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Countdown to expiration of the farm bill

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have precious few working days left to pass the farm bill. (jacqueline.poggi/Flickr)

The farm bill is stuck.

It expired on Sept. 30 when Congress couldn't get new legislation on track even though the U.S. Senate passed a version (PDF) in June. Congress finally passed a temporary extension on Jan. 1. But this still does not offer farmers, many of whom are currently battling devestating drought, the kind of stability they need.

Days since the farm bill expired:

Check back here for updates.

What’s going on day to day:

Jan. 1, 2013: It's not exactly a Farm Bill, per se. But Congress passed a one-year extension late today as part of the so-called "fiscal cliff" package and averted the "dairy cliff." So milk prices will remain stable, but there are none of the reforms sought by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the Senate Ag Committee chair, and subsidies are still in place. This means it's back to the drawing board on a five-year Farm Bill.

Dec. 31: Here we are, on the last day of 2012, and there's still no Farm Bill. There is, however, much scrambling in Washington today as farm state lawmakers try to get the rest of the membership to agree to a one-year extension the leaders hammered out over the weekend. The Associated Press reports that Ag Committee leaders are hoping for that last-minute vote on the extension today. One large reason for the hustling is the so-called "dairy cliff." If a Farm Bill or an extension isn't passed by midnight tonight, a 1949 law comes into play that could double milk prices, making a gallon of the white stuff worth between $6 and $8.

Sept. 30: Tonight marks the end of an era, but unlike on New Year’s Eve, farmers are more likely to sip a glass of milk than to pop a bottle of champagne. The current farm bill expires at 12:01 am EST Monday morning without a replacement in sight. Farmers from California to Nebraska to Maine will be left in limbo.

The current bill, actually called the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, was passed in 2008 and largely continued farm policy set in the 2002 farm bill. With House Republican leadership dragging its feet and Washington waiting to see how November’s elections play out, the earliest we could see a new farm bill is the post-election lame duck session of Congress.

Sep. 28: Just two days left until the current farm bill expires.

House leaders have confirmed we won’t see any farm bill action until after Election Day, but that hasn’t stopped farmers and ag advocacy groups from continuing to apply pressure.

Farmers are providing an example for Congress in putting aside normal partisan divides in order to get a farm bill through – members of agriculture groups that often oppose each other are coming together to push for farm bill legislation. In Montana, pro-farm bill protesters demonstrated outside the campaign headquarters of Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running for Senate. Democrats continue to blast the GOP for holding up the House version of the farm bill and hope it will affect races from North Dakota to Iowa to Missouri.

Sept. 27: House Republican leaders refused to bring the farm bill to the floor of the full chamber, mostly because they hope Republicans will wield more power in Washington (in both houses of Congress and in the White House) after the election. They hope by bringing up the bill later, they’ll be able to cut more spending and to shape it with less input from Democrats. But that delaying strategy may end up hurting them at the polls in key states that could shape the makeup of the very chambers they were waiting on.

Republicans are getting hammered in key Senate races for blocking the progress of the farm bill. As an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes, “the inaction may hurt the GOP's effort to reclaim a majority in the U.S. Senate because of backlash in North Dakota, Montana, Indiana and other rural states with tightly contested races…” The farm bill could play an especially pivotal role in North Dakota, as Democrats have already started using it to tar Republican Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for Senate. For a rundown of Senate contests, visit Farmpolicy.com.

Of course, an editorial published in the Kansas City Star contends that a post-election Congress facing the “fiscal cliff” budget cuts will be better suited to reforming farm programs.

Now that the expiration of the current version of the farm bill is all but certain, farmers everywhere are wondering what happens Oct. 1. As the Minneapolis Post’s Devin Henry puts it, not much. On the ag side that’s because most farmers will receive subsidies on crops planted this year. On the nutrition side, it’s because Congress passed a stop-gap spending bill that keeps many government programs at current funding levels through March 2013. For a look at what could possibly happen without a farm bill, check out our reporting here.

