Writing a farm bill is definitely not a sprint, and the marathon of completing a comprehensive farm bill could continue well into this year. The Senate says it will tackle the farm bill quickly, while the House is waiting to see how budget discussions shake out this spring.
This week during a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., notes that the Senate passed a number of bipartisan bills that the House never acted on. This year, the Senate will revisit some of the legislative priorities of the 112th Congress, including the farm bill and Hurricane Sandy disaster relief.
Reid said he hoped that the next Congress would be characterized not by divisions but by "renewed commitment to cooperation and compromise." Now the question remains whether the status quo elected government can muster enough will to come together and see cooperation and compromise?
Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Reid's action to propose a farm bill underscores his support for and commitment to enacting a five-year farm bill.
The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) welcomed Reid's statement, saying the move "recognizes the dairy policy reforms contained in the bill."
NMPF has championed the Dairy Security Act, a supply management and stabilization program designed to replace the current dairy safety net. NMPF said the farm bill's dairy policy "will give farmers a better safety net while reducing taxpayer costs at a time when Congress is searching for ways to trim federal spending."
The Agriculture Reform, Food & Jobs Act (S. 2340) cleared the Senate on June 21, 2012. The House Agriculture Committee passed its farm bill in July, but the full House never had an opportunity to vote on the bill.
Stabenow has said she is committed to convening a committee markup in the Senate as soon as possible to produce an updated version of the farm bill, which could then be substituted for Reid's placeholder bill.
During the first business meeting of the 113th Congress on Jan. 23, House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said Congress has a "new opportunity to reauthorize a five-year, comprehensive farm bill" and pledged to work with the agriculture secretary, ranking agriculture committee member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., committee members and his House and Senate colleagues to complete the work.
"It will take all of us working together to get it done," Lucas said.
Peterson said during the meeting that he has spoken with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and was "hopeful" for a farm bill passage and said he thinks there will be "some new strategy that will make this work." In recent weeks Peterson has criticized House Republicans for their lack of commitment to allow for an open debate on the farm bill in 2012, and wanted assurances the same wouldn't occur in 2013.
After the meeting Lucas explained that neither Peterson nor himself called for an immediate markup of the farm bill because he said it would be "foolish to start down the process when we just don't know what the obstacles are, or what the opportunities may be yet." The debt ceiling extension approved last week requires the Senate approve a budget, which should help lay the groundwork for an agreed upon amount of savings that will be required from both chambers.
Lucas added that until May it's "going to be a roller coaster ride up here on all the other spending issues and all the budget issues," but when some clarity comes, he and Peterson would "know when it's time to go."