On November 21, the Agriculture Committee leadership in Congress decided to scrap the deal they had nearly reached on a 2011 Farm Bill with $23 billion in net cuts. Last week they were putting the finishing touches on a bill that they intended to send to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Super Committee”) for inclusion in the big government-wide deficit reduction bill. But when the Super