This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.
The 2008 farm bill expires on Sept. 30, and some longtime observers of Congress consider the fate of the bill a drop-dead test of Congress’s modern-day dysfunction.
With rural Democrats a scarce commodity, the built-in opportunities for bipartisanship on legislation like the farm bill have dissipated. And the bill’s huge scope – from nutrition to trade – means there are innumerable potential flashpoints.
But, with $23 billion in 10-year farm-spending reductions on the table from a bipartisan proposal last year – President Obama proposed some $32 billion under the axe – the bill’s prospects might have brightened. That looming cut could function as a “pay-for” for spending elsewhere, opening the opportunity for the farm bill’s attachment to a separate, freestanding bill, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said last week.
Roberts and the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have both reportedly signaled eagerness for a committee markup by Memorial Day. Even that leaves a tight calendar, since the massive bill touches so many stakeholders.
Farm groups have dueling wish lists for the bill, but heavy incentive to help Congress pass the legislation. Without some agreement, laws enacted in 1949 would be put into effect that could drastically drive up consumer prices – disastrous in a fragile economy.