Can lame duck Congress carry a Farm Bill stumble across the finish line?

Author: Kate Fitzgerald

Senators and Representatives are back in Washington, DC for the final session of the 112th Congress, and speculation is high about whether the Farm Bill will get done before the final gavel.

As Congress and the White House negotiate how to avoid the $500 billion in tax increases and budget cuts referred to as the ‘fiscal cliff,’ the Farm Bill is “very much part of the discussion,” according to Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. 

The idea is that the multibillion dollar cuts included in the Farm Bill would be helpful to legislators as they look for ways to reduce government spending and demonstrate a genuine commitment to deficit reduction while avoiding destructive across-the-board cuts that will begin on January 2 if no deal is reached. 

Rep Collin Peterson (DFL-MN), Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK),
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI),
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas summed up the situation when he commented, “I consider the farm bill to be a big matter but in the eyes of many in this place (Congress and the White House), it is a $23 billion or $35 billion piggybank that fits into everything else.”  The fate of a 2012 Farm Bill is now in the hands of Congressional leadership and the White House and will depend on whether they can find an acceptable middle ground that protects entitlement programs crucial to Democrats and allows Republicans to say that they did not raise taxes.

The Farm Bill’s expiration two months ago has not yet had a significant impact on the American food system, but that could change in January when domestic milk policy returns to the  “permanent law” of 1949, which guarantees dairy farmers a fair, or “parity,” price double current milk prices. Seven dollars for a gallon of milk would be quite a shock to consumers.

If prospects for a debt deal that includes the Farm Bill start to dim, Agriculture Committee leaders may opt to try to pass an extension of the 2008 law before this Congress adjourns at the end of December. The extension could be for several months or a year and would mean that the whole Farm Bill process would begin again when the 113th Congress convenes next year, as all unfinished pieces of legislation die at the end of each Congress.

An extension can not include new programs so it would delay initiatives such as  the $100 million provision in the Senate bill to create a national pilot program based on Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks, new funding to create food hubs to help bring local food to markets, and increased support for the successful Community Food Projects grants program.

Congress has less than a month to act, so if you would like to see them pass a Farm Bill this year – let your member of Congress know. We at FFN encourage you to click here to find your Senators’ and Representatives’  information, and contact them today!