During last year's Farm Bill consideration, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment during floor debate to reduce by 15 percentage points the level of federal premium support for producers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) over $750,000 for all buy-up policies beyond catastrophic coverage. This amendment passed and is likely to be included in the base text of this year's bill, in order to provide cover against further changes to the crop insurance program.
In addition to those key challenges for the 2013 Farm Bill, the amount of money with which to write the legislation has decreased from last year. Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report that projected less savings from the proposed Farm Bill proposals than was projected last year. Whereas the House and Senate Agriculture Committees' 2012 proposals were expected to save $35.1 billion and $23.1 billion, respectively, the CBO report reduced those numbers to $26.6 billion and $13.1 billion.
The CBO report also calculated that the new farm safety net programs would cost more. The report said the Senate's ARC program would cost more due to higher commodity prices and the resulting upward pressure on revenue guarantees, and that costs for the House version of the SCO would be increased due to favorable enrollment terms for producers. Chairman Lucas has stated that his Committee's 2013 proposal would save $38 billion, $20 billion of which would come from cuts to the SNAP program and the rest coming mainly from the farm safety net and conservation provisions. It is unknown how much the new Senate bill is projected to save.
Finally, the controversial agreement reached between the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) on altering the standards for raising egg-laying chickens - including enlarging their cages - may come up again in the form of an amendment during the Committee markup of floor debate. Last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an amendment during floor consideration which would have codified the HSUS-UEP agreement, although it failed. She may introduce a similar amendment this year. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who had been considering introducing an amendment during Committee markup, stated recently that she would not, a likely response to pressure from stakeholder organizations such as the National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, who say that such an amendment would set a bad precedent for their respective industries.
Although a litany of challenges faces lawmakers on the Farm Bill, there is a palpable desire to see the legislation reauthorized this year. There is speculation that Congress may punt again and simply extend it for another year, given its propensity to take such action on important legislation. But there are plenty of people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who would like to avoid this, not least of whom include the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Even Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid have expressed a desire to reauthorize the Farm Bill.
Importantly, key staff and legislators say that the focus this time around will be less on policy, which has largely been worked out, and more on working to secure the votes to pass the legislation. This may involve conceding on certain areas - SNAP cuts and dairy policy come to mind - in order for the legislation to pass in two very different chambers that are controlled by opposing political parties with vastly different ideologies on such legislation. The next few weeks will be very telling for American agriculture.
Bradley McKinney is a public policy specialist with FaegreBD Consulting, specializing in food and agricultural policy and regulatory issues. McKinney can be reached at bradley.mckinney@FaegreBD.com. Todd Langel is an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels, focusing on agricultural law and litigation. Langel can be reached at todd.langel@FaegreBD.com.