See ya next year, Farm Bill – again?

Farm policy is moving slow and low in America. Photo: Some rights reserved.

Farm policy is moving slow and low in America. Photo: Carl Wycoff, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It's the final days before winter vacation for the House of Representatives (I imagine their teachers are showing lots of movies, filling class time with holiday ornaments and gingerbread house-making, anything to keep these kids in line…) That means just three days for Congress to get a Farm Bill done in 2013.

Which is means it probably ain't gonna get done. Again.

This is almost exactly where we were last year. Just compare the story I did for NPR on December 5th, 2012 fretting about "the dairy cliff", and compare it to this year's story by Tamara Keith 364 days later. Wow.

Katherine Boor, dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – one of the top Ag schools in the country, chastized Congress in a statement for not getting anything done this year. “The inability to get a Farm Bill in place will touch every household in the U.S.," Boor said in a prepared statement, "starting with ramping up the price of our milk to eventually increasing the sticker prices on a variety of foods. It’s time to put politics behind us and focus on the things that matter: improving the quality of life for our citizens.”

So what's next for a nation now two years without a comprehensive agricultural policy, and currently deep in a disagreement over how much to help people pay for food they can't afford?

Well, on that last point, the Fargo Forum is reporting farm bill conference committee negotiators have reached a deal on funding for food stamps, citing Rep. Collin Peterson, who is one of those negotiators:

Peterson declined to provide a number, but said the deal hews “substantially closer to the Senate’s” targeted cuts of $4 billion over the next decade rather than the House’s bill, which would slash $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

So the question on this point now becomes will Tea Party Republicans vote for a bill with that much food stamp funding. Not if they stick to the conservative Heritage Foundation's position, which has been all along to hold a hard line and avoid what it calls a "$1 trillion food stamp / subsidy disaster":

If Senate policies on food stamps are adopted, Congress will have failed to address almost all food stamp reforms. This includes requiring able-bodied food stamp recipients to work or look for work.

The Heritage Foundation is encouraging Congress to extend the old (ole') Farm Bill once again rather than cave on food stamps.

That's what it looks like Congress is going to do until 2014 – extend the existing Farm Bill legislation. And Politico reports that will include extending dairy programs so Congresspeople don't have to hear Aunt Mable chew their ear off during Christmas dinner about the dreaded "dairy cliff":

The leadership is sensitive to the fact that the dairy program runs out at New Year’s. Republicans don’t want to be hearing—as they did last year— about milk prices spiking.

After all this wonky politics, I'm sure you'd like a more human take on the Farm Bill. So check out this New York Times article about a poor community in Mississippi that's clinging desperately to any farm subsidies and food stamp support it can get.




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