Sept. 24: This is the Farm Bill's last week as we count down to its expiration on Sunday, Sept. 30.

Congress has already left Washington and members are back in their home states, hitting the campaign trail in these last days before the November election. They got a scolding from President Barack Obama during his weekly Saturday address, accusing them of "dragging their feet" on the Farm Bill and adding that Americans should be frustrated by the lack of action.

"Right now, if Congress had gotten its act together, we would have a farm bill to help farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters like the drought we had this summer. And we'd have made necessary reforms to give our rural communities some long-term certainty," Obama said, as quoted by Farm Futures.

Farm advocacy groups, who banded together for a "Farm Bill Now" campaign were also frustrated. American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman worried that passage of a Farm Bill during the lame duck session after the November election will be difficult.

"When members of Congress return after the election in November, the excuses and the foot-dragging must stop, and the House must dedicate itself to passing a new comprehensive five-year farm bill that provides farmers with the stability, security and certainty they need while doing agriculture's part to contribute to deficit reduction," Wellman said.

Meanwhile, just how the failure on the Farm Bill will play out during the election is on the minds of many politicos. The Des Moines Register reported this weekend that the issue could play a significant factor in swing states like Iowa, Colorado and Ohio.

Sept. 20: House Speaker John Boehner officially confirmed Thursday that work on the next five-year Farm Bill will be delayed until after the November election, setting up the next debate for a lame duck Congress.

The Wall Street Journal blog “Washington Wire” reported that Boehner refused to answer any follow-up questions on the matter, only offering up what had been the contentiousness among House members in recent months.

The GOP leader acknowledged that the issue in the House was that some lawmakers felt that legislation that was passed out of the Agriculture Committee earlier in the year would overhaul spending on farm and nutrition-related programs too much, while others felt that it didn’t go far enough.

The Senate passed a five-year farm bill back in the spring, but the House has been unable or unwilling to follow suit. The House did pass a short-term drought relief bill before the August recess, but senators unhappy with the structure of the bill declined to take it up.

Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Thursday that she will do “everything possible” to finish a five-year farm bill before next year. 

“I really am shocked that there hasn’t been action this month,” Stabenow said, as quoted by Agri-Pulse. “I’m absolutely committed to doing everything humanly possible to complete the farm bill in November or December.” 

But not everyone is unhappy about the delay. Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group’s vice president of government affairs, was quoted in the Des Moines Register as applauding Boehner because the House Agriculture Committee’s bill did not offer enough reforms.

The panel “proposed to increase farm welfare at a time of record farm income — and to cut programs for the poor and the environment in order to lavish new subsidies on highly profitable farm businesses,” Faber said. “What’s more, the committee’s bill would have weakened consumer and environmental protections.”

Sept. 19: At this point, lawmakers are all but certain to head home into the Congressional election-season recess without a completed farm bill to show constituents. Most observers expect Congress to take up farm bill legislation in the lame duck session post-Election Day, but even that isn’t certain.

Though the farm bill expires Sept. 30, most farmers won’t feel the effects of post-farm bill life immediately. That’s because, as NPR’s Julie Rovner reports, “the 2008 measure covers all of 2012's crops. So even if they haven't been harvested yet, things growing now are covered by the 2008 legislation.” Dairy farmers and livestock producers are, generally, more worried about not having farm program supports in the near-term than commodity crop farmers. As we reported earlier, most of the aid programs designed to protect cattle and pork producers have already expired.

For an in-depth look at expiring farm bill programs, see this report by the Congressional Research Service. (PDF)

There is one group happy that Congress is failing to find its footing on farm legislation: farm state Democrats running in tight races. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed its version of the farm bill and Democratic House members are calling loudly for the House to take up the measure. Republican House leaders, though, are refusing to bring the farm bill to the floor, giving ammunition to Democrats running in farm-heavy areas.

