With the clock fast approaching midnight, agriculture advocates were hopeful for an 11th-hour solution that includes a 2012 five-year farm bill before Congress adjourns.
Farm bill legislation is being valued for the potential savings it can deliver to the federal budget, said Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, The farm bill’s inclusion in so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations — talks addressing spending cuts required by the debt ceiling deal of 2011 and potential tax increases scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 — would bring lawmakers and the Obama administration billions in reduced government outlays. A new farm bill would provide projected savings between $24 billion and $35 billion compared with existing farm bill programs, Quarles said.
“In terms of getting to a fully reauthorized farm bill, it is good they keep mentioning that savings,” Quarles said. “It is a good thing we are still a part of the conversation.”
However, lobbyists said time is short as Democrats and Republicans continue to spar over acceptable solutions. Dec. 15 could be the last day for an agreement, Quarles said.
Congress will either pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill or find a way to pass a new five-year farm bill in the lame duck session, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C. “I think the committee leadership is ready to go, ready to work but they need the green light to get it done.”
Guenther said Dec. 4 that agriculture committee leaders still need assurances from the White House and Democratic and Republican leaders that the farm bill will be included in the fiscal cliff package and how much savings are required for the legislation.
That process of putting a version of the House and Senate versions of the farm bill could take about a week or longer, so agriculture committee leaders in the House and Senate will have to have some kind of direction by mid-December, he said.
Though it is likely Congress won’t allow the farm bill to lapse and revert back to 1949 permanent farm bill law Jan. 1, Guenther said Congress won’t necessarily find writing a one year extension that easy to do, either, since lawmakers also will want to include some reform language in the extension to generate savings.
“It will require some policy changes and at the end of the day it will look more like a new farm bill than a simple extension,” he said.
Expectation that a farm bill will emerge as a part of the fiscal cliff negotiations is somewhere between rumor and fact, said Dale Moore, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation on Dec. 4.
“There is more and more talk about it being a part of the fiscal cliff package, but what we don’t yet know whether we are talking about a new five-year farm bill,” Moore said.
One potential sticking point is the House of Representatives may not have the votes to pass the farm bill, with some conservative Republicans wanting deeper cuts than $16 billion pared from food stamps in the Agriculture Committee-approved farm bill. Meanwhile, more moderate Republicans don’t want to cut any deeper and Democrats may withhold virtually all support for the bill. Moore said.