in the lame-duck session after the election.
But the House vote on the farm bill will have to happen near the beginning of the session or there won’t be time to get the bill completed before this Congress ends. And once the new Congress is sworn in, all the work that was done on the farm bill this year disappears and the new Congress must start the process over!
Most observers believe there will be less money available for farm programs if the farm bill is pushed off into next year. But if we are to get a farm bill yet this year, first the House needs to pass their version. Then it needs to go to a conference committee with the Senate to mesh the two bills together. And then the compromise bill has to be approved by both the full House and Senate. And all this needs to happen in about a four week period.
But some House members say there are enough votes to pass the farm bill that was developed in the Agriculture Committee. A group of 25 House members conducted a survey before Congress adjourned and came up with more than 220 votes in favor of the farm bill. A total of 218 votes are needed for passage.
However the key vote is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who controls what bills the House will consider. And at least so far, Cantor has blocked bringing the farm bill to the floor for a vote.
There won’t be many changes immediately with the old farm bill expiring as September ends. But the Agriculture Act of 1949 goes into effect on January 1. The 1949 law uses “parity prices”, which are based on a 1910-to-1914 ratio, for determining price support levels. Parity prices reflect the buying power of farm commodities in the base period versus costs of other goods and services. The 2012 parity price support for wheat, for example, would be $13.58 per bushel and the milk price support level soars to near $38 per cwt. under parity! Congress will need to take some action at least by early next year to avoid reverting back to the 1949 law.
And the farm bill cliffhanger isn’t the only one Congress faces after the election. They also need to deal with the Bush-era tax cuts that all expire at the end of the year and many members want to at least rearrange the spending cuts that will automatically take effect in January under last summer’s budget agreement.
Under current law, cuts totaling $109 billion go into effect in January, with half of the cuts in defense spending and half in domestic programs. The combination of the expiring tax cuts and the reductions in spending are being called the “fiscal cliff” - with many economists predicting a recession next year if Congress takes no action. Congress may also have to raise the debt ceiling again by the end of the year. The farm bill could get lost amid all of these priorities in the fairly short lame duck session of Congress.
President Obama and Presidential candidate Romney both support renewable fuels and passage of a strong farm safety net. Romney says he would give farmers relief from hefty environmental regulations and would push for repeal of the estate tax. President Obama touts his record of helping farmers deal with this year’s drought and policies to strengthen rural economic growth.
The U.S. will start accruing massive export losses unless big investments are made in infrastructure according to a new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The report says public investment of $30 billion is needed in the nations’ ports and inland waterways by 2020. By 2015 new mega-ships will pass through the improved Panama Canal, but these ships may be too big for East Coast ports to handle. But realistically, investments will probably fall short of what is called for in the current budget environment.