Committee Chairs Clear: There Will Be A Farm Bill

Extension is not something that will work, ag committee leaders say; next year offers same problems as this year.

Published on: Apr 18, 2012

There will be a Farm Bill passed by this Congress. But the dollars involved won't mirror either the budget presented by President Obama or by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

That was the message to the North American Agricultural Journalists who met with House and Senate committee chairmen and ranking members on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The Senate will begin marking up a Farm Bill next Wednesday and will be ready to move it to the floor with strong bipartisan support by April 27, both Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told NAAJ.

Committee Chairs Clear: There Will Be A Farm Bill
Committee Chairs Clear: There Will Be A Farm Bill

Stabenow said the finished bill will have agreement from both parties on all titles. And she said it will make substantial reforms that will streamline programs, cut waste and reduce paperwork for farmers.

It will move farm policy away from direct payments and toward a risk-based system of support, she said. The struggle for lawmakers will be able to figure out how to make that system work for farmers in different parts of the country who face very different risk scenarios.

Journalists asked Stabenow about the name for the bill, which on Monday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack insisted on calling the "Food, Farm and Jobs Act."

"We haven't come up with a name," she said. "I think the Food, Farm and Jobs Act would be a great name."

Or, she quipped with a grin, "We could call it Debbie and Pat's Great Adventure."

She said she does not have a firm date for when the bill will move to the floor of the Senate, but she said she is confident that it will move out of committee as a strong bill with strong, bipartisan support.

Roberts said he is also confident that the Senate Ag Committee will complete its work by the end of next week and that the cuts will be close to the $23 billion net reduction offered to the budget reduction Super Committee.

House Ag Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) told the ag writers' group to pay little attention to the budget reconciliation process that will be taken up today (Wed. 4-18).

"This is an exercise," he said. "This is not the Farm Bill."

He said some of his colleagues in the House and a number of media outlets have made it almost impossible for direct payments to survive in the 2012 Farm Bill. He said almost any alternative will be more trade distorting than direct payments, but that nobody seems concerned about trade issues.

"That is unfortunate," he said. "Because we have to live for the next five years with the consequences of what we do here.

Lucas said he can't promise what the final bill will look like except that there will be cuts and they will probably affect most titles of the bill in some way.

He offered a reminder that crop insurance has already taken severe cuts from the original 2007 Farm Bill – giving up some $6 billion in the last round of reductions.

"What I am asking is if you don't shift to insurance for the safety net, then what safety net do you have?" he said.

House Ranking Member Collin Peterson, (D-Minn.) agreed that today's exercise is about show not about substance.

"Their side will complain that cuts aren't big enough, our side ill complain about cutting food stamps, a bunch of speeches will be made and there will be vote that doesn't mean anything," he said.

Peterson called the whole budget and reconciliation process "irrelevant" and said that one of the best moves the House could make would be to abolish the budget committee because it has become so partisan that it has no credibility.

Like his colleagues, Peterson said he expects the farm policy safety net to move from direct payments to crop insurance, perhaps even with enhancements.