Sept. 12: Washington lawmakers Tuesday proved that months of political pressure at home can get the farm bill back in front of Congress.

Farm state House Republicans set off a “spirited discussion” on the farm bill with GOP leaders Monday and again Tuesday with the full Republican caucus, according to Politico. After getting hammered at home during the recess, many are ready to move on the farm bill.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are making a fresh push for the farm bill and highlighting ahead of the election that the Democratic-led Senate was able to pass its version of the legislation. Until Republicans in the House push a farm bill through, it looks like Senate Democrats will continue to make political hay.

Washington will be under even more pressure Wednesday after a coalition of farm lobbies rally on Capitol Hill in support of the farm bill. The major farm groups have urged Senate leaders not to pass a short term disaster aid extension, but to pass a full farm bill instead. However, some say the farm groups’ rally comes too late for the 2012 farm bill.

If lawmakers are to be believed, there is still time to get a farm bill passed before the November elections. At best, though, there’s a very, very short window and this Congress has rarely acted quickly.

 

Sept. 10: Lawmakers return to work today and they’re facing some angry farmers.

With just eight working days left for the House before the election and an unfinished farm bill stranded in the political ether, farmers across the country will be watching Washington D.C. even more intently than usual.

Farmers depend on farm bill legislation. But as the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer writes, political divisions have the legislation stalled.

But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.

That will leave farmers stuck with uncertainty.

Observers expect Congress will extend some farm programs, like drought relief efforts, before they expire on Sept. 30 and may even pass a short (perhaps six or twelve month-) extension of the entire farm bill. Lawmakers may attach an extension of some farm programs to a stopgap spending bill, according to Roll Call’s Humberto Sanchez. That could happen as soon as the middle of this week.

Sept. 4: Congressional agriculture leaders say they’re still working to pass a new farm bill even as just 25 days remain until current legislation expires.

Rep. Frank Lucas, the Republican chair of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Great American Farm Luncheon at the GOP convention last week “I’m not sure which day, I’m not sure which month, but there will be a new farm bill,” according to Agri-Pulse. Will that day come before Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires? That’s unclear, but Lucas said he is still working on House leadership to afford him floor time for the bill.

Most observers doubt there will be a new farm bill before the November elections. Just eight Congressional working days remain this session.

Aug. 23: Farm industry is organizing and preparing to throw its considerable weight toward pressuring Congress to hash out a new farm bill before current legislation expires in just 37 days.

As DTN’s Chris Clayton reports, a coalition of 39 industry groups jumpstarted its official push to see a new farm bill yesterday at farmbillnow.com. The group includes such heavyweights as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Because it contains much more than just farm legislation, like funding for programs like SNAP benefits, lawmakers from all over the country have a stake in the farm bill. But many see legislators from non-rural districts as lacking urgency and an impediment to getting a bill passed, the Des Moines Register reports. Congress has just eight working days before the bill expires Sept. 30.

Meanwhile, Mich. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been hinting that should the farm bill fail to become law, she’ll try to pass a separate disaster aid for farmers bill, according to the Detroit News.

Aug. 21: As lawmakers take to the campaign trail, some senators, especially Democrats, are using the farm bill to highlight their work. The Senate passed a full five-year farm bill June 21 but the full House chamber has yet to take up debate on its version.

Democrats across the country are trying to lay Congress’ failure to pass a farm bill at the feet of House Republicans. Senate Democrats, like North Dakota’s Sen. Kent Conrad, Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill and Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar have all touted the passage of the Senate farm bill at campaign stops. Even some Senate Republicans, like Arkansas’ Sen. John Boozman, have gotten in to the act. With fewer than 40 days before the current farm bill expires, though, mere campaign oratory won’t give farmers faith.

