Farm Bill Conferees Target Lame-duck Session Following November Elections

Mark Rokala, Policy Director

Farm bill negotiators said they will need to complete farm bill conference committee work after the November 6th election, hoping they can vote on the final agreement the following week.

This past week, Senate Agriculture Committee chair, Pat Roberts (R-KS), said he hoped progress could be made between now and the election to allow a vote on a final agreement during a lame-duck session. The lame-duck strategy is a logical next step for the negotiators; however, that strategy is not without its challenges.Senator Roberts hopes the extra time allows negotiators to make progress on several outstanding issues that have held up conference work like work requirements of SNAP, conversation title, spending per title and final scores on programmatic changes. However, no one knows what the pressure point is that makes negotiators compromise.Wait, no farm bill extension? Past Congresses have used the threat of permanent law, with 1930s parity pricing formulas for commodities and milk, as the heavy hammer to complete a farm bill.  A closer look shows that none of the damaging policies kick in until December 1 for dairy and after the first of the year for commodities. So, Congress feels it has time to bring everyone to the table before those deadlines.  Staff is saying that taking time to work on an extension delays their work on conference negotiations. The reality is there remains an immediate downside where 39 current farm bill programs baseline funding expired when the 2014 farm bill expired on the weekend.Expiring baseline means conferees will need to find $2.85 billion from farm bill programs to reauthorize those programs including programs important to our members like organic certification cost-share, organic research and extension, collection of organic data, beginning farm programs and necessary updates for National Organic Program (NOP).   Negotiators also recognize that elections have consequences.  One consequence would be who controls Congress, which would dramatically change negotiators’ political environment.  If voters give Democrats the keys to Congress, that could be the pressure needed for members to get back to finish conference during the lame duck session.House Ranking Member Peterson has said numerous times that he wants to complete this farm bill yet this year; however, if Democrats gain control of Congress, Peterson would be the chair of the Committee.  Peterson’s rank and file members of the Democratic party, all whom were shut out of the process of draft the farm bill policy as Republicans drafted a partisan bill, would have a strong message to House leadership that Democrats should rewrite the legislation to address their priorities.While the House has adjourned until after the November 6 election, the Senate remains in session for most of October.  Both House Chair Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) have said they are ready to return to DC when needed.

We will continue to keep you updated on farm bill progress and negotiations.