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Congressional Update: Farm Bill, WRDA and Debt Deal

With time running out on the 2013 congressional calendar, the farm bill, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and a debt deal remain in flux.

Farm Bill

It has become clear a five-year farm bill will not be passed in 2013. For the second year in a row, Congress was unable to complete work on the farm bill. However, unlike 2012 when the House was not even able to pass a bill, this year’s debate is ending with some optimism that negotiators are closing in on a deal, by early next year.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., have been working overtime with their House counterparts, Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to sort out differences between the Senate and House versions of the farm bill. Commodity programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) continue to be the two biggest sticking points.

However, recent reports indicate there may be a compromise on the commodity title. Reports suggest Reps. Lucas and Peterson may have relented on insisting the bill include a target price program tied to actual plantings. Instead, both the revenue program favored by Sen. Stabenow and the target price program favored Rep. Lucas would be calculated on historic base acres, an approach advocated by NGFA. (See NGFA’s recent letter to conferees.)  Both Stabenow and Lucas have been cautious when asked to confirm the details of the reported compromise, so uncertainty remains on what the final commodity program will look like.

On food stamps, sources are saying negotiators have agreed to cut the program between $8 billion and $15 billion. If cuts do end up in that range, it remains to be seen whether House leaders will be able to cobble together enough votes to approve the final bill – especially given the House-passed bill called for nearly $40 billion in cuts to food stamps.

The agriculture community will have to wait until January to see if negotiators can finalize a deal that will garner enough votes to pass both chambers of Congress.

In the meantime, do not be surprised to read reports similar to last year about the “dairy cliff.”  The dairy cliff is in reference to the fact U.S. Department of Agriculture may have to start paying out supports to dairy producers based on the 1949 farm law, which likely will result in higher dairy prices for consumers if new legislation or an extension of the 2008 farm bill is not passed by sometime in January.

Water Resources Development Act

Farm bill negotiations are not the only casualty of time running out on the 2013 congressional calendar. The negotiators on the WRDA legislation also have been unable to finish negotiations. There continues to be contentious issues which House and Senate conferees need to sort through to finalize the bill.

Some of the back and forth between negotiators has to do with projects that, if included, would appear to violate the earmark ban. Having no earmarks in the bill was one of the selling points used by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to get the bill through the House with only three “no” votes.

Despite the conference committee not finishing the work in 2013, there remains optimism they will be able to finish the bill in January. If so, it will be the first WRDA legislation passed since 2007; historically, Congress approves WRDA legislation every two years.

Debt Deal

The House approved the budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., by a vote of 332-94. 

It was an overwhelming endorsement of the budget plan, and welcome relief for appropriators who want to get back to regular order in the budget and appropriation process.  The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week, and the President has already signaled he will sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk.  Members of Congress are hopeful this deal will allow Congress to move away from the dysfunction that has plagued them for the last three years.

Jared Hill

Director of Legislative Affairs Jared Hill leads the NGFA’s legislative efforts on a wide range of issues important to the grain and feed industry. He also serves as NGFA’s principal staff liaison to the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. In addition, he manages the grain and feed political action committee.

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