Farm bill talks still stalled out as the clock winds down

posted at 1:21 pm on December 2, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

The House and Senate are only in session at the same time for a grand total of five days before the Christmas holiday hits, and there are still several big-ticket items lingering on the potential Congressional docket. Among them: A defense authorization bill; the big budget deal on which Paul Ryan and Patty Murray are working; and of course, that behemoth of corporate pork so very important to the special interests in flyover country, the so-called farm bill.

The country is currently operating on a temporary extension of the combined agricultural and food-stamp policy legislation, and passing another multi-year package has been going through fits and starts of varying degrees of legislative drama over the past six months, without any major breakthroughs. The bill’s conferees (Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.) failed to meet their goal of reaching a framework for a conference report before Thanksgiving, and even with phone calls and meetings happening over the break, it doesn’t sound like there’s been much definite progress — as much as they actually do want to get something passed rather than reverting to yet another extension, via National Journal:

But they did meet three times last week and have talked on the phone several times since. The Senate is not in session this week, but all conferees have been told they may be summoned to Washington for an open conference meeting on the bill on Wednesday. A Cochran spokesman said that whether the meeting takes place this week or not, “The principals continue to talk and are having substantive discussions. They all hope to come up with a plan that is workable for all parts of the country.” …

One congressional aide working on the bill reacted in stronger terms. Even though the principal negotiators didn’t get the framework, “it’s not like everyone is angry with each other and not talking anymore. Who wants to talk about a two-year extension when we are this close to getting a farm bill done? It beats anything I’ve ever seen.” …

The principal negotiators and the Agriculture Department have warned that if a new bill is not signed by Dec. 31, the USDA will have to start using the 1949 dairy program and that would result in higher milk prices. But in an interview, Hoeven acknowledged that many legislators consider Jan. 15, the date when the current continuing resolution funding the government runs out, to be the real deadline for a budget deal, for an appropriations bill for the rest of fiscal 2014, and for the farm bill. But he said he worries that leaving the farm bill till January could mean that it gets too mixed up with other legislation. He also noted that as the year moves along, the bill would be subject to rescoring, which could complicate its completion.

There’s still some discussion over certain of the agricultural-policy measures, but the big sticking point that will draw the most attention (as ever) is going to be food stamps and the oh-so-draconian five percent cut House Republicans have proposed to the metastasized federal program. Via the WSJ:

If the farm bill stalls again this year, both parties will try to paint the other as responsible for the failure. The dynamic could influence a range of 2014 races in both the House and Senate, including in Montana, where the issue helped Democratic Sen. Jon Tester retain his seat last year. In Iowa, the farm bill is so important that Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, running for an open Senate seat, broke from most in his party to join Republicans in supporting the House’s first, failed attempt to pass a farm bill in June.

“This is going to be a very significant issue,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D., N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees House races for the party. He signaled that Democrats would accuse Republicans of politicizing what had traditionally been a bipartisan bill, in part by demanding big cuts to food stamps. “It fits into the overall theme of a reckless, Republican Congress that injects partisanship and ideology into issues that had always been bipartisan,” he said.

Some conservatives, by contrast, say that lawmakers will be rewarded if they reject a farm bill that spends too much money or ends up resembling “corporate welfare” for farmers. “It’s an opportunity for them to say Washington is not in the business of handing things out to people,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

It won’t be nearly as important a campaign issue as ObamaCare, for instance, or any other number of issues, but it’s still a big deal in a lot of more rural districts, and both parties will be looking to take advantage of it, especially is Congress does end up going for yet another extension.


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Take out the food stamp “gift cards” and the bill would pass.

rich801 on December 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

Here in Central Kentucky I see and hear every single day on the TV and in the newspapers how the recent disastrous unprecedented cut in SNAP has destroyed the working poor. Problem is, I see them at Walmart with a cart load using their black card every time I go in there.

Johnnyreb on December 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM

Just wondering….

When a sovereign state goes bankrupt….how does that work? Does someone run down to the federal bankruptcy court and file a form?

BobMbx on December 2, 2013 at 1:42 PM

Stop the handouts.

TX-96 on December 2, 2013 at 1:43 PM

The House changed the reauthorization dates so that, in the future, the welfare portions and the pork portions will have to stand alone for a vote. If they can preserve just that, I’ll be happy.

Kafir on December 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM

When I was a kid, my dad had to go on food stamps. It was a horrible time. Everybody knew you were on food stamps because the cashiers would announce, “Food Stamps! Food stamps on register 4″.

My Dad bless his soul, hated it. I hated to be the one to stand there at the register with food coupons in my hand, paying for the food that he picked out.

