Senate and House conferees will sit down Wednesday to try to negotiate a new farm bill. It’s no easy task; an agreement on farm policy has eluded lawmakers for two years, and the two bodies are far from consensus. A previous one-year extension of the farm bill enacted in 2008 expired on Oct. 1.
Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill would scrap Direct and Countercyclical Payments, a roughly $5 billion a year subsidy payment to farmland owners, and plow some of the money back into enhancements for subsidized crop insurance.
Both bills would cut food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The big difference in the bills is the size of the SNAP cuts. Senate legislation trims $4 billion over a decade; the House would cut 10 times that amount.
There are other big sticking points over farm policy: restructuring the safety net for dairy farms, encouraging farmers to comply with environmental conservation and how to figure commodity supports.
Meantime, Congress must act by the end of the year, because unless there’s a farm bill by then, farm policy put in place in 1949 will take over and drive dairy prices way up.
All this, and a crowded legislative schedule, has led some to call for another extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. Don’t even suggest that to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“There’s not going to be an extension,” Vilsack insisted last week in Kansas City, Mo. “We tried that last year. All it did was, it just gave people more time to kick the can down the road. That time has ended. The clock is ticking. It’s time to get to work. Everybody wants to get this done. So, let’s get it done.”
Vilsack says an extension would lock in current spending and waste savings available from cuts both sides agree with.
But some in Congress have more ambitious goals for the farm bill. In addition to cutting SNAP significantly, many Tea Party-affiliated members would like much deeper cuts to farm subsidies than those already outlined in either the House or Senate versions of the farm bill.