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The unfinished farm bill is on Speaker John A. Boehner’s legislative to-do list, and by the end of the week, Republican leaders may announce how they will proceed.
The Ohio Republican and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said the House will resolve the “farm bill issue” but have provided no details.
At this point, leaders have three options: Move the House Agriculture Committee bill (HR 6083) to the floor; fold the House bill or the Senate version (S 3240) into a deficit reduction package to take advantage of the bills’ savings; or go with some sort of reauthorization and extension of the 2008 farm law and leave it to the next Congress to produce a five-year measure.
“The farm bill — you can spin enough scenarios to fill up a whole bunch of papers about what may happen there,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
An extension seems more likely, given the time constraints of the lame-duck session and the need to address the upcoming fiscal cliff of tax and spending issues. An extension could allow programs to continue for a few months, but House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., has said a one-year extension of current law (PL 110-246) might be the best option if a new bill cannot be passed.
If Congress passes a farm bill this year, Lucas said he is concerned that the Agriculture Department would not have enough time to accommodate a shift in farm programs from direct subsidies to risk management insurance programs.
But even a yearlong extension could be complicated, as it would do nothing to renew four disaster assistance programs that expired in September 2011 but are included in both farm bills. The writers of the 2008 bill used the early expirations to stay within budget.
There’s also a question about annual direct payments. The two bills would end the nearly $5 billion a year in payments based on past cropland production and issued to farmers and landowners regardless of market conditions. Both would shift the money into insurance-like products designed to protect farmers from drops in revenue or prices.
An extension would give lawmakers time to move longer-term legislation through floor votes and to conference committee. It would also mean the baseline or the money allocated for programs for the bills could be reduced when the Congressional Budget Office updates budget estimates early next year.
Farm groups and key Democrats on the House and Senate Agriculture committees want a five-year bill. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and Collin C. Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, issued separate statements last week calling for action on the House bill.