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Farm Bill Time Line Slips Into the New Year
Almost as soon as the 2014 farm law took effect, lawmakers and farm groups said the next farm bill would make refinements – mostly on ARC, PLC, cotton, and dairy – rather than sweeping changes. Nonetheless, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees may find it daunting to fine-tune the farm bill when there is no additional money for it.
House Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway says the House could debate the 2018 farm bill as early as January or February, meaning that farm-state lawmakers “are going to have some hard decisions to make” in coming weeks. Ag lobbyists are skeptical, saying Congress rarely makes a flying start when it convenes for the new year. The time line for the farm bill has slipped already. Conaway and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts spoke optimistically of moving the bill this year, but health care, tax cuts, and budget fights precluded that.
By one estimate, the ag committees would need $15 billion a year to honor requests to double ag research spending, restore cuts in conservation programs, expand cotton and dairy supports, realign the county yields used in determining ARC subsidies, institute higher reference prices for PLC payments, and reallocate base acres. Some 340 people spoke at listening sessions around the country last summer, and “not one of them asked for less money,” says Conaway.
Conaway and the top Democrat on House Ag, Collin Peterson, have traded ideas for the farm bill. Says Peterson, “The biggest problem is, we haven’t got any money. The committee leaders have kept their work under wraps.”
They want to minimize the grief and rush it through without adequate public review, says economist Vince Smith of Montana State University, a farm program critic. Conaway says some potential elements of the farm bill will appear as stand-alone legislation as a test of support. House Ag is considered to be further along in assembling a farm bill than Senate Ag. However, Roberts says, “we are ahead of schedule compared with previous farm bills, having completed hearings on each of the farm bill titles.”
With the farm economy in a funk, Roberts and Conaway want to complete work on the 2018 farm bill before current law expires next fall. One lobbyist says Conaway will propose cuts in food stamps to allow for additional farm spending. “Farm bills are all about finding the money,” says economist Joe Glauber.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.