Farm Bill Update: New Year But Same Old Shenanigans
By Patty Lovera
While the impending “fiscal cliff” kept Congress in the headlines long after they would normally leave town, there was one other item of unfinished business for 2012 – the Farm Bill.
In the wee hours of New Years Day, the Senate did vote on a bill that dealt with both the fiscal cliff and the Farm Bill. Kind of. As you’ve probably read by now, the Senate bill included a compromise package on taxes and put off pending federal spending limits for two months. It also included a nine month extension of parts of the expired 2008 Farm Bill (the extension would keep the bill running for the rest of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends at the end of September).
This Farm Bill extension ignores a proposal from the leadership of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and was the result of negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. The passage of an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill ends months of speculation about what would happen after the unprecedented decision by Congress to allow the last Farm Bill to expire in the fall. But the drama isn’t over yet.
As we discussed earlier, when the 2008 Farm Bill expired a bunch of good programs expired with it including support for beginning farmers, conservation practices and cost sharing for new organic certifications. Unfortunately, the extension included in the Senate fiscal cliff bill does not include these programs, so they will be left behind.
Other notes about the Farm Bill extension passed by the Senate:
- It continues commodity crop direct payments, something that both the Senate and House versions of the 2012 Farm Bill would have done away with.
- It avoids the “milk cliff” that could have been triggered on January 1 by old laws that could have pushed up prices paid for dairy products. But it doesn’t fix things for dairy farmers. Instead it continues to use dairy policy from the 2008 Farm Bill that is designed to benefit large dairy processors while further weakening the safety net for dairy farmers.
- It maintains SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) at the levels in the 2008 Farm Bill, which avoids significant cuts that could have come from the Senate and House version of the 2012 Farm Bill.
- It does not appear to include provisions from the House Agriculture Committee version of the Farm Bill known as the “Monsanto riders” that would have weakened USDA’s already inadequate approval process for genetically engineered crops.
The House passed the Senate’s fiscal cliff bill (and the Farm Bill extension) late in the evening of January 1. So now some portions of the 2008 Farm Bill will be in effect until October and Congress will have that much time to come up with a more long term (or another extension of the 2008) Farm Bill. The saga continues and so does our fight for a Farm Bill that’s fair to family farmers and consumers. Join us, if you haven’t already.