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The Farm Bill: Where Aren’t We Now?

With the election, Sandy and the fiscal cliff getting so much attention, it's easy to forget about the farm bill.

A large concrete question mark lying on a grass and gravel ground.

Photo: alexanderachmann (Flickr)

If the lame duck session of Congress fails to pass a farm bill, the next session will have to start over at the committee level.

On the heels of Hurricane Sandy and ahead of the impending fiscal cliff, the still-incomplete farm bill finds itself amidst a very different political environment than that of this past summer. Here’s an update on Congress’ progress, or lack thereof.

Will The Farm Bill Help Us Avoid The Fiscal Cliff?

This is possible, but unlikely, according to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

According to, Grassley told reporters that savings in the federal farm bill could be counted as part of an agreement to trim overall spending.

Still, he says, whether legislators manage to pass a new farm bill or an extension of the old one, it’s more likely to be done outside of any conversation surrounding the fiscal cliff and other immediate federal spending concerns.

$35 Billion!

Chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees remain adamant that the bill is at the top of legislators’ priority lists.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R-OH) says House speaker John Boehner told him that the farm bill does remain on the docket for attention before the end of the year.

“Clearly the $35 billion in the House package in savings has gotten somebody’s attention,” Lucas told POLITICO.

Extension Vs. Legislation

Colin Peterson (D-MN), ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, promised a fight if Republicans pushed to pass a simple one-year extension of the current farm bill rather than a full five-year package.

Pat Roberts (R-KS) has said the same thing, reports POLITICO. “Some way, somehow, we need to get a five-year farm bill passed. There are an awful lot of farmers and ranchers and their lenders out there now who are sort of in financial purgatory.”

Best Case Scenario

The best possible outcome would be for the House to vote on the draft bill passed by its Agriculture Committee earlier this year, and then for a bicameral committee to develop a final, hybrid version with the bill already passed by the Senate.

Unfortunately, there are only a few weeks remaining in the current Congressional session — not much time to get this done.

Because legislation does not carry over from one Congress to the next, legislators will have to start from scratch in the next session — or, at the very least, re-approve the bills that have already been passed.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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