For all of the year’s high legislative drama over and high electoral hopes for finally getting a non-stopgap version of a farm bill — that longstanding marriage of convenience between our explosively growing food-stamp program and our less expensive but much more egregious crop of corporate pork known as our agricultural policy — passed, it now looks like the whole thing just ain’t gonna’ happen this year. Despite the agribusiness lobbying pressure coming in from all sides, the House and Senate conferees have yet to nail down a version that would be amenable to both of their respective legislative bodies, and with 2013’s last session just about done, they’re probably pushing the issue into next year. Again.
To buy more time for farm bill talks, the House is expected to take up this week a short-term extension of current law through January.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has already signaled he is open to this option and a vote could come as early as Wednesday on the suspension calendar.
This is the second such extension Congress has been forced to take up since the 2008 farm bill expired almost 15 months ago. But the circumstances now are very different.
Last year at this time, the House had yet to even act on a farm bill and a long-term extension was needed through this past September. The legislative process is much farther along now—albeit still tortured. And there is a genuine hope that a House-Senate conference can report a farm bill back for final action in January.
True that the farm bill is this time much “farther along” (if that’s how you want to look at it) in terms of the legislative deliberations — but I don’t know that anything’s changed that will make the vote any less screechingly contentious, what with the draconian five percent cut to the food-stamp budget Republicans have proposed and the Democrats’ subsequent commitment to beating them around the heads with the intellectually cheap demagoguery stick for it.
The absurdity of our agricultural policy, by the way, is aptly demonstrated by the very reason Congress is going to tack on a one-month extension of the current policy rather than letting it expire on schedule. Without new legislation in place before New Year’s, we’ll slip back into complex and entirely antiquated price supports that will distort a whole bunch of food prices — a phenomenon generally known as the Dairy Cliff:
Chris Galen, vice president of the National Milk Producers Federation, estimated that dairy products alone could go up 40% to 50%, explaining that the price changes would not happen right away, but could send milk toward $7 or $8 per gallon. “It would be a noticeable increase,” Galen said.
But it’s not just dairy prices that could skyrocket if the House and Senate fail to agree to new Farm Bill or at least extend the current legislation that is set to expire on January 1st. From dairy to wheat to rice, corn, barley, oats and honey, some of the most ubiquitous crops in the United States would revert back to artificial price supports that Congress first created at the end of the Great Depression and made permanent in 1949. …
“It would wreak havoc on the entire agriculture industry and the consumer food market,” says Ben Becker, the spokesman for the Senate Agriculture Committee. “That’s a major reason why we need to get a new Farm Bill done.”
Or, I might suggest that it could be an argument for why the farm bill needs to just Do Less, no? Anyone?