Post-election, agri experts divided on chances for passage of farm bill

Nov. 16, 2012 -- Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, congratulated President Obama on his re-election but warned that there are a number of critical issues facing the agri industry, including passage of the $500 billion farm bill. “Farmers and ranchers, like all Americans, have a list of issues that they are relying on the administration and Congress to address. But we cannot wait until 2013 for the action to start. Serious work on the farm bill, the fiscal cliff and critical tax policy fixes all must start during the lame duck session of the 112th Congress.”

Observers are split on the passage of the farm bill. Some lawmakers are agri-industry experts content that House Republican leaders had held up a floor vote on the farm bill prior to the election in hopes of gaining more control in Congress as well as the White House, which would have allowed them to pass a five-year extension of the existing bill while creating a new bill in 2013. Without that Congressional shift, observers say there’s a better chance for action now. The farm bill “was one of the things that was hanging in the balance with this election,” Chad Hart, an associate professor of economics at Iowa State University told Argus Leader. “When pressed up against that deadline, it’s a question of will a few votes -— and it’s not going to take many -— come out of the woodwork to say we need that compromise, and I think we (will) see that.”

However, others say there’s little chance for the farm bill. “Odds are against a five-year farm bill in the lame duck (session) unless it’s part of a budget agreement and a budget deal is unlikely,” Pat Westhoff of the think tank Food and Agricultural policy research, told Reuters. Federally subsidized crop insurance will also be a focus of attempts to cut the budget deficit. Reuters writes that crop insurance is the largest part of the farm safety net, with costs of $7 billion per year and expectations of that cost jumping to $15 billion or more this year because the government is picking up most of the underwriting losses for the 16 insurance companies in the field.

The recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting Convention featured three former secretaries of agriculture sharing their views on the election and what the ag industry can expect. While the former secretaries all agreed government was more bi-partisan under their tenure, they each seemed to follow party lines in their comments.

“The question is where do we go from here?” said Bob Bergland, former ag secretary under President Jimmy Carter. “One thing that is very much unclear, is what the Republicans in the House will do. They have veto control. The Senate can talk action and go to the House for consideration, but the House has to agree to something or nothing, as they have up until now. Congressman Boehner is trying to get his caucus to agree on provisions in the new farm bill that up until now they have not been willing to do ... it’s come back here soon in the lame duck session -- I have no clue how that will turn out.” 

“Think about it this way -- after a whole year of debating and the money that was spent, nothing has changed,” said John Block, former ad secretary under President Reagan. “The President didn’t get anything done; Harry Reid is running the senate and never put forth a budget. Any farm or family has to have a little idea about how much money they’re going to take in and how much money they’re going to spend, but the federal government hasn’t even had a budget.”
“I would say amen to what [John Block] has said and I think we will eventually get a farm bill and it will be discussed in the lame duck session,” said Clayton Yeutter, former ag secretary under President George H.W Bush. “The big problem is that the Senate, which has already passed the bill, has to start over. I’m not sure it will get done in a lame duck session. I think the chances of that happening are probably less than 50-50, which means they’ll do something temporary, kick the can down the road a bit, then deal with it next year.”

By Matt Kinsman