Agriculture leaders in Congress began opening up this week about their plans for the 2012 farm bill process.
The leaders — and the ag community at large — have been examining options for renewing the law since attempts to attach a farm policy proposal to a debt reduction bill failed with the debt-deficit super committee last month.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said Congress must complete the farm bill rewrite before the current bill expires. Speaking at a forum in Washington, she said her Committee will resume hearings on farm bill issues in January, with the goal of having an “initial product” by spring.
She also said 12 public hearings held this year and the lessons learned from the super committee-related attempt “have helped us identify ways to streamline and strengthen programs to reduce the deficit and create agriculture jobs” and will be the framework for coming efforts.
In an interview with Oklahoma farm broadcaster Ron Hays, House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) noted Stabenow’s plans to hold hearings, but did not commit to do the same.
He was generally positive about the package he and Stabenow negotiated prior to the super committee's collapse — which has yet to be released publicly — and indicated the House’s schedule could mean an extension of current policy is needed.
For his part, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) suggested Tuesday the proposal formulated before the super committee’s demise be added to a bill to extend an existing payroll tax holiday.
Extending the payroll tax holiday is popular in Congress, but how to pay for it is a significant roadblock. Though it is unlikely Peterson’s idea will get traction, and he said he hadn’t discussed it with other key Congressional ag leaders, the concept would theoretically provide a $23 billion offset.
It would also lock in farm safety net spending for five years while largely avoiding what is expected to be a drawn-out and nasty House floor flight.
Lucas later voiced support for the idea in an interview with the Red River Farm Network.
Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) continued this week to call for hearings to begin under regular order, telling agriculture news outlet Agri-Pulse “the biggest thing is the process.” Roberts maintains he was not part of the super committee proposal negotiations and, based on what he’s heard about them, thinks they’re problematic.