Another week has passed in Washington without progress or a plan for passing a five-year farm bill or an extension of the farm law that expired on Sept. 30.
Congressional agriculture leaders have expressed varying levels of optimism on the issue throughout the week, but as days go by, hope appears to be fading and the scramble for a legislative plan B to avoid implementation of permanent law in 2013 becomes more hurried.
Recognizing the logistical hurdles to a full bill at this point, farm groups, ag reporters and policy analysts have also become very frank about the perils of any type of extension to near-term policy priorities and the long-term farm bill budget.
Everyone believes an extension would be just as hard to pass as a full bill, but an extension could leave many programs without any funding, would not provide farmers the certainty inherent in long-term policy and would not include the reforms in versions of the legislation which have been successfully completed by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee.
The hurdles facing the bill appear to be apparent to all and yet unfixable.
House leaders who could bring the House Ag product to the floor are clearly tied up in fiscal cliff discussions.
The farm bill rose to the level of a White House press briefing, when Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about Mississippi River flow issues. He said, in part, “The president has also been clear that Congress must pass a comprehensive multi-year farm bill that...not only provides much needed disaster assistance but gets farmers and ranchers the certainty they deserve while enacting critical reforms.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), who was officially selected this week to remain chairman in the 113th Congress, told Oklahoma farm reporter Ron Hays on Thursday that regular order was still his goal.
However, he acknowledged that because of the fiscal cliff “literally there is not enough political oxygen left in this town” for anything else and “while the candle has not gone out completely, it's flickering rather dimly.”
The next best hope for the farm bill, barring floor consideration, has appeared to be working it into a larger package addressing the fiscal cliff, which might be particularly attractive if legislators begin looking for spending offsets.
Both the Senate-approved farm bill and the House Agriculture-approved farm bill save tens of billions of dollars. However, that option suddenly looked to be an even longer shot when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday there has been “no substantive progress” on the fiscal cliff talks.
This political impasse is likely to demand even more attention in the coming days from all decision-makers on the Hill and in the Obama Administration.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and leaders of both Congressional agriculture committees met Thursday. Meetings between Congressional principals are likely to continue next week.
NAWG continues to work with other farm groups and Hill staff to press the importance of completing a five-year bill.
NAWG President Erik Younggren, a farmer in northern Minnesota, will travel to Washington next week for meetings pertaining to the farm bill.
(See all farm bill developments at http://southeastfarmpress.com/farm-bill-2012.