Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Pig-headed Presidency Meets the Farm Bill

From Peter Shinn at Brownfield Network, writing last Sunday, Feb. 24:
An extension of the 2002 farm law through at least the end of 2009 is looking increasingly inevitable as negotiations on the next farm law drag on toward the March 15th expiry of the current extension of the 2002 measure. That’s the word from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa, who put the blame squarely upon the Bush administration for the current farm bill stalemate.
Harkin notes that the Senate version of the Farm Bill passed by 79 votes, and would have passed by 83, except "'four people were out running for President.'"

The stalemate, at least officially, is mostly over the total cost and funding sources of the bill.
Harkin added that the Bush administration’s intransigence has come despite his view that the Senate has offered repeated concessions on cost. Harkin also noted that the Senate version of the farm bill would raise revenue using methods suggested by the Bush administration itself in its current and prior budget requests. That’s why Harkin is now of the opinion that a new farm bill won’t get done during the current congressional session.
The 2002 farm bill extension is set to expire on March 15. Nancy Pelosi has said House conferees will not be appointed until the bill's financing and budget have been agreed upon.

Five days after this story was published, little appeared to have changed.

If a deal is not reached by March 15, either the 2002 farm bill will be extended again or the law will automatically revert to the Agricultural Act of 1949. The USDA and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer don't think much of either idea, but the former is almost certainly more acceptable to them than the latter. From the USDA paper published Friday (download Word doc) regarding reversion to 1949 law:
Often described as a reversion to “permanent law,” such a result would dramatically narrow the universe of producers who receive support, and would do so in a way that most producers will view as irrational. For instance, those wheat producers who happen to have historical acreage allocations would receive dramatically increased benefits, while all other wheat producers would become ineligible.

The second part of this memorandum focuses on the effects on other programs that are administered by USDA, explaining that many conservation, energy, trade, nutrition, and other programs would be eliminated or substantially curtailed.
The threat of neither passing nor extending a farm bill by March 15 is therefore a serious bargaining chip for Congress with the administration; most suggest, however, that such an outcome is unlikely.

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