Short Term Farm Bill Extension: Congress Could Do Worse

December 12, 2013 J

By Christine Harbin Hanson

Over the past year and a half, the Farm Bill has inched its way through Congress. Congress is supposed to reauthorize this massive piece of legislation that sets U.S. food and farm policy every 5 years, but political conditions have slowed its progress. To allow for Farm Bill conferees to reach an agreement on a conference report, tomorrow morning the House of Representatives will likely vote on a short-term, 30-day extension of the 2008 farm law through January.

Extending the 2008 farm law is less than ideal, but it could be worse. Extending current law is better than passing a trillion dollar spending bill that locks in at least 5 more years of bloated food and farm policy.

One impetus for the short-term extension is hysteria about the so-called Dairy Cliff, the claim that milk prices will rise to $8 per gallon after January 1. (This issue came up this past December, too; it drove Congress to include a 9-month extension of the 2008 farm law in the so-called Fiscal Cliff deal this past January.) But this is a government-caused problem, and the better solution is less government, not more. Rising milk prices is a symptom of serious underlying problems in our commodity programs in the Farm Bill. What Congress should do instead is address these price supports that are so out of touch with the current market, not pass a trillion dollar Band-Aid.

The fact that the House is considering a 30-day extension, not a full-year extension, indicates that Farm Bill conferees are very close to a deal. Led by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, this committee has been working since October on reconciling the differences between the House- and Senate-passed legislation, which generally extend and expand the corporate welfare policies that have long-dominated the Farm Bill.

Judging from early reports, the forthcoming Farm Bill conference report will include many opposable provisions. Early reports suggest that this conference report does not repeal the widely-criticized direct payment program that pays farmers not to farm; it just tinkers with the way these benefits are calculated. It will likely include an additional revenue-guarantee program for farmers that will end up costing even more. It also fails to include many of the House-passed changes to food stamp programs that Americans for Prosperity supports, such as restricting the loopholes that states exploit to expand eligibility.

What Congress should do on the Farm Bill right now is extend current law for another year, not just one month. That will give lawmakers enough time to consider free market reforms to food and farm programs, without being distracted by continuing resolutions or hitting the debt ceiling. Congress needs to go back to the drawing board.

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