Farm Bill Stalls Until After Holiday

As the House adjourns tomorrow for the winter recess, the four leaders from the House and the Senate Agriculture Committees appear to have reached a framework agreement that includes most of the farm bill’s components, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Cuts to the SNAP program are rumored to be $8 billion. The leaders are reported to have an agreement on the Commodity Title, but are awaiting CBO scores before it can be finalized.

The Senate will stay in DC next week, and Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson have agreed to stay to work on the bill as well, so it is likely that the leaders will hammer out their deal before the end of the year, then pass it to the conferees for review when Congress returns Jan. 7. This points to the potential that a deal can be considered by both Houses of Congress during the second week of January.

With regard to the Commodity Title, reports are that the draft framework would offer a choice for producers between keeping their current base or updating their base to an average of what they’ve planted the last five years. Additionally, producers will have a choice between the Senate’s ARC program and the House’s PLC program. Currently, leadership is in a holding pattern as all parties wait for the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill’s draft language. Once the bill is scored, the leaders will have to adapt their plan to fit the budget number given to them by CBO. This means that both PLC and ARC could look very different, depending on how much CBO says they’ll cost.

Much coverage has been given to the House’s proposed extension of the 2008 bill for one month, to avoid raising milk prices under permanent law. The House Rules Committee sent the bill to the floor and a vote could come as soon as today.  However Senate Democrat leaders have expressed firm opposition to any extension, pushing instead to complete the bill as quickly as possible after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told them that milk prices, over which he has some control, won’t go up in January. This would give Congress time to iron out differences and budget issues with the bill and get it passed.