Update on the Farm Bill: Good News and Bad News

January 10, 2013 J

By Christine Harbin

In the final days of the 112th session, there was a mad dash in Congress to pass its pet policies that never made it to President Obama’s desk. The Farm Bill is one policy that reared its ugly head in the hours leading up to the fiscal cliff deadline; the fiscal cliff package included a 9-month extension of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (a.k.a. the Farm Bill).

This is the latest chapter in the saga of the Farm Bill that AFP followed over the summer. Here’s a quick-recap: The Senate passed a full version of the Farm Bill in June, but the House never brought it to the floor. That left the 2008 farm bill to expire on September 30, 2012, meaning that the U.S. reverted back to mid-century farm policy called “permanent law.” Despite the cries from agricultural special interests, being on permanent law is not that big of a deal in the short term, since Farm Bill programs were still being funded through various appropriations.

There are a number of downsides to attaching the short-term Farm Bill to the last-minute fiscal cliff deal. From a procedural perspective, farm policy should be considered in stand-alone legislation, not snuck into an omnibus package at the 11th hour. From a policy perspective, the 9-month extension excludes reforms to farm programs. It does not cut direct payments to farmers, nor does it not cut crop insurance subsidies. And, of course, it’s jam-packed with food and farm welfare.

However, there is an upside: Things could be a lot worse. At least Washington is not locking in bad farm policy for another 5 years. The 9-month extension may have its problems, but it’s better than passing one of the bloated Farm Bills that we saw over from the summer—either the one that passed the Senate, or the one out of the House Agriculture committee. Both were trillion dollar bills that spent $250 billion more than the 2008 bill did. This will buy time for Congress to start from scratch and adopt reforms to food and farm policy in the long-term.

In the coming months, the 113th Congress has an opportunity to do what the 112th Congress couldn’t: enact meaningful reforms to U.S. agricultural policy. Americans for Prosperity will stay engaged in the conversation, working toward a farm policy that puts taxpayers’ interests before special interests.

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