Congress seems unlikely to pass a new five-year farm bill any time soon with talks on the federal budget and the U.S. debt ceiling likely to be lawmakers’ main focus in coming months. The deadline for raising the U.S. debt ceiling apparently will be pushed back to May 19 as the U.S. House of Representatives passed a temporary suspension of that ceiling last week and the Senate is expected to pass the same measure this week.
However, that only sets the stage for a contentious battle over the U.S. budget this spring, with conservative lawmakers likely more set than ever on securing large spending cuts. That spells bad news for anyone hoping for quick action on a new farm bill, as disputes over cuts to food stamp funding and farm subsidy reforms seem likely to be prolonged.
Senate leadership has committed to pushing forward an updated version of the farm bill the Senate passed in 2012. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week introduced the Senate version of the farm bill as one of several top priority bills for the new session of Congress and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), has said she is committed to convening a committee mark-up as soon as possible to produce an updated version of the bill.
However, there is no timeline for farm bill action in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, which failed to hold a farm bill vote in 2012. "There are a lot of pieces up in the air," Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told reporters last week. "No starting date at this point," Lucas said, when asked about the farm legislation. "We really don't know the lay of the land right now. When we know, we'll go."
Farm-state lawmakers anticipate congressional leaders will order larger spending cuts in the five-year farm bill that otherwise would cost $500 billion, with the bulk of the money going to food stamps. The size of the cuts could be determined by alterations to automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect in early March and by the budget baseline that will be issued in March.
According to The Hill newspaper, the fate of a 2013 Farm Bill could depend on a key meeting in early February between two dairy policy adversaries: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN). The two are slated to try to hash out differences on farm policy after the House returns to work on Feb. 4.
"We’re going to sit down together so we’ll see," Peterson told The Hill last week. Peterson wrote to Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-MD), earlier this month demanding that they commit to bringing a farm bill to the House floor this year in the event that the Agriculture Committee forwards one.
Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.