Farm Bill Negotiations Continue
By: Kurt Fuchs, government affairs officer
Both the House and Senate passed their respective legislative packages earlier in the year, each with roughly $500 billion in spending, but with significant differences in farm support programs and nutrition spending. In particular, the House measure sought to achieve $40 billion in nutrition spending savings through program reform and cuts while the Senate’s version sought only $4 billion in cuts to nutrition spending.
Senate and House conferees began meeting in late October soon after the government shutdown was resolved, with leadership from each chamber’s Agriculture Committee meeting most recently behind closed doors to hammer out a framework for compromise on a 5-year comprehensive farm bill.
Congressional leaders announced in mid-December that a deal was close to being struck, but in an effort to prevent opponents from spending the holiday recess shooting holes in the compromise, details of the negotiations have been kept under wraps. Speculation has put the range of cuts to nutrition spending somewhere between $7 and $10 billion, but negotiators remain tight-lipped. It is expected that leadership will reveal the framework for a comprehensive farm bill package when Congress returns to DC in the early part of January, with open conference committee meetings (open to the public and covered by the media) to be held soon after.
Farm bill negotiations will be taking place even as Congress addresses the Jan. 15 spending deadline reached in an overarching budget deal signed into law by President Obama yesterday. In an effort to avoid another government shutdown like that which occurred in October of this year, the Bipartisan Budget Act provides the broad outline for federal spending through 2015 by restoring $63 billion in discretionary spending (to the Defense Department and other domestic agencies) and calling for $85 billion in deficit reduction. Many in Congress hope this is the beginning of a return to normal appropriations and budgeting processes as opposed to the continuing resolutions that have been the norm for several years.
The optimism of the holiday season and a fresh start to 2014 have agricultural interests with high hopes that Congress can come together in early January to restore the bipartisan approach to lawmaking that had been the hallmark of past farm bills. Stay tuned!