That lesson taught me how to never be a slave to the government. Yes, I bought the food, yes we were nourished by it. But we could never buy fast food. We could never gamble at casino’s and buy whores off a stage. Being on welfare was to be avoided at all costs.. a drain to society.

Not so much, anymore.

F*ck Obama.

Key West Reader on December 2, 2013 at 1:57 PM

if you saw the chart in the WSJ this past weekend it will bring it all home. Since Obama has been on the scene the 40/60 farm/food stamp ratio has yielded to a 20/80 split. And the total has mushroomed as well.

Repubs need to message because the facts are horrible for dems unless vote buying is the goal.

DanMan on December 2, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Since Obama has been on the scene the 40/60 farm/food stamp ratio has yielded to a 20/80 split.

And here I was thinking the bill was 100% bad…

I say just let it drop.

Mohonri on December 2, 2013 at 2:02 PM

Just wondering….

When a sovereign state goes bankrupt….how does that work? Does someone run down to the federal bankruptcy court and file a form?

BobMbx on December 2, 2013 at 1:42 PM

Assuming you’re not being sarcastic, what would happen is the government will usually make some announcement that they are not repaying some or all of an upcoming coupon payment. That will usually trigger a “selective default” rating from the ratings agencies, followed by negotiations with creditors to reduce the amount owed.

The Belize default of 2012 is a good overview of what a typical, controlled default looks like. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19330491

When little countries like Belize default, it usually doesn’t cause a lot of trouble. No one is sure what will happen, though, if behemoths like the US, EU, China, or Japan default (but it will probably be really bad).

Doomberg on December 2, 2013 at 2:06 PM

Maybe Congress could also find the time to do something about the fact that we are half-a-trillion-dollars over the “debt limit” (see Table IIIC) with absolutely nothing stopping the government spending from rising like a helium balloon without a string.

Socratease on December 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM

They always trot out the specter of $8/gallon milk to sell this turkey!

Wonder if the Repubes draconian 5% cuts are actual cuts or just cuts to the growth?

PaddyORyan on December 2, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Here in Central Kentucky I see and hear every single day on the TV and in the newspapers how the recent disastrous unprecedented cut in SNAP has destroyed the working poor. Problem is, I see them at Walmart with a cart load using their black card every time I go in there.

Johnnyreb on December 2, 2013 at 1:41 PM

…and loading up the new Caddie Escalade with their loot.

slickwillie2001 on December 2, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Key West Reader on December 2, 2013 at 1:57 PM

I can relate somewhat. When I was a kid my brother and I would have the summers with our grandmother “up in the country”. Miss Sally was a delightful neighbor who was an older single lady that had her water well accessible from inside her house; the pulley, rope and bucket set up like I saw in cartoons. Her house was spotless and she always had something for us.

One day after we had peeked in her pantry we asked Nanny why most of Miss Sally’s food came in green boxes and cans. I never saw that at the Piggly Wiggly we went to. It was explained to us and we were told to never mention it again, especially around Miss Sally.

Now I go to the Food Town in my neighborhood and am shocked at what I see. And unlike Miss Sally, they have absolutely no shame or appreciation regarding the food they are given.

DanMan on December 2, 2013 at 3:02 PM

I welcome $8/gal milk as long as my taxes go down for not supporting the largest welfare scam in history. Let the market decide not government.

trs on December 2, 2013 at 3:22 PM

When little countries like Belize default, it usually doesn’t cause a lot of trouble. No one is sure what will happen, though, if behemoths like the US, EU, China, or Japan default (but it will probably be really bad).

Doomberg on December 2, 2013 at 2:06 PM

China would never default. They would simply call in all the money owed to them by the U.S. Treasury, causing the U.S. to default.

Steve Z on December 2, 2013 at 3:24 PM

They always trot out the specter of $8/gallon milk to sell this turkey!

PaddyORyan on December 2, 2013 at 2:36 PM

As if their monetary policy of inflating their way out of debt isn’t going to result in that anyways…

dominigan on December 2, 2013 at 3:56 PM

When I was a kid, my dad had to go on food stamps. It was a horrible time. Everybody knew you were on food stamps because the cashiers would announce, “Food Stamps! Food stamps on register 4″.

My Dad bless his soul, hated it. I hated to be the one to stand there at the register with food coupons in my hand, paying for the food that he picked out.

Key West Reader on December 2, 2013 at 1:57 PM

I was between jobs on 9/11. Because of that event, my “between jobs” stretched into years of underemployment. I took food stamps then but continued to work to get myself back on my feet.

Kafir on December 2, 2013 at 4:46 PM