As farmers worked hard to plant corn the middle of May, Congress was able to show some significant progress on the 2013 Farm Bill.
On May 14, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a five-year Farm Bill. The bill would eliminate $5 billion in direct farm payments to farmers.
The Senate bill calls for a total of roughly $2.4 billion a year in cuts, while a House version passed May 15 would save $4 billion annually. The Senate Farm Bill:
•Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy
•Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person
Ends farm payments to non-farmers. This bill closes the "management loophole," through which people who were not actually farming — in many cases not even setting foot on the farm — were designated as farm "managers" so they could receive farm payments
•Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation's farmers will need for generations to come
•Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather
•Includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters
•Reforming farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration)
Both the Senate Farm Bill and the House Farm Bill includes the Dairy Security Act which through its margin protection component, safeguards equity, which is valuable to bankers and ag lenders and encourages them to extend loans to producers.
The House version of the Farm Bill is estimated to save about $40 billion over 10 years. It mainly achieves that level of spending reduction by reforming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Direct payments are eliminated in the House Farm Bill and 23 conservation programs are consolidated into just 13.
This is the third year in a row that farm-state lawmakers have tried to push the bill through. Though it passed the Senate, the House declined to take up the bill last year after conservatives in that chamber objected to the bill's cost and insisted on higher cuts to food stamps.
House leaders have given supporters more optimism this year as they have said they plan to put the measure on the floor this summer, perhaps as early as June.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., says she was optimistic that the timeline for getting the Senate bill passed would be short. Current estimates, according to Stabenow, have the Senate bill being debated the week of May 20 and a vote either before or directly after the Memorial Day holiday.
But before you get all excited that we are going to have a new Farm Bill signed into law before the current one expires Sept. 30, realize the Farm Bill has a number of obstacles to overcome.
It is my greatest hope that the Senate and the House will pass a Farm Bill before Sept. 30, but I have my doubts that will actually happen based on past performance in the House. While it seems there is momentum now to get the job done, how much legislation has the House passed in the past year? Not much. I believe the critical obstacle for this legislation is House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, actually calling for a vote for the Farm Bill on the floor of the House. Although the House Ag Committee passed a Farm Bill last summer, Boehner never called for a vote on the bill on the floor of the House last August or September. Critics said there were enough votes to have passed the bill in the House if a vote were taken.
Opponents said Republicans did not want to pass a Farm Bill just six weeks before the election that would cut $40 billion over 10 years in food assistance to the needy in the SNAP program (food stamps). While there is no election this year, Boehner in the past has been reluctant to bring bills to the floor that a majority of House Republicans do not support. I believe if Boehner does bring the Farm Bill to the floor for a vote, the bill will pass the House because the House Democrats and enough House Republicans from farm states would vote in favor of it. The key is to get the bill to the floor of the House for a vote. I'll believe that when I see it happen. Stay tuned.