The House Agriculture Committee will go back to the drawing board on the farm bill in the next Congress, after unsuccessful efforts to include the legislation in any deal to avert more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to trigger on Jan. 1.
“I see no reason to delay,” the committee’s chairman, Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, told reporters today.
Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the committee’s top Democrat, said the panel probably will begin consideration of the bill, designed to set farm policy for five years, on Feb. 27. The old law expired Sept. 30. “What else are we going to do? we have no other choice,” Peterson said.
Some farm-state lawmakers had been talking about trying to get the agriculture bill included in a larger deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that have been labeled the fiscal cliff. With time running out, and facing opposition from House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, the conversation has changed.
Instead, House leaders are considering doing an extension of the bill, according to a Republican leadership aide. Details on what that might look like haven’t been revealed.
Lucas said he ordered committee staff months ago to draft a “buffet of legislation” as a contingency for just such a scenario.
Peterson had opposed piecemeal extensions of the farm bill, which sets spending levels for crop subsidies and nutrition programs, including food stamps. Now he says he would consider backing a short-term measure to revive expired conservation programs and to prevent farm policy from reverting back to legislation passed in 1949, which could result in a doubling of wholesale dairy prices on Jan. 1.
Inaction on a full five-year agriculture bill has prompted farm-state lawmakers who’d earlier resisted splitting the measure to try and attach parts of it to other legislation in hopes of getting something passed by year’s end.
The Senate is considering adding funds for livestock ranchers reeling from drought to a $60.4 billion disaster relief bill for superstorm Sandy. The chamber intends to complete work on that legislation this week.
Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley yesterday filed an amendment to the bill that would provide livestock disaster assistance as well as aid for tree and fruit growers. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is a co-sponsor, along with three other Democrats.
Stabenow’s endorsement may boost the amendment’s chances, as she and other farm-state lawmakers have opposed efforts in the past to separate drought relief from the farm bill.
“We are still working very hard to complete a farm bill, to have the House take action, but in the meantime we have disasters that have occurred,” Stabenow said late yesterday on the Senate floor.
The House Agriculture Committee approved a farm bill in July, a month after the Senate approved its version. Both bills would cost about $1 trillion if scored over a 10-year period.