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With Drought Concerns Rising, House Aims for One-Year Farm Bill

Jul 26, 2012

This is an excerpt from Executive Insight Briefing, produced every Thursday by the National Journal’s Daily Briefings Team.

As Congress prepares for its August recess, one big tomato left hanging on the vine is the farm bill, and it now looks as if leaders in the House will try for a one-year extension of existing legislation.

As National Journal reported this week, House Republicans began whipping a one-year farm-bill extension on Thursday with a plan to bring the bill—which will include drought aid for livestock and fruit and vegetable farmers—for a vote next week. The extension, like the House-passed transportation measure earlier this year, appears to be a way to get both chambers to conference. The current authorization expires Sept. 30.

There had been growing concerns among House Republicans that returning to the drought-stricken districts for the 5-week recess with nothing to show would have been politically disastrous.

The lack of political will has been driven in large part by election-year concerns. Conservatives from rural districts could be put in a position to vote against subsidies for farmers, while Democrats could be forced to vote for cuts to food stamps.

As Politico noted this week, failure to produce would mark an unprecedented turn of events for a farm bill. For the first time in 50 years, a farm bill that made it out of committee would not have been voted on before the current bill’s expiration.

Republicans had been hinting at a new strategy as the week progressed. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) indicated in a television interview this week that an extension of disaster-aid benefits that had lapsed last year might be in the works, although both the Agriculture Committee chairman and its ranking member were apparently caught off-guard by the comments. In addition, National Journal reported that key farm-bill players met this week to seek a way to combine the Senate and House versions of the bills over the August recess.

In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that spends nearly a trillion dollars over 10 years and features savings of $4.5 billion based mainly on cuts to food stamps. It also ends direct payments to farmers -- to be replaced by an expansion of subsidized crop insurance.

The House bill reported out of committee would have cut $35 billion over existing programs and about $16 billion from food stamps, a significantly larger portion than that cut from the Senate version of the bill. Eighty percent of spending in the bill goes to food stamps, which Republicans have been trying to rein in.

Read the complete July 26, 2012, edition of Executive Insight Briefing.

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