cows in field

DC Update, May 9, 2008

Is the Farm Bill Battle Over?

The Farm Bill is moving. Earlier this week the House and Senate negotiators agreed on a compromise package. Most differences in the bills have been resolved and the bill has wide bipartisan support. The President has not yet agreed to sign the bill and the Agriculture Committee leaders are seeking passage of the conference package by a veto-proof majority. The full contents of the final conference report will be released on Monday, May 12 at 8 AM ET. The floor vote is likely to occur very soon afterward, as early as Wednesday, May 14.

But is the battle over? In politics, everything is relative. Ag panel chiefs Rep. Collin Peterson (D,MN)and Sen. Tom Harkin (D, IA) are near giddy and relieved, respectively, over the near-conclusion of the 2008 Farm Bill conference, and when you consider the pain and frustration this effort has engendered, the two chairs have earned their emotional reactions. The 2007 Farm Bill passed the House of Representatives in July 2007 and the Senate in December 2007. The House and Senate have been working with the Administration to resolve differences in the two versions of the bill since then. The conference report now being finalized must be passed on the House and Senate floors, and would then be sent to the President for signature and implementation.

With a Farm Bill that will cost a sweet $270-280 billion, the trump hand is with the White House at this juncture. All week long, Administration spokespeople, notably Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, has told anyone who'll listen that if upon study the conference agreement doesn't pass the reform and spending smell tests, the President will veto the bill.

There's also relatively little sympathy for a Farm Bill in the broad congressional membership. First, there's appropriations envy in an election year over all that money going to farm programs when it could be building bridges and swimming pools back home. Then there's the growing chorus folks keep hearing about farmers pulling down not only record income, but absolutely obscenely high income thanks to the bidding war over corn for ethanol, soybeans for biodiesel and acreage-deficient wheat for food. The simple logic at work is this: "Does anyone really get hurt if we just extend the 2002 Farm Bill?"