Summer Near – Farm Bill Likely Months Away

The Senate and House Agriculture committees are weeks or even months away from drafting the 2023 farm bill, a remarkably late start for what is always a detailed and time-consuming process. The new farm bill would be the most expensive ever and is likely to be completed after the Sept. 30 expiration of the current farm law, if recent history is a guide.

“Budget issues are part of the story,” said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Ag Policy Research Institute, think tank, pointing to the lengthy negotiations over the debt ceiling. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its 10-year projections in mid-May, marginally increasing the farm bill baseline to roughly $1.5 trillion.

“The debt limit debate and the delayed CBO scoring created a lot of uncertainty that may have discouraged parties from putting forward concrete proposals,” said Westhoff. “At least some of that uncertainty has been resolved but I’m not sure there is consensus even now about what the budget target for the bill as a whole should be, let alone the targets for particular titles of the bill.”

The 2014 and 2018 farm bills were completed behind schedule, with food stamps as the major hurdle. The 2018 midterm elections effectively ended the standoff over Republican-proposed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts, with Democrats gaining control of the House. President Trump signed the bill into law on Dec. 20, 2018, three months after the nominal expiration date of the 2014 farm law. The 2008 farm bill was supposed to be replaced in fall 2012, but Congress fought over food stamps until early 2014.

“As far as I am concerned, the issue of work requirements is settled for this Congress,” said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow after President Biden signed the debt limit bill into law. “We will not further erode the dignity of Americans who simply need a little help — about $6 a day — to buy food.”

However, the House Agriculture Committee called a hearing on “opportunities for modernization” of SNAP and other public nutrition programs that are part of the farm bill. SNAP accounts for $4 of every $5 in the legislation, which also covers rural development, food aid, agricultural research, farm supports, ag exports, and land stewardship. The Agriculture Committee said it would look at innovation, employment, integrity, and health aspects of the nutrition title.

“Will let you know when we make a schedule public,” said a Stabenow spokesman when asked when a farm bill draft would be released or when the committee would vote on a bill. Aides to House Agriculture chairman Glenn Thompson noted that he plans to release a farm bill draft during August, when the House is on vacation, and call a vote on it after the House resumes work on Sept. 12, three weeks before the 2018 law expires.

In the past, the template for action on a farm bill was for committee leaders to release a text in the spring with the goal of committee passage and a floor vote in each chamber before the August recess. That would leave September for Senate-House negotiators to agree on a compromise and for final passage in the House and Senate. As an example, House Agriculture chairman Mike Conaway, Texas Republican, unveiled his “chairman’s mark” for the farm bill in mid-April 2018 with the goal — not met — of a presidential signature by Sept. 30.