Farm Bill Conference Progress
The House approved by voice vote a farm bill extension through January 31, 2014. In response to the House’s actions, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that the Senate will not take up a similar measure before leaving by the end of the week. Sen. Reid’s comments, however, are met with doubt from many agriculture stakeholders, especially after Senate Agriculture Committee leader Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) comments about the progress and next steps on the farm bill. Therefore, we expect the Senate to pass a short-term extension, as the chamber would also want to avoid any political blame in having the 1949 law take effect, which would dramatically increase subsidy prices, including the price of milk to about $7.00 a gallon.
Although the farm bill conference did not release its draft agreement before the House adjourned last week until January 7, 2014, House and Senate agriculture committee leaders, including Sen. Stabenow, presented a united front in confirming that a framework would be released and a deal would be reached in January. This forecast looks more promising than in the past, especially after the Congressional Budget Office scores on submitted conference proposals were well-received by conference leaders.
There remain challenges ahead about getting a bill through both chambers, as conferees are putting together a package that likely includes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts ranging between $8 billion to $9 billion. This range is substantially below the House’s benchmark of $39 billion in cuts. Further, the conference must still reach an agreement on country-of-origin labeling and Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) adopted amendment in the House’s version of the farm bill, which would prevent states from denying the sale of products produced in another state.
To pass a conferenced farm bill through both chambers, Sen. Stabenow may push for the bill to be attached to the likely omnibus bill that Congress will need to pass by January 15. The agriculture leadership may also look to the success of the budget deal agreement and consider garnering bipartisan support, particularly from Democrats in the House.