July 30, 2012
Despite Opposition, House Leaders Plan Pre-Recess Vote on Farm Bill Extension
Published in C.Q.
Amid broad-based criticism, House leaders plan to vote Wednesday on legislation that would extend existing farm and nutrition programs and provide aid to ranchers and farmers with losses from drought and other natural disasters.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., either are confident that they have the votes for passage of the $621 million package or are determined to give members from areas affected by the worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years at least a chance to vote for aid before heading home this weekend for the August recess.
The assistance is directed primarily at cattle ranchers, for whom crop insurance is not an option. The measure would extend most programs in the current farm bill (PL 110-246), which expires Sept. 30.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would save $399 million over 10 years despite the $621 million in disaster spending. That offset would be accomplished by cutting direct payments by $261 million and then reducing conservation programs by $759 million, with nearly half of that coming from the popular cost-share Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which provides matching funds for soil and water protection on agricultural land.
In a letter Monday to Boehner, an alliance of sportsmen and conservation, environmental and agriculture groups called the cuts “deep and disproportionate” to programs “that conserve soil and water to make farms and ranches more resilient to the impacts of droughts.”
Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, called for assurances that the extension would not provide a vehicle for the Agriculture committees to negotiate a five-year farm bill.
“House Republican leadership should promise fiscal conservatives that they will not use a short-term extension as a vehicle to get to conference on a massive new farm bill,” Chocola said.
Club for Growth was not alone in demanding a pledge from Republican leaders that the extension not serve as a bridge for farm bill negotiations.
The Environmental Working Group, the political opposite of Club for Growth, said leaders should produce an “extension that can’t be used as a Trojan horse and provides relief for our livestock producers who have suffered from the 2012 drought.” The organization has long campaigned against farm subsidies but opposes the House and Senate farm bills. Both would end policies such as direct payments, relying instead more on the crop insurance program, which does not limit federal subsidies for premiums or impose restrictions on eligibility.
Extension Could Be Shell for Negotiations
The Senate passed its bill (S 3240) on June 21, but House leaders are reluctant to bring the House Agriculture Committee bill (HR 6083) to the floor because of divisions within the Republican caucus on the level of proposed 10-year reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Some members want larger cuts than the $16.1 billion in the committee bill.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said there should be no extension unless it could serve as a shell to allow negotiations on the House committee bill and Senate-passed bill. That maneuver would be similar to one used to produce a final highway bill (PL 112-141) after the House bill encountered trouble on the floor.
Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the House Agriculture ranking Democrat, also said he would support an extension only if it will lead to a conference agreement.
Interest Groups Voice Opposition
Major farm and rural groups also voiced concerns and opposition to the extension. The American Soybean Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union and the National Milk Producers Federation oppose the legislation. They say it is short-term and puts on hold significant changes in agriculture policy proposed in a Senate and House farm bills.
Garry Niemeyer, president of the National Corn Growers Association, criticized the extension legislation for continuing policies such as annual direct payments that most agriculture groups have rejected as politically indefensible. The payments, which are based on the past production history of acres and paid out regardless of economic conditions, would continue through fiscal 2013. The extension proposes small cuts to the payments in fiscal 2014, while the House and Senate five-year bills would end them and shift farm programs toward insurance-like products and crop insurance.
“Continuing outdated farm policies will negatively impact agriculture, the federal budget, consumers and the economy,” Niemeyer said in a statement.