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Farm bill now an extension

Farm groups continued to call for a vote in the House on a five-year farm bill Friday, as its leadership appeared ready to vote only on a one-year extension the the existing farm bill. But a one-year extension with some drought assistance for livestock producers is what the House will consider, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said in an email statement to Agriculture.com:

"Next week’s schedule calls for consideration of a package that includes disaster assistance programs and a one-year extension of current farm policy.  It is critical that we provide certainty to our producers and address the devastating drought conditions that are affecting most of the country and I look forward to supporting and advancing this legislation," Lucas said.

That approach drew criticism from the House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson.“Congress should not be playing politics with the rural economy, one of our nation’s economic bright spots. I am against an extension and will remain opposed until I receive assurances that this is the path to conference a five year farm bill with the Senate. Farmers need the certainty of a five year farm bill," Peterson said.

According to the House Ag Committee staff, the cost of drought assistance is $621 million over 10 years, with a net savings of $399 million.

Here is how the Ag Committee describes the legislation:

Section 1.  One-Year Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Provides a one-year extension of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, with certain modifications.

 

Section 2.  Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance.

With 64 percent of the contiguous United States experiencing drought, it is important that our nation’s livestock producers be provided with effective risk management tools.  The current livestock disaster policies expired in September 2011, one year before the end of the 2008 farm bill.  This legislation would re-authorize these policies for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.  Specifically, Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Livestock Forage Disaster Programs (LFP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP) are all generally reauthorized.

 

To pay for this disaster assistance, the committee says, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program is capped at $1.4 billion; the Conservation Stewardship Program is capped at 11 million acres; the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is capped at $150 million; and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is capped at $45 million.  These offsets are consistent with levels previously established by enacted appropriations—which reduced levels authorized by the Agriculture Committees—and will still allow these important programs to function at recent funding levels.  In addition, direct payments—which are currently paid on 85 percent of a producer’s base acres—is paid on 84.5 percent as a partial offset.

The National Corn Growers Association was among those disappointed with that approach.

“An extension of current law fails to provide the needed level of certainty," said NCGA president Garry Niemeyer. 

The group "has strongly advocated programs, such as direct payments, be reformed into more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers," he said. "It is important to get to conference and pass a bill before the current law expires September 30. Continuing outdated farm policies will negatively impact agriculture, the federal budget, consumers and the economy.”

The extension vote drew even stronger criticism from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

"NSAC vehemently opposes the dirty extension bill filed today by House majority leadership," the group said late Friday afternoon. "Passage of this bill would ensure there is no action this year on the 2012 Farm Bill.  It prevents agricultural reform from happening.  It spends another $5 billion on direct payments that both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees agreed to terminate.  It kills innovative job-creating programs.  It proposes to slash farm conservation spending by three-quarters of a billion dollars at a time when pressure on the natural resource base is intense, which would serve only to make the magnitude and cost of future disasters even higher.  Under a closed rule, it denies Representatives the ability to amend the bill on the floor.  In our view the choice for Representatives next week is clear – vote down this dirty extension bill and demand a clean vote on disaster assistance for livestock and specialty crop growers."

A lobbyist for another farm group told Agriculture.com Friday that neither the five-year farm bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee on July 11, nor a one-year extension appears to have the support of the 218 members of the House needed to pass it. An extension of the 2008 farm bill would not offer the savings in federal spending from either the Senate or House versions of a farm bill if it continues the existing direct payment program, which has cost about $5 billion a year. 

Adds a source from another farm group: "Peterson is saying he will support that ONLY if it means that he and Lucas can take it to the Senate and conference it with the 5 year farm bill. So, it could be that the House passes something like this, then it is conferenced in August and we have a farm bill conference report to both bodies in September."

That unusual approach to writing a farm bill might avoid some of the difficulties that the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) faces if he tries to get a five-year farm bill passed in the House, which has only next week before it adjourns for the rest of the month of August and early September.  Many Republicans elected in 2010 want to cut more than the $16 billion the House Ag Committee's bill trims from food stamp spending while urban Democrats may oppose the bill because it cuts nutrition spending. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told reporters earlier this week that she prefers passing a five-year farm bill, which the Senate has already voted on. Farm group lobbyists believe that the House one-year extension bill and the Senate's five-year farm bill might be combined into one five-year bill in a conference committee representing the House and Senate ag committees during the August recess. 

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a former chairman of the Senate Ag Committee is likely to be a member of the conference committee. He told Agriculture.com that the favors a five-year bill and that he's concerned about where the money for the drought relief would come from. The House version of an extension with drought aid that was released Friday takes funds from conservation programs Harkin strongly supports. And both the Senate and House bills already restore a livestock disaster program.

But Harkin said he was not completely opposed to an extension of the 2008 law and drought relief.

"If it comes down to that or nothing, I'd take that obviously. We're not going to leave farmers high and dry--no pun intended," Harkin told reporters Thursday of this week before seeing the House bill filed on Friday. He's also uncertain about how quickly the Senate would vote on altered farm legislation if it's a separate bill from the farm bill already passed in that body. 

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