2012 Farm Bill: What’s In and What’s Out?
In the News
January 30, 2011
When the 112th Congress convened January 5th, it looked a little different than our previous 111th Congress did. Republicans now have their largest majority in the House since the Truman days of the late 1940’s. Armed with a large voting margin and a new mandate to practice fiscal conservatism, House Republicans will now attempt to make major cuts to the federal deficit by slashing federal programs. For those of us who follow farm policy, we are not surprised by the rumors that farm programs are on the cutting block. Of course, this is not the first time we have heard such chatter.
For over a decade now, the agriculture industry has struggled to maintain its “safety net,” a combination of farm commodity programs, crop insurance programs, and disaster programs that average about $16 billion a year of appropriated funds. And year after year, proponents for elimination of or cuts to farm program payments increase in numbers. This is mostly due to unfavorable perceptions that these payments are largely directed to wealthy corporate farms and not compliant with international trade policy, thus impacting relationships with our foreign trading partners. As a result, bipartisan support is quickly growing among Washington politicians to eliminate or at least cut farm programs.
The current bill, the Food, Security, and Bioenergy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill), expires at the end of September 2012, so the new Congress will be tasked to rewrite a bill or extend current law before the 2008 Farm Bill expires. With budget deficits and growing support for fiscal constraint, the consensus in Washington is that the next farm bill will be a difficult piece of legislation to draft. Both House and Senate leadership have signaled to the committees with jurisdiction that there will be no new funding dedicated to the next bill. To say that drafting legislation without new money is a challenge is simply an understatement. After all, the 2002 Farm bill was written with an additional $78 billion of new funding, and the 2008 bill was written with an additional $7 billion of new funding.
Essentially, what this means is that incoming House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) are likely to be playing defense when drafting the next farm bill. Lucas, who hails from production agriculture, will most likely strive to protect the farm safety net as much as possible, while Stabenow, from fruit and vegetable producing country, will likely focus on protecting specialty crop and nutrition programs. Meanwhile, ag lobbyists and interest groups will be rallying behind their pet programs to keep them alive and funded, and many will be asking for new funding.
Determining what programs are in and what programs are out this time around will be a difficult decision. There are 15 titles in the Farm Bill, and funding could be reallocated from less popular titles to the more popular ones. However, aside from the nutrition title, the bulk of the funding is dedicated to Title 1, the section that authorizes farm commodity payments. In addition, The White House has made it clear that it wants cuts to farm commodity payments, direct payments and crop insurance payments. Moreover, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the Administration’s bipartisan task force set up to offer solutions to our nation’s rising national debt, recently cited significant cuts to farm subsidies as one solution to tackling our debt woes.
Of course these programs have a solid and loud fan base so chances are they will not be eliminated or easily altered. But, like most issues in Washington, one thing that is for certain this year is that there will be much debate as to the future of farm commodity payments.
In her time with Troutman Sanders Strategies, a full-service government relations and issue management firm, Autumn Veazey has accrued extensive experience advancing clients’ initiatives at the federal level regarding agriculture, nutrition, trade, immigration reform, and food safety.
Most recently, Veazey served for two years as Director of Legislative Affairs and Associate Counsel for the United Fresh Produce Association headquartered in Washington. Her work at United Fresh included negotiations on key specialty crop provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill and securing over $1.3 billion of mandatory federal funding for the produce industry.