D.C. Watch: Update on farm bill gridlock

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House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says “if we in the House cannot work out a freestanding food stamp bill (by the end of this week), it is my view that we need to acknowledge that we can’t achieve consensus and just move forward” and begin working out differences with the Senate.

But the House leadership continues to insist that nutrition program legislation must be addressed before a farm bill conference with the Senate can begin.

Congress is now in recess until September and the crisis in September will be funding the government after the current fiscal year ends. Passage of a new farm bill before the current extension expires is a real long shot.

While farm groups want Congress to pass a new farm bill, not everyone is happy with the proposals currently being considered.

The National Corn Growers Association, The American Soybean Association and the U.S. Canola Association sent letters to members of Congress calling for more market-oriented farm policies.  The groups oppose provisions that tie target price payments to planted acres, arguing that these types of programs would distort planting decisions in years when prices fall below the fixed prices.

Such decisions could lead to surplus production of some crops, reduced acreage of smaller crops and lower domestic and world crop prices. The bill passed by the House links the counter-cyclical payment provisions to target prices. Many observers believe that programs that influence planting decisions will be challenged by other countries at the World Trade Organization

USDA has paid out millions in farm program payments to people who have died according to an audit by the Government Accounting Office (GAO). The NRCS paid more than $10.6 million to more than 1,000 people more than a year after the person had died. The Risk Management Agency (RMA) payments to people that had been dead for 2 years or more totaled $22 million. GAO also notes that some of these payments may have been proper.

But with some groups and members of Congress already complaining about the costs of farm programs, this report came at an inopportune time.

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