More than 200 people called on the House on Wednesday to pass the Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, but hours later its chairman said an extension of the current law may be the only option left this year.
The 2008 farm law (PL 110-246) expires Sept. 30, and a coalition of agriculture, conservation and food groups are publicly pressing House leaders to move the committee-approved bill (HR 6083) to the floor this month, although privately several say they believe House action may be more likely in a postelection session.
If the House passed its farm bill, negotiations with the Senate for a compromise could begin. The Senate passed its version (S 3240) in June, but House leaders have kept the House Agriculture Committee bill off the floor because of disagreements among GOP rank-and-file members over spending cuts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
Frank D. Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he worries that House Republican leaders could cancel or shorten a lame-duck session if the GOP takes the White House and the Senate in November.
He raised the specter of 1940s farm law taking effect if Congress does not deliver a farm bill or an extension. Farm bills suspend permanent law during the years in which they are in effect. Reverting to those provisions would boost federal payments for dairy and commodity crops significantly above current levels. Economists estimate that federal dairy supports would reach $38 to $51 per 100 pounds of milk if the old law took effect after current dairy programs expire Dec. 31. Under the Milk Income Loss Program, the current target price is $16.94 per hundredweight for fluid milk.
The supports under permanent law are based on parity prices, the difference between what farmers receive in market prices and their costs for fertilizer, seed, feed and other so-called inputs. Farm programs have not reverted to permanent law since the start of modern farm bills in 1973.
Lucas said he prefers a one-year extension in September, given his concerns about the lame-duck session and the scheduled departure of House members next week to do fall campaigning.
“There’s not time before Sept. 30 to do a bill on the floor, to prepare the legal paperwork to go to conference and to prepare the paperwork of a conference report and bring it back to both houses for a vote before the clock runs out,” Lucas told reporters.
He said House leaders should be able to focus on a farm bill extension after the expected House passage of legislation (H Res 117) to provide short-term funding for the federal government until March 27. Lucas said he thinks there would be support for an extension, adding that he got fewer pointed questions from caucus members earlier this week when he discussed the farm bill than in July, when House leaders scuttled a one-year farm bill extension attached to a drought aid bill because of opposition.
Lucas acknowledged that he has no commitment from “senior management,” as he calls House leaders, that the chamber will act on an extension before the election. “The bottom line is something has to happen,” he said.