Farm Bill update: a selective extension

UPDATE: 1/3/12 9:30am – The Senate extension of the farm bill was in fact also passed by the House late last night.  President Obama is expected to sign it into law.  Here's the story I did for broadcast this morning.  Later today, I'll gather some more reaction to the extension.

It's worth noting that the farm bill extension is really just a blip on the radar in the bigger storm over the "fiscal cliff".  The farm bill extension merited no more than one sentence at the end of the White House's fact sheet on the fiscal deal:

Extends the farm bill through the end of the fiscal year, averting a sharp rise in milk prices at the beginning of 2013.

On this sunny New Years Day in northern New York, not much sun for the region's farmers hoping for improved farm policy.

The Senate's tax agreement, which passed overnight, includes a nine month extension of the 2008-2012 farm bill.  That means we'll avoid the much feared "dairy cliff", where a 1949 law would have taken effect that would have doubled milk prices and wreaked havoc on the dairy industry.

The extension appears to preserve the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program for when milk prices go too low or feed prices go too high.

But the extension strips out many popular programs among farmers, including conservation programs, support for organic certification, and disaster insurance – critical for farmers who suffered through last summer's drought.  But it keeps in place direct government payments to farmers whether they grow crops or not.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who shepherded the passage of a new farm bill last summer, accused Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of hijacking farm policy, according to the New York Times:

Rather than embrace the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill, which cuts $24 billion in spending and creates certainty for our agriculture economy, Senator McConnell insisted on a partial extension that reforms nothing, provides no deficit reductions, and hurts many areas of our agriculture economy.

Many agriculture insiders across the country are ripping the partial extension.  Ferd Hoefner of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition told Politico the deal is "blatantly anti-reform":

The message is unmistakable – direct commodity subsidies, despite high market prices, are sacrosanct, while the rest of agriculture and the rest of rural America can simply drop dead.

House Republicans have fought against a couple provisions in the "new" farm bill, including food stamp spending they deemed too high and an overhaul of the dairy safety net.  Speaker John Boehner has called a milk supply management program in that package "Soviet style".

It's unclear at this point whether the House will bring the revised farm bill extension to a vote as a part of the broader tax package wrapped up in "fiscal cliff" talks.

 

 

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