Farm Lobbyists Prepare for Farm Bill Fight

Lobbyists on Capitol Hill are girding themselves for a major fight over the 2012 Farm Bill, which will likely begin debate on the Senate floor this week or next.

Last month, the Senate Agriculture Committee, headed by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, finally passed a new farm bill (in a 16-5 vote) after months of delay and congressional grandstanding. While the bill passed the Ag Committee with broad bipartisan support (opposed only by four Southern senators and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who all believe their constituents will be hurt by the elimination of direct payments), the bill faces shakier prospects in the full Senate.

Earlier this week, Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky criticized the bill. “Instead of including initiatives that streamline the U.S. Department of Agriculture and reform nutrition programs, this year’s bill spends a trillion dollars and achieves insignificant reforms to major programs,” McConnell said. Chambliss was more direct, stating, “We have no agreement,” after the bill passed committee.

While Senator Stabenow and ranking member of the Agriculture Committee Pat Roberts are confident that they have the 60 votes required to overcome potential filibusters, the story in the House of Representatives is another matter.

House Republicans have already stated their desire to increase agriculture spending cuts. In addition, House leadership has sent no signal that they will act on the bill in the near future (Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s summer floor schedule does not mention the farm bill).

With this level of discord in the air, farm lobbyists are preparing for a major fight this summer. If a new farm bill is not passed (or the current bill renewed) by the end of September, federal farm policy will automatically revert back to 1940s era policy, a reversion that will cost the government billions of dollars in direct payments and could impose steep production limits.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer