Will Kansas try once again to ease rules on important issues, as they did last year on CAFO’s and fracking? How will our tax system changes shape up and potentially impact our state’s services and rural communities? When will we get a Farm Bill out of Washington -- and when we do, will it support sustainable agriculture, diversified farms and rural communities?
Once again in 2013, the Kansas Rural Center will send our policy analyst, Paul Johnson, to Topeka to report every week from the State Legislature about issues and action that are important to our rural communities, our environment, and our food and farming system. Plus, we’ll be monitoring activity in Washington through our participation in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. And we’ll be sending those reports out to you, in our weekly “Policy Watch E-Update” electronic newsletter, direct to your in-box.
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2012 Farm Bill: A When and If Story
Hopes for passage of a full five year Farm Bill quickly evaporated after Congress came back to town post-election, as the attention turned to the biggest game in town-- the end of the year “fiscal cliff” drama of tax increases and draconian automatic budget cuts.
Commitment to working out the differences between the Senate and House versions established last summer does not exist-- at least not in the usual way where the House would vote on its bill and there would be a conference committee to work out the differences.
Instead, as this goes to press mid-December, Agriculture Committee leadership from both House and Senate, or the Gang of Four, are meeting to hammer out a full Farm Bill, that they think will mesh with possible resolutions to the “fiscal cliff”.
The Gang of Four, Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts, (R-Ks.), and House Agricul-ture Committee Chair Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) are said to be making progress on finding a compromise between the House Committee-passed bill and Senate passed versions. The House Ag Committee cut $32 billion including $16 billion from Food Stamps, and the Senate version cut $23 billion with $4 billion from Food Stamps. Both contained various pieces of the non-commodity and nutrition provisions that sustainable agriculture advocates support, but both cut conservation programs.
This comes as the White House and House leadership continue to spar over the lines each have drawn in the sand over solutions to the looming tax increases and budget cuts. But chances are that if there is an agreement, a new farm bill could be absorbed into the overall budget bill that would avoid the fiscal cliff.
But that is a big IF.
Others argue that, barring the fiscal cliff solution, an extension of the old Farm Bill with direction to the Agriculture committees to cut a certain amount (probably within $23 to $35 billion) from the overall budget by a certain date in 2013, is the most likely.
As we have pointed out in earlier articles, some programs that expired September 30 (rural development, beginning farmer, organic cost-share and research, value added, renewable on -farm energy, etc.) will need specific inclusion in an extension if they are to not suffer a further gap in program administration and funding while a full farm bill is being re-debated. Reforms to commodity programs and crop insurance also could begin in an extension-- if specifically included.
Also under a simple extension, disaster provisions for the livestock and fruit sectors would not be possible in 2013 unless the extension is modified to include them.
So the big question remains who will do what, and when and if any action will take place-- on either the Farm Bill or the fiscal cliff, or both together.
I seriously hope this article is moot by the time it is printed, as that means someone somewhere took the steps needed to move us out of this what-if limbo.