CHN: Farm Bill Programs (Mostly) Will Expire September 30; SNAP is Protected: Congressional Leaders Opting to Delay a Fight Over the Farm Bill until after the Elections

Article from the September 25, 2012 edition of the CHN Human Needs Report:
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoma n Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) explained in a recent conference call with reporters that producing a five-year farm bill during the lame-duck session might be difficult but it would not be impossible.  Both chambers in Congress have agreed to act on the stalled legislation when they return after the November 6th elections. But the deep divides  have held up the bill so far.  The farm bill expires on September 30th but the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) continues to operate uninterrupted because the rules governing SNAP will not expire at that time and funding was included in the continuing resolution  through March 2013 (see Congress Passes 6-Month Spending Bill for Fiscal Year 2013 in this issue). The Commodity Supplemental Food Program is also protected.  The September deadline will no t a ffect farmers immediately either but Congress must act by the end of the year in order for farmers to plan next year’s crop season. If Congress fails to strike a deal by December 31st crop subsidies will revert back to 1940’s farm bill levels. This would include substantial reductions subsidies for dairy and soy farmers and increased subsidies for wheat farmers.

In July the House Agriculture C ommittee approved bipartisan farm bill legislation with $35 billion in savings over 10 years, including $16 billion in cuts to SNAP. The full Senate had passed a five – year farm bill extension in June with $23 billion in savings over 10 years, including $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP over the same period of time.  The House Republican leadership has refused to allow a floor vote to happen because of several disagreements. Some Republicans want deeper cuts to SNAP; most House Democrats do not support any cuts to the program. Speaker John Boehner was quoted in a September 20th CQ article saying that the House would consider a multi-year measure or an extension of the current law, including a one – year or a three – month extension.

Although the bill has been punted to the lame-duck session, it has become a major election issue for some farm state lawmakers who must return home this week without certainty for their constituents. A discharge petition has been circulated to House members that would force a vote later this year should the petition attract 218 signatures. Over 50 Representatives including members from both major parties have signed on already. The petition gained attention on September 14th when two new Republicans, Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Representative Renee Ellmers (R-NC) added their names. Later that same day both withdrew their signatures. Tipton, who is in a competitive reelection race, cited that his initial signature was “just to send a message that we need to move on this”.  House members in North Dakota and other Midwestern states are also using this petition to show constituents concerned about the lack of action that they support moving the bill.

House agricultural leaders told CQ reporters that they are already concerned that an agreement on a five-year farm bill may not be reached when Congress returns. The committee’s ranking Democratic member, Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) have agreed to move a bill forward in February 2013 if no earlier action occurs in Congress.

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