Farm Bill's Moment of Truth

DC Dialogue

Renewed optimism out of D.C. this week with potential agreement on farm bill commodity title.

Published on: December 6, 2013

Monday will bring the moment of truth in weeks of behind-the-door negotiations between farm bill principals on key components of the commodity title who have sent potential compromise solutions to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored.

It isn't nutrition funding that has stalled discussions, but members reported that 95% of their time for the last two weeks of negotiations has been spent on Title 1.

Coming out of meetings Wednesday, a tweet from the House Ag Committee indicated that, “Lucas: we made great progress. We have more 2make. We have good-faith effort among principals.”

Meanwhile Senate Ag Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., tweeted that, “We’re making progress on the new #farmbill and hopeful that we can soon reach an agreement.”

Chandler Goule, National Farmers Union vice president of government relations, stated, "Committees are the closest they've been since the process started on wrapping up a farm bill and getting it done." In order to just have an agreement on what can be sent to CBO for scoring is substantial, he added.

Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, added, "Certainly all the attitudes are upbeat and positive, but I don’t believe anything is yet in stone."

Thatcher said it appears the leaders have tentatively agreed to use some form of base acres for both the shallow loss program and target prices for the House and Senate versions. How to determine target prices has been a major sticking point between leaders and draws the deep divides between southern and Midwest crop interests. The rough goal now is to pay on 85% of base acres for both the new revenue and price loss programs in the proposed commodity title.

She also reported that it appears an adjusted gross income cap will not be placed on crop insurance, however, conservation compliance will be reattached to crop insurance.

Thatcher added that very likely the scores will come back from CBO too high, and more negotiations will be necessary. However, Goule noted that CBO can quickly turnaround estimates once it's set up the modeling if Congress tweaks the proposal.

"I don't think anyone is going to be happy with the Title 1 program, which usually means it's the best compromise," Goule added.

Time is not in favor of passing something before the end of the year, although chances remain.

Goule explained depending on what CBO comes back with, the House could take up a vote as soon as Wednesday or Thursday before adjourning Dec. 13 and the Senate plans to be in session until Dec. 20.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Thursday afternoon that the House could vote on a conference report as early as the week of Dec. 9, although noted a short extension also remains a possibility. In House Speaker John Boehner's, R-Ohio, weekly conference Thursday he too mentioned the possible necessity of needing a one-month extension to avoid another dairy cliff.

Goule said NFU opposes a short-term extension, a dairy extension and for sure any long-term extension. "We are willing to go past Jan. 1 with no extension," he explained.

Goule warned that the longer this sits past Christmas, it again brings the bill back into the budget mess situation. "It comes down truly to how much does the House leadership truly want to get this done this month, or drag us through mid-January."

Following the talk of needing an extension, USDA communications director Matt Paul said in a statement, "Negotiations on Capitol Hill about the Farm Bill should continue until House and Senate leaders reach agreement on a comprehensive bill. Numerous members of both sides have indicated progress, and the country deserves continued work on this critical legislation."

Earlier in the week Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned negotiations shouldn't make "perfect the enemy of good." Within the discussion of food stamps and subsidies, much of the "good" the farm bill could be providing the country is being lost in the conversation he said of the positive improvements made within the reform of the bill and money for trade, research and rural America as a whole.