Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have passed farm bills. As expected, differences exist. Some are notable. This post briefly reviews the current farm bill situation and looks at possible paths forward. It examines the farm bill situation from three perspectives: politics, process, and content.
The 2008 Farm bill expired on September 30, 2012. During 2012, the Senate passed a new farm bill. The House of Representative Agriculture Committee passed a bill, but the House did not debate it. Instead, Congress extended for one year 2008 farm bill provisions that had baseline spending. Thirty-seven programs had no baseline, including agricultural disaster assistance, the Wetland Reserve and Grassland Reserve Programs plus three other conservation programs, eight energy programs, and seven programs related to horticulture and organic agriculture. Thus, these 37 programs are not continued. The direct payment, target price, and ACRE programs had baseline and are continued; however, the budget sequester act led to a 8.5% reduction in direct payments and 5.1% reduction in payments by all other programs administered by the Farm Service Agency.
On June 10, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 by a vote of 66-27. Voting for the Bill were 46 Democrats, 18 Republicans, and 2 Independents. On July 11, 2013, the U.S. House passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act by a vote of 216 to 208. All 196 Democrats voted against the bill. The House had rejected an earlier version of the bill, 195 to 234. Key differences between the accepted and rejected versions are that the version which passed (1) did not contain a food assistance title and (2) replaced permanent farm bill law for farm support programs with the 2013 House farm support programs.
Recent farm bill debates generally have not been particularly partisan. Key differences were usually more along regional than political party lines. The 2013 House farm bill is partisan. While it is easy to point to the debate over the food assistance title as a partisan issue, a deeper partisan issue is at play: federal spending. Generally, more liberal Democrats favor increased spending while conservative Republicans favor lower spending. Exacerbating this division is the slow growth of the U.S. economy, which means slow growth in government revenue. When considering the current farm bill situation, it is important to note that most legislation is now partisan, especially if it involves spending. It is also worth remembering that partisanship marked the debate during the 1950s and 1960s over high, fixed parity support prices vs. market-oriented, lower parity support prices and the associated debate over mandatory supply controls. As a general rule, Democrats favored high, fixed parity support prices while Republicans favored market-oriented, lower parity support prices. This debate did not begin to end until the Food and Agriculture Act of 1965 was enacted, foreshadowing that the market-oriented, lower price support position would emerge.