Key Dates

  • April 26 Senate Agriculture Committee passes farm bill
  • June 21 Senate passes farm bill
  • July 12 House Agriculture Committee passes farm bill
  • Aug. 3 Last working day for House before August recess
  • Sept. 30 Current farm bill expires

Aug. 17: As politicians hit the campaign trail, the farm bill is appearing in stump speeches across the country. Obviously farm policy is vital to rural districts with heavy agriculture, but the bill also contains nutrition programs like SNAP benefits, often called food stamps, important for both urban and rural districts alike.

From rural Oklahoma, where Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Rep. Frank Lucas insisted farmers need stability in policy, to Baltimore where activists protested proposed cuts to SNAP benefits, the farm bill continues to get prime billing.

Aug. 16: With Congress on a break the farm bill is serving as nothing more than political ammunition.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continued this week to point fingers and lay blame squarely on the shoulders of their political opposition for the stalled farm bill. Republicans like Neb. Sen. Mike Johanns accused Senate Democratic leadership of shirking its responsibilities for getting legislation to the president’s desk and Mo. Sen. Roy Blunt called on Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid to call lawmakers back to work. Democrats on the campaign trail like Sen. Claire McCaskill, up for reelection in Missouri, and President Obama say House Republicans are standing in the way of the farm bill.

As far as the farm bill goes, with campaign season in full swing there’s a lot of smoke but little fire.

Aug. 15: With President Obama’s reelection campaign in the midst of a three-day swing through Iowa, it’s no surprise the farm bill is taking center stage. At various stops Obama has blamed Congress, and especially GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, for letting the farm bill languish. Agriculture Secretary, and former Democratic governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack also harped on the message while stumping for Obama. A spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney, though, defended Ryan’s agriculture record yesterday.

It’s clear the president will work to tie Ryan to an unpopular House of Representatives. Campaigning in a farm state, he’s doing that by focusing on the farm bill. It’s unclear though, if this political posturing will realize tangible legislative results – the farm bill is mired in partisan politics and an uber-partisan presidential campaign likely won’t change that. Plus, it remains to be seen if the Obama campaign will continue to keep the farm bill in the news when it leaves Iowa.

Aug. 13: Well, at least the rhetoric surrounding the 2012 Farm Bill is heating up -- even if there's no progress to report.

President Obama is campaigning in Iowa today and he came out swinging at vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for being part of the GOP Congress that is holding up the Farm Bill.

"If you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities," Obama said in excerpts released ahead of his speech Monday and reported by the Associated Press.

And Iowans just may see Ryan, as he's in Iowa today campaigning for the other candidate on the Republican ticket, presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The campaign is pointing to Ryan's Midwestern home state of Wisconsin and saying he will do everything he can to support farmers and ranchers.

But all the talk and no action had our reporter Clay Masters wondering: just what would happen if no Farm Bill passes? Check out his report here.

Aug. 12: The farm bill pressure is on. Here's how The New York Times puts it:

Farmers are complaining loudly to lawmakers back in their districts, editorial boards across the heartland have pounded Congress for inaction, and incumbents from both parties have sparred with their challengers over agricultural policy.

And if that's not enough... In his weekly address over the weekend, President Obama asked voters to contact their lawmakers and “tell them that now is the time to come together and get this done.”

Meanwhile, in an interview this weekend on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that political hurdles to passing the stalled farm bill will only grow if lawmakers don’t act before the end of September. After that, he said, the discussion "gets embroiled in conversations of sequester and tax policy,."

Aug. 8: President Obama is calling on Congress to pass a farm bill that will send disaster aid to more drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.

During a meeting of Obama's rural council at the White House on Tuesday, he said he hoped lawmakers get an earful from their constituents during the five-week recess away from Washington and that they reconvene on Sept. 10 prepared to complete work on a farm bill "immediately."

"Congress needs to pass a farm bill that will not only provide important disaster relief tools but also make necessary reforms and give farmers the certainty they deserve," said Obama in his first remarks on the farm bill in weeks.

Aug. 6: As Congressional representatives enjoy the first of their five-week summer recess, optimism at getting anything done on the 2012 Farm Bill grows dimmer.

