The 2012 Farm Bill march to a deal
Getting House and Senate negotiators come to common ground on this major issue is far from certain. Moreover, House leaders maintain there are not enough Republican votes to pass such a bill solely over the level of proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) known as food stamps. A solid majority of the Republican rank and file wishes to see even deeper cuts to the $16 billion in proposed cuts in the House Committee-passed bill. The Senate bill contains proposed cuts of $4 billion and Senator Stabenow went on record last week saying she could not accept any more cuts to Food stamps. Even reconciling a final House bill with the Senate-passed measure would be a tall order in the time remaining before Christmas. At this point, everything is on the table and the four negotiators continue to suggest they open to concessions large and small.
For now, the plausible and likely scenario is for a one-year extension of the 2008 bill, with a commitment by committee leaders to complete a new five-year farm bill with specific deficit reduction targets in 2013. Although Stabenow and Peterson remain firmly opposed to any form of extension, they recognize they may have no choice. An extension will have to address programs that actually expire on Dec. 31, such as current dairy policy, in order that milk prices don’t spike based on reverting to the “permanent” 1949 Farm Bill law. Some have called this the farm bill “cliff” if no new farm bill is enacted or current law is not extended. One important addition that will likely be included in an extension that both sides can agree on is funding for new drought disaster relief that failed to get enacted in September.
If nothing else, the fiscal cliff and the current down-to-the-wire negotiations by the speaker and the president have brought the Farm Bill Four together in a way that no one anticipated, especially given the fact the House has not formally considered it’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill. By necessity and considering the ramifications the budget savings presented in the competing House and Senate bills may have for a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, both sides are already conferencing a grand bargain for new U.S. farm policy in 2013.