As reported by ASA CEO Steve Censky in an email update last week, the four Ag Committee principals involved in the farm bill conference (House Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson and Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Thad Cochran) were able to reach agreement on a draft framework for Title 1 commodity programs on Dec. 4. Further progress in finalizing the legislation was delayed when the analyst with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) responsible for “scoring” Title 1 was stranded in New Jersey due to a snow storm, however, press reports now suggest that the analysis has been completed, and Chairman Lucas stated that the cost is “on the money.” The four principals are meeting again today, and announcement of at least some of the details could come before the weekend.
Based on reports, Title 1 would be structured similarly to the House bill, with producers required to choose between a Price Loss Coverage (PLC) option and an Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or revenue loss option for the five years of the bill (covering the 2014 through 2018 crops). The PLC program would include reference prices close to the House levels as well. A significant difference from both bills, however, would be that payments under both the PLC and ARC programs would be based on either a farm’s historical acreage bases or on updated bases, using average plantings during the last five years (2009-2013). Payments under both programs in both the House and Senate bills had been tied to crops planted in the current year. ASA has strongly supported keeping payments “decoupled” from current plantings in order to reduce the risks of skewing planting decisions and of adverse trade decisions by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Other issues requiring resolution include the amount by which the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps is cut, with expectations that the reduction will be around $8.8 billion over ten years compared to $4 billion in the Senate bill and $39 billion in the House bill. Conferees are also likely to vote on whether to modify Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements and whether to adopt a provision included in the House bill by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to preempt state laws that set standards for agricultural products in interstate commerce.
The principals are expected to meet again next week to address these and other outstanding issues. Then their staffs and Congressional lawyers will work over the Holidays to put the agreement in final legislative form. The full Conference of 41 House and Senate Members will likely meet after Congress returns to Washington on Jan. 7 to vote on these and perhaps other remaining items and on the Conference Report itself. The bill will then go to the Senate and House floors for final passage, probably during the week of Jan.13.
ASA and state affiliates have worked hard on this legislation for a very long three years, and we all very much hope that Congress will overcome any hurdles which may remain and finally get this farm bill done by mid to late January.