Elections to Determine Farm Bill Path

DC Dialogue

Farm bill action most likely to be included in sequestration talks, if at all, during lame duck session.

Published on: November 5, 2012

The long-awaited fall elections will be over Tuesday evening and providing some insight into the path for the 2012 Farm Bill.

During a campaign stop Oct. 24 in Boise, Idaho, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R- Va., gave a glimpse of hope of moving a farm bill when he committed to holding a vote following the Nov. 6 general election.

The comments received praise from the ag industry as well as Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

But then in typical Washington back-tracking fashion, what a politician said may not actually be what is meant.

Cantor’s office later clarified that his comments were intended to go no farther than similar ones made by Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has said the House will “deal with” the vital legislation in the post-election period.

The verdict is still out as to whether during the lame duck Congress would tackle an extension, the previously voted on farm bill, or something completely different.

The most likely scenario at this point is lumping some fashion of the farm bill together with legislation designed to address the fiscal cliff and planned sequestration cuts to go into effect in 2013.

The Senate's version contributes $23 billion in debt reduction and the House's version $35 billion. This could be a big bargaining chip in helping offsetting the $109 billion scheduled as part of the sequestration.

"The election results are incredibly important and specifically what we choose to do about the broader tax and budget scenario," said Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at American Farm Bureau Federation. "If the farm bill gets done as a small piece of the much larger budget and tax situation we could get a different bill. If it's considered on its own merits, we're going to have major fights on commodity programs and on nutrition funding levels."

If the elections confirm a status quo with a Democrat Senate and White House and Republican House, there is a "good chance" we might actually come up with a deal in December dealing with the fiscal cliff, she said.

If the opposite extreme occurs with Gov. Mitt Romney winning and Republicans taking control of the Senate, it is more likely very little, if anything, will get done during the lame duck. Rather most of the important stuff will get rolled into 2013 as part of a massive budget reconciliation bill, Thatcher said.

"If Obama is re-elected and we have to deal with taxes and the fiscal cliff in November and December, I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to get more than a five-month extension of the farm bill," Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a weekly phone call with reporters on Oct. 30. "If Romney would be elected and we put taxes and the fiscal cliff six months into next year, then there will be more time– and there might be time for a five-year farm bill."

Some agricultural lobbyists have also voiced the possibility that if Romney is elected, he may signal to the leadership to pass the farm bill so that he doesn't have to fight it under his watch.

In recent weeks, House Democrats have daily taken to the House floor to call for Congress to return and finish undone business, including the farm bill. Each day Republicans quickly adjourn so the comments from Democrats will not be part of the official record.

Once the elections are done, it will time for elected members to roll up their sleeves and get work done. And for anything to be accomplished on a farm bill, it will have to be addressed early in the lame duck if there is any hope of seeing it pass the finish line.