The timeframe for action on the farm bill remains fluid and long-time observers of farm bill politics have never seen anything like the paralysis that has gripped the process over the past few months. Although both the Senate and House Agriculture committees have a foundation from which to work in crafting the 2013 Farm Bill, procedurally their work must begin anew with the onset of the 113th Congress.
In the House of Representatives the landscape remains full of obstacles and the atmosphere has been poisoned by the failure of the GOP leadership to bring the farm bill passed by House Agriculture Committee to the House floor for consideration during the waning days of the 112th Congress. For example, Representative Collin Peterson (D – MN) – the ranking Democrat on the committee – recently sent a letter to House Republican leadership outlining his frustrations with how the farm bill process has played out thus far.
In his letter Mr. Peterson indicates that he sees “no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican Leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered.” He went on to note that “You and your Leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 Farm Bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you.”
Prospects for passage of a 2013 Farm Bill appear more positive in the Senate. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) has indicated she will work to markup a five-year farm bill in February.
Although the Upper Chamber has a number of new members, Senator Mike Johanns (R – NE) is confident the Senate Agriculture Committee can advance a five-year farm bill out of committee that can be passed by the full Senate. In a recent Agri-Pulse interview, Mr. Johanns noted that the bills developed by Congress last year likely contain enough spending reductions to satisfy a reduced baseline. In the end, he believes spending reductions for the final product will be in the range of $25 billion.
A substantive change in the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee is worth mentioning. Whereas Senator Pat Roberts (R – KS) had served as the Ranking Republican on the committee during the 112th Congress, that seat will now be occupied by Senator Thad Cochran (R – MS). Mr. Cochran, chairman of the committee from 2003 – 2005, has seniority over Mr. Roberts and had made the decision to assert that privilege at the onset of the 113th Congress.
The change is noteworthy in that Mr. Roberts has traditionally been an opponent of the target price provisions contained in the version of the farm bill that had passed the House Agriculture Committee last year, whereas Mr. Cochran tends to have a philosophical alignment on commodity payment mechanisms with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R – OK) and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Mr. Peterson.
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