by Philip Brasher, CQ Roll Call Staff
As House Agriculture prepares to mark up its farm bill, much of the focus has been on whether House leaders will even allow the legislation to come to the floor. But the bill’s managers have a Plan B: Bypass the House floor altogether — and all the attacks from left and right that would come with a floor debate — and negotiate a final bill directly with the Senate. That legislation potentially could be attached to some other bill and sent back to the House for a vote.
“It’s not the ideal,” Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, told CQ’s Ellyn Ferguson in an exclusive interview. “I can see a path to getting a five-year farm bill that doesn’t specifically go to the House floor except for the up and down vote on whatever bill it is attached to.”
Yet another option, of course, is to give up passing legislation this year and pass a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, a prospect unpalatable to farm groups because of fears Congress would require deeper spending cuts in 2013.
Markup Critical For Amendments, if House Floor is Bypassed. The possibility that the House won’t debate the bill means this week’s markup, set to start tomorrow, may be the only chance for House members to get key amendments considered, some of which could doom the bill if they were to pass. A proposal by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., to roll back the supply management provisions in the sugar program is among the most contentious. Other amendments could target the dairy program and USDA’s authority to inspect catfish. Conaway, who chairs the subcommittee on general farm commodities and risk management, said committee leaders are working to round up at least 24 votes for the bill. “There are things that could happen to the bill that would drop support for the bill below the 24 votes we need. So I am going to work the next few days to make sure we get the 24 votes we need, hopefully all 46, but 24 gets it out of committee,” said Conaway.
Conaway suggested that it’s still possible to negotiate a bill with the Senate without getting one out of committee but that getting the panel’s approval would strengthen the position of House negotiators:
“It would work better if we had a House bill and a Senate bill and you go to conference. That’s why it is so important that we get a bill through committee so that you can have a quasi-conference with a Senate-passed bill and a House committee bill. It’s not a level playing field, but it’s a better playing field than a Senate-passed bill and a bunch of good ideas that the chairman has. Getting it as close as we can is going to be helpful … in the reconciliation that would go on between the Senate and House bills would bode better for the House position if we got it through the committee. We would at least have some official action on it.”
A&M Study: House Shields Farms Better From Price Declines. A new study (pdf) from Texas A&M University could lend support to House negotiators in talks with the Senate. The study, which analyzes the impact of the Senate-passed bill (S 3240) and the draft House bill on representative farms, suggests that the commodity programs and crop insurance policies created by the House bill would better protect farms from price declines, and that many farms could be affected by the tighter payment limits and means test included in the Senate bill. All the model farms studied would prefer the countercyclical price-based subsidy program, called Price Loss Coverage, in the House draft over any option in the Senate bill, if commodity prices follow the forecast, or baseline, levels, the study said. The Senate bill limits payments under its new Agriculture Risk Coverage plan to $50,000 per person and individuals with adjusted gross incomes of less than $750,000. The payment limit in the House bill is $125,000 per person, and the AGI cap is $950,000.
A separate report (pdf) by economists at Ohio State University and the University of Illinois analyzes the policy and philosophical differences behind the Senate and House measures. Carl Zulauf of Ohio State said the ratio of target prices to market prices in the PLC suggests it would be more attractive to some commodities and regions than others. The target price for peanuts, which works out to 27 cents a pound, is 10 percent above what the average market price, 24.5 cents, has been from 2008 to 2012. The barley target price is 96 percent of the average market price; rice’s target price is 93 percent. Target prices for soybeans and corn are much lower than the market average, 75 percent and 72 percent, respectively.
Small Programs Will Require House, Senate Compromise, Too. They don’t involve a lot of money given the scope of a nearly $1 trillion bill. But there are a number of smaller rural development, energy and beginning farmer programs in the Senate and House farm bills that will require the attention of House and Senate negotiators when they do get down to writing a compromise version. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has produced a side-by-side comparison (pdf) on those provisions.
The Senate-passed bill and House draft have similar amounts, $50 million, for value-added producer grants. But the House has no money for rural micro-enterprise assistance, while the Senate bill has $15 million. The House bill has no money to address a backlog of rural water projects, while the Senate bill has $50 million. The House bill also has no funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (Senate: $39 million a year) or the Rural Energy for America Program (Senate: $48 million a year). Farmers market incentives for food stamp incentives aren’t funded in the House bill, either. The Senate bill would offer $20 million a year.