New year brings little certainty on farm bill process, budget
The New Year’s fiscal cliff deal included an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill for one year, including existing Title I farm safety net programs.
Direct payments, which were targeted for certain elimination in the 2012 Farm Bill proposals that passed the Senate and House Agriculture Committee, were part of the extension, and USDA recently confirmed it will issue the payments this fall unless some other legislation changes the law before that time.
Threats to the program, which many farmers value but most in the public don’t support, are expected to be numerous. This week, an unsuccessful amendment surfaced to move funding for direct payments to Hurricane Sandy relief.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this week USDA will allow farmers to get out of – or into – the ACRE program for the term of the one-year extension. ACRE was written such that farmers had to remain in it for the life of the farm bill after signing up the first time. The extension evidently did not continue this specification.
With several serious fiscal issues looming before Congress, agriculture leaders are not yet setting firm timetables for new farm bill work.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has yet to say when he will hold new farm bill hearings. Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) previously said hearings could be set as early as February, but recently said April is more realistic.
Peterson also previously wrote to House Leadership that he was not interested in participating in hearings until he received assurances a Committee-passed bill would be brought to the floor. He has since said he will not obstruct the Committee process regardless.
On Tuesday, Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) called for a new farm bill during an annual “State of Michigan Agriculture” speech. Stabenow has indicated she will work toward a new bill in the 113th Congress but has not yet given a time frame for hearings or a mark-up.
Vilsack has said repeatedly in recent days that Congress must pass long-term farm policy. On Monday, he delivered that message while speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation meeting and in a statement announcing he would remain in his job for President Barack Obama’s second term.
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