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Again, The Farm Bill Will Expire

What to expect as Congress takes a return trip down the path without a farm bill and big divides exist in negotiations.

So Sept. 30 again will come without new life for farm bill programs. And as seen last year, the impacts will take several months to come into effect which provide some hope Congress can get its act together before the end of the year.

Crop insurance and nutrition programs are effectively permanent programs and will continue without specific reauthorization. Conservation program contracts will remain in place though new enrollments will not be accepted until a new farm law is in place. Commodity-specific programs run on a crop-year basis versus a fiscal year, so they won't be impacted until next spring. Dairy prices will not be affected until Jan. 1, 2014. Programs that lost mandatory funding in the extension will continue without new funding authorizations. (Read more detail here in a new Congressional Research Report outlining what lies ahead without an extension.)

The House Rules Committee approved an amendment that marries that House's two bills it passed as a result of separating the farm bill into separate food and farm pieces. A vote is expected on the measure over the weekend.

It will need to do so before a bill can be sent to conference with the Senate. Additionally, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has yet to name conferees for those negotiations. Farm groups have been vocal in its demands that conferees be named and the process move forward.

Two years ago House and Senate Agriculture Committees developed a potential farm bill framework that was being looked at being included to prevent sequestration. At the time, the two chambers claimed they'd struck a balance on farm policy.

In 2012 when each tried to advance individual bills and now through 2013, instead of again striking a compromise, the similarities between the two bills are actually becoming less.  

Although the House passed two individual bills this year which on the surface appear to be mostly what the House Agriculture Committee approved, there are some very significant differences between the bills now approved that will need to be conferenced.

The farm-only farm bill inserted a provision which would strike the permanent law provision and make the current farm bill's commodity title the new base. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture Committee member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., both have voices deep reservations on the approach as well as deep opposition from farm groups.

Stabenow worries that not only does it take the pressure off Congress to prevent 1949 law from going into effect, but for anyone who cares about anything other than the commodity title such as funding for conservation, research and disaster assistance it no longer provides a vehicle to accomplish those objectives. On the flip side House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the latest string of political impasses on the farm bill emphasizes the need to provide more permanency to farmers.

In the nutrition title, it's well known that the proposed cuts in the House are 10 times as much as those proposed in the House. No doubt this will be problematic in reaching a compromise. The House Agriculture's Committee's initial proposal of $20 billion vs. the Senate's $5 billion already had an uphill battle.

But in the stand-alone nutrition title the House has Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding running just three years instead of five, which would put the food and farm programs on different paths forward.

So if Congress can ever get the farm bill to conference, the markers heading into conference could signal a bumpy road if legislators draw deep lines in the sand. This isn't even taking into account the controversy surrounding dairy policy as well as the price support system in the commodity title.

Hold on, it could be a long, bumpy road before farm bill completion.


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