But the GOP in the House could have passed a one-year farm bill extension, gone home for August, and blamed the Senate Democrats for rejecting the desires of Cornbelt farmers. That would have been great election fodder. But it was never given a chance to work. Instead the 48-page farm bill extension (compared to the 1,200+ page Senate farm bill) has been pulled from consideration. Interestingly, Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas apparently did not even want it on his committee’s website, and it only appeared on the web site of the House Rules Committee.
The House may still create a drought relief package, which could be similar to its proposal of last Friday that trimmed funds from Direct Payments and Conservation, and re-authorized several livestock-oriented support programs to help producers weather the drought. If the House passes that late this week as tentatively scheduled, the Senate may not have time for consideration, prior to its August recess, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 6 and end Sept. 7.
With the farm bill scheduled to expire Sept. 30, and political divisions as large as they are, the chances are declining rapidly for any resolution before the end of September. But it will not be the first time. Many of the last few farm bills have been approved well after expiration of their predecessors. However, agriculture is less challenged than it was when farm programs involved acreage setasides, and planting season pushed the Congress to act.
The 2002 Farm Bill was not approved until many of those close to the process were beginning to detail the permanent legislation that would have Congress guaranteeing farmers parity prices, which interestingly are not that far away from current commodity prices. It is doubtful that the existence of “permanent law” would scare the members of Congress who have philosophical differences with a farm safety net, promoting conservation, and supplying food aid to the needy. They could easily push the “delete” button, not only on periodic farm bills, but also on the permanent legislation they modify every five years. That would leave the nation with the need for ad hoc farm policy actions which are akin to burps and hiccups instead of continuity of policy.
After a month of floor inactivity on the farm bill, the U.S. House has both declined to advance a five-year plan and a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. The House leadership says it will provide some type of drought relief for farmers before it adjourns for the month of August, but likely not in time for Senate consideration before its adjournment. With the House unable to find votes for either a one-year extension or a full five-year farm policy, one must wonder if the great political rift between the House and Senate and between the political parties will spell the end for periodic farm legislation.