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Published July 27, 2012, 01:22 PM

House considers one-year farm bill extension

A new scenario for passing a farm bill this year has emerged under which the House would this week pass a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that would include livestock and fruit and vegetable disaster aid, and that bill would be combined with the Senate-passed farm bill in September.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — A new scenario for passing a farm bill this year has emerged under which the House would this week pass a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill that would include livestock and fruit and vegetable disaster aid, and that bill would be combined with the Senate-passed farm bill in September.

The vote could occur as early as Aug. 1. The House is scheduled to go out of session on Aug. 3 and not return until Sept. 10. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has already begun asking freshmen members to vote for the bill, National Journal Daily reported on July 26.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says the bill needs to be passed before the August recess and that this was a logical approach.

“If you’re going to provide certainty out in the drought areas, if you’re going to enable an orderly transition from the completion of the regular farm bill, then a one-year makes sense,” Lucas says.

Lucas adds that House leadership was on board for the vote. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on July 26 that he believes the House will address the need for livestock disaster aid, and that he is working with Lucas on a path forward.

Boehner did not answer a follow-up question on whether that would be attached to an extension or to a new farm bill.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who had earlier opposed an extension, said July 26 that Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had called to ask him to support the extension, and that she and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., support this approach.

Peterson says House passage of the extension would allow staff to work during August on a conference report that would be brought up in September. He says he initially wanted an ironclad promise of a conference, but after speaking with the House Parliamentarian he was assured that “if the Senate wants a conference, Boehner can’t do anything to stop it.”

Open to the approach

“If the House intends to send us a bill that will be used to negotiate the Farm Bill during August, I am open to that approach,” Stabenow said in an email to Agweek. “However, a short-term extension is bad for farmers and our agricultural economy. If Congress does what Congress always does and kicks the can down the road with a short-term extension, there will be no reform, direct payments will continue, we’ll lose the opportunity for major deficit reduction and we’ll deliver a real blow to our economic recovery. What’s important is at the end of the day, we give our farmers certainty with a full farm bill and keep our agriculture economy growing.”

Peterson says he is encouraging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to take this approach.

“It’s pretty clear Republicans can’t get enough votes without me,” Peterson says.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House floor on July 26 that the Republicans want to address disaster aid this week, and that he hopes Hoyer will support the bill.

Hoyer says he hopes there will be a bill he can support “without making the deficit worse.”

Passing a one-year extension would allow the House to avoid a floor fight over cuts to the food stamp program in an election year. House conservatives want a big cut to food stamps, while liberals want no cut at all.

The bill that the Senate passed and the bill that the House Agriculture Committee passed use different approaches to the commodity title. Under this scenario, the House Agriculture Committee bill, with a target-price-based commodity program option, would be dead. But presumably, the target-price program for commodity producers in the extended 2008 farm bill could be added to the Senate bill, which contains a “shallow loss” revenue program in the commodity title.

SNAP cuts

Meanwhile, Food Research and Action Center President Jim Weill told Agweek that anti-hunger advocates favor a one-year extension of the farm bill with no cuts to the food stamp program over a five-year bill.

“A process that makes sure there are no cuts in SNAP [the supplemental nutrition assistance program] this year is a good outcome for struggling families,” says Weill, who heads FRAC, the most prominent national anti-hunger group.

Peterson says he is aware of FRAC’s view, but believes he has “damped down” that viewpoint among House members.

The House farm bill that apparently will now not be considered on the House floor would cut food stamps by $16.5 billion over 10 years, while the Senate bill would cut $4.5 billion over 10 years. FRAC and other anti-hunger groups have opposed all cuts, but 66 senators voted against an amendment offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would have restored the funds cut in the Senate bill.

Pressure continues to build for passage of a farm bill this year.

“Congress can and should finish its work on a 2012 farm bill,” the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said in an email July 25.

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