Once Congress reconvenes on Sept. 10, there will be eight working days left before the current farm law expires.  What's more, between now and Election Day on Nov. 6, Congress is only scheduled to be in session for 13 days.

An effort at pushing the bill through the House is also facing a difficult path. A bipartisan group of four congressmen preparing what's called a "discharge petition" are blaming House Ag Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., of deliberately stalling the effort.

Not only does the five-year Farm Bill hang in the balance -- emergency drought aid that expired last year is within the bill and can't be issued without Congressional approval.

Where does this leave farmers and ranchers living through the worst drought in 50 years? Facing a slow-motion natural disaster.

"This is a slow Katrina," said Stacey McCallister, a Missouri dairy farmer, "and it's killing us."

Aug. 3 It all came to nothing.

Members of Congress have departed for their five-week summer recess. In their rear-view mirror? A pile of unfinished legislation, including the five-year farm bill.

On Thursday, as expected, House Republican leaders did try to jam through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. The measure passed 223 to 197. But also as expected, Democratic leaders in the Senate refused to take up the House measure, faulting House Republican leaders for failing to consider the broader farm bill legislation in time.

“I’m not passing a bill that only covers some producers,” said Sen.Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She took to the Senate floor to say that lawmakers would instead work informally over the August recess to try to put together a new measure to present to Congress when it meets in September.

Will there be real progress during a summer recess in an election year?

 “The uncertainty is mind boggling,” says Brent Boydston, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat representing eastern Iowa, says he is planning a discharge petition – a procedural move that could force the five-year farm bill out of committee and onto the House floor. But the earliest he could begin gathering support for the petition – which he says is favored by Democrats and Republicans – is early September. Braley intends to spend part of his time during the recess firming up support for the measure. He described the farm bill situation as “Washington dysfunction at its worst.”

Aug. 2 – Stung by its inability to push through a one-year farm bill extension, House GOP leadership is making sure its drought disaster aid legislation has smooth sailing. House Republican leaders yesterday abandoned their short-term farm bill push and made sure the disaster aid bill was scheduled to see the House floor today before the August recess. 

Despite many lawmakers advocating for a full five-year farm bill, it looks as if the replacement disaster aid bill will pass the House, giving its rural Republican members some measure of political cover as they head home in the middle of campaign season. However, Senate Democratic leaders say they won’t vote for the disaster aid bill unless the legislation contains the exact same provisions as the Senate’s full five-year farm bill, which contains disaster aid for farmers. Plus, environmental and conservation groups and many commodity groups say they oppose the House disaster aid bill

Rep. Frank Lucas, the Republican chair of the House Agriculture Committee who is a farmer and rancher from Oklahoma, says he still believes the House can still salvage its farm bill. Most, however, are skeptical. Lucas and his farm bill are stuck squarely in the middle of the partisan wrangling and inter-party sniping that has marked this campaign year.

Aug. 1 – Facing the prospect of heading back to angry drought-ravaged farmers and ranchers during Congress’ August Recess, House Republicans stopped work on contentious farm bill legislation and started pushing a drought assistance bill.

Unable to push through an unpopular one-year extension of farm programs, House leaders decided instead to gather votes for the disaster aid bill. Should the House pass disaster aid extension, the Senate, with a full five-year farm bill that contains disaster aid provisions in hand, will have to examine the bill closely. Senate leadership wants to continue to exert pressure on the House to pass a full farm bill and won’t want to lose leverage by approving disaster aid legislation.

At this point, House farm bill work is effectively at full stop, leaving farm bill prospects bleak. When the House returns from its break on Sept. 10 there will be just eight working days left before the farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

July 31 – The one-year farm bill extension is currently set for a vote Wednesday morning, but at this point House leaders aren’t sure they have the votes to get it passed. If they can’t shore up their position, the House will probably drop its work on the short-term bill.

As of Monday night, the short-term bill looked doomed thanks to a variety of ideological concerns. Many fiscal groups oppose the extension, contending it doesn’t cut enough from farm and food stamp programs. A large group of House lawmakers say they’ll oppose the bill unless they have assurances it’s not a backdoor way to create a long-term bill in conference with the Senate. Plus, farm groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and the National Milk Producers Federation have also come out against the short-term bill. House Democrats, on the other hand, are still pursuing the full five-year bill.

We’ll know more this afternoon, but most of the Washington press corps says the outlook isn’t good for a short-term farm bill extension.

July 30 – House lawmakers are working on two farm bill options: the full five-year bill the House Agriculture Committee already passed and a short one-year extension.

House Republicans introduced a new one-year farm bill extension Friday and say they’re committed to voting on farm bill legislation that includes renewed protection for drought-stricken ranchers before the August recess. House leadership is continuing to block the full five-year bill from the floor, but House Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Frank Lucas, a member of the majority Republicans, said he’s still working to push it through.

The one-year farm bill is largely an extension of current programs, but also contains cuts to conservation programs, which mostly pay for disaster aid. Passing a one-year extension could still enable a full five-year bill to become law before the current farm bill expires if the House and Senate can hash out full legislation in conference – but that’s not seen as the most likely course.

July 27 – There’s more hope today than yesterday that a new farm bill will be in place before current legislation expires. House Republicans worried about nasty confrontations with their constituent farmers at home during the August recess are looking for ways to get drought disaster aid legislation passed next week. That focus on farmers may actually, in fact, lead to a vote on a House farm bill and to eventual passage of the full legislation.

House leaders say they’re focused on getting a disaster aid bill passed, but that may amount to passing a short-term farm bill extension with disaster aid programs included. The House and Senate will eventually need to combine farm bill legislation by hashing out their differences in a conference committee. If the House passes a short-term (one year, perhaps) extension of the current farm bill, the Senate could come to conference with its full five-year bill. Then, if the two sides are able to find a compromise in the conference committee, a comprehensive farm bill may be in place before the current bill expires Sept. 30.

July 26 – Cattle and pork producers getting hammered by drought are getting Congress’ attention and lawmakers are gathering support for disaster aid legislation targeted at their needs. While many crop farmers have insurance programs as a bulwark against catastrophe, most of the aid programs designed to protect cattle and pork producers expired earlier this year ahead of the 2012 farm bill. With the farm bill stalled, many producers have been forced to sell their herds. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack lays the blame squarely on Congress’ shoulders, he told Harvest Public Media in an interview Wednesday. “I’m frustrated because I see the pain on the faces of the producers I talked to yesterday,” Vilsack said after he spoke with Iowa farmers Tuesday.

Congress is in an all-out scramble to get agriculture legislation passed before the farm bill expires on Sept. 30. The House, led by Speaker John Boehner and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, is focusing on drawing up a one-year extension to the current farm bill and coupling it with immediate disaster aid for drought-affected farmers. Lawmakers are hoping to shift about $300 million from other farm programs to disaster aid, according to Bloomberg. But Lucas’ counterpart, ranking Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson, says he opposes a one-year extension and hopes to get the full bill passed.

July 25 – House leaders have yet to schedule floor time for the farm bill, making it increasingly likely that lawmakers won’t work on the House’s version of the legislation before they leave Washington in early August. That has many lawmakers from rural districts worried they’ll face hostile farmers and ranchers who are battling drought when they head home. House Speak John Boehner implied Tuesday that Republicans may instead draw up emergency legislation aimed at providing aid to drought-stricken farmers and ranchers, though the House Agriculture Committee hasn’t been working on disaster aid.

Not everyone is pressing for action on the House farm bill, though. In an editorial, the New York Times called both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bills “bad bills,” rushed through the political process without meeting “a reasonable standard of reform.” The Washington Post urged Congress to resist “drought drama” and said farmers can’t depend fully on government assistance regardless of what Mother Nature throws their way.