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One-Year Extension or Trojan Horse?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Last fall, House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders tried to insert a “secret farm bill” in the super committee’s un-amendable deficit reduction package. They failed.

Now some of those same leaders are trying to evade a floor vote by the full House by extending the current law for a year, as a pretense to negotiate a five-year farm bill with the Senate, which has already passed its version of the $1 trillion bill.

And this time, some of those who backed the “secret farm bill” gambit aren’t keeping their intentions so secret.  They would like to avoid House debate on a bill that cost even more than the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP.

"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,” Senate agriculture committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"I’m against doing an extension, but it’s okay if it gets us to a point of being able to conference a [five-year farm] bill in August," said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

“We do not support a one-year extension," Robert Guenther, a produce industry lobbyist, told the Produce News. "But we want to get it done this year, and if it gets us to conference we think it's worth a try," he said.

Over the weekend, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) signaled that a one-year extension would give Congress more time to contemplate major changes to farm subsidies.

The 2008 farm bill expires on September 30, but some provisions are tied to crop years rather than that cut-off date.

“Doing away with the direct payments, a bigger focus on price revenue and a bigger focus on this revenue protection — the changes are of such a magnitude [that] the orderly way to implement a new farm bill would be to pass a one-year extension,” Lucas said in an interview Saturday on the Oklahoma Farm Report on the Radio Oklahoma Network.

Of course, the key signal will come this week from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who can craft a one-year extension that can’t be used as a Trojan horse.

Boehner has always voted against bad farm bills -- even when he was a member of the House Agriculture Committee -- and he rightly characterized elements in this farm bill as “Soviet-style.”

Boehner should emphatically reject efforts to bypass a House debate and floor vote.  To go along with a plan for backroom negotiations for a new secret farm bill would contradict his commitment to the “honest debate” and “fair and open process.”  It would deny the full House the chance to reject setting crop prices in Washington and permit reform of bloated crop insurance subsidies that could cost the taxpayers as much as $40 billion this year – or twice as much as annual crop subsidy payments in their peak year.

“It is important that we have a signal from leadership in the House and Senate and a path forward so we can sit down and use August as a time to negotiate,” Stabenow told Agri-Pulse.

What signal will the Speaker send?

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