Farm Bill Conference Progress
This week, we expect the House to adjourn until 2014 without passing a conferenced farm bill, despite House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) expressing his willingness to have the chamber consider a conference report. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) has indicated that the conference committee will most likely use the holiday recess to work on a proposal to be voted on in January. The proposal will be based on progress made thus far, as well as information from anticipated Congressional Budget Office scores and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Despite talks of progress over the past few months, many of the issues at the start of negotiations remain on the table, including a proposal that ties crop subsidy payments to base or planted acres, reform of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (i.e., able-bodied provisions), and changes to the country-of-origin labeling rules aimed at the meat industry. Although House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) has stated that the dairy issue of whether to adopt a program that couples a margin insurance program with supply management has been resolved, conferee Mike Conaway (R-TX) gave a conflicting report saying the issue remains on the table.
Before leaving at the end of the week, the conference committee may hold a public meeting to discuss some of these issues and explain the committee’s next steps in attempting to reach an agreement over the break. There is no expectation that the committee will announce that it has reached an agreement at the meeting.
With no agreement expected by the end of the week, each chamber will likely pass a short-term, one-month extension to buy time on reaching a long-term agreement in January. An extension will also avoid the kicking-in of high-subsidy prices through the 1949 law that could, for example, increase milk prices to almost $7.00 a gallon. Last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed for such a short-term extension.
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-MS) announced that he would seek re-election next year, which allows him to keep his political chips in farm bill negotiations to the satisfaction of many farm and anti-hunger advocates. Sen. Cochran faces strong competition from tea-party backed candidate Chris McDaniel.