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Farm bill deal unlikely before 2014

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Mateusz Perkowski
Congress remains divided about subsidy mechanisms proposed for new farm bill legislation, but appears closer to a consensus about reducing food stamp spending.

A member of the House-Senate conference committee negotiating a new farm bill says it’s unlikely now that a deal will be reached this year.

And while House leaders have said they want to pass an extension to give Congressional negotiators more time to reach a deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will not extend current farm law if Congress can’t agree on a new farm bill before adjourning next week.

The House and Senate have passed separate versions, but with widespread differences over crop subsidies and how much to cut food stamps.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who sits on the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, said the mechanism for providing farmers with commodity crop subsidies is a major sticking point in farm negotiations.

Subsidy programs have become more contentious than reductions in food stamps benefits, which were hotly debated during earlier negotiations, he said.

“The commodity piece is much more controversial now,” he said.

A version of the 2013 Farm Bill passed by the Senate would have included a “shallow loss” program that would compensate commodity crop farmers if their revenues fell below a certain level.

The House Agriculture’s version of the bill, which failed to pass the floor, would have paid farmers if prices for crops dropped below certain targets.

Another dispute is whether farmers should be compensated on their recent plantings of subsidized crops, or historical plantings known as “base acreage,” Schrader said.

Part of the dilemma in negotiations is that due to a recent snow storm, the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t been able to assess the cost of the latest proposals, he said.

The Senate version of the farm bill from earlier this year would have cut agriculture-related spending by about $14 billion, or 6.7 percent, compared to the most recent 2008 version of the bill, which has a 10-year cost of $973 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The House Agriculture Committee’s version would have cut agriculture-related spending by about $13 billion, or 6.2 percent, compared to the most recent farm bill, the report said.

However, the House Ag Committee’s $40 billion cut in food stamp spending — a 5 percent drop — was much steeper than the 2 percent, $4 billion cut approved by the Senate, according to the report.

At this point, it tentatively looks like a final version of the farm bill would be more in line with the reduction proposed by the Senate, Schrader said.

Most of the current rumors have pegged the food stamp cut to range from $8 billion to $9 billion, said Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

It’s likely that any compromise between the House and Senate will include provisions of both the “target price” and “shallow loss” subsidy mechanisms, she said.

Passing a new farm bill in 2013 appears impossible, so any new version of the legislation would likely be completed in January 2014, regardless of whether the 2008 farm bill is extended, Thatcher said.

While there has been much excitement about the farm bill reverting to “permanent law” and causing a surge in prices for milk and other commodities in early January, that’s not a realistic threat, she said.

The USDA doesn’t have to implement provisions that would increase commodity prices immediately, which will likely give Congress time to negotiate, Thatcher said.

Schrader said he opposes any extension of the farm bill and hopes the prospect of permanent law will prompt Congress to quickly pass new legislation.

The 2008 Farm Bill expired last year. Congress passed a nine-month extension, which expired Sept. 30.



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