Farm Bill Stalls During August Recess

Farm Bill Stalls During August Recess

After substantial advancement in recent weeks, progress on the 2012 Farm Bill has ground to a halt, according to the Wildlife Management Institute. In late June, the Senate passed its version of the bill by a vote of 64 to 35. The House Agriculture Committee quickly followed suit and passed their version of the bill on July 12th. The next step is consideration by the full House of Representatives and, if passed there, on to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The quick action by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee had many people optimistic that the entire effort could be wrapped up in time to take effect when the current Farm Bill expires on September 30th this year. That is appearing to be less likely as House leadership is balking at bringing the bill to the floor for consideration and timing is becoming even more critical as both the House and Senate left Washington, DC on recess through Labor Day.

Some thought that the drought conditions throughout much of the country would push the House to act on the bill since the Senate's version includes measures to address natural disasters, including droughts. Likely realizing the potential for substantial criticism from the agricultural community for their lack of action, the House quickly passed a stand-alone, emergency drought assistance package just before leaving on recess. Unfortunately, the House opted to underwrite drought assistance in the package in part by diverting funding from conservation programs. If the legislation is implemented as currently written, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program would sustain a $350 million cut and $289 million would be diverted from the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Many in the Senate, however, viewed the House action as a way to further delay consideration of the full Farm Bill and did not act on the emergency legislation before leaving. Pressure will undoubtedly build over recess for Congress to quickly act on drought relief in one form or another upon their return to Washington, but the stalemate between whether action will be taken on a full Farm Bill versus a stand-alone drought bill is still in question.

In the meantime, a bi-partisan group of rural lawmakers is seeking support for a discharge petition that would force House action on the full Farm Bill that was passed out of the House Agriculture Committee. A simple majority of House members signing the petition would force immediate consideration of the bill. (pmr)

August 20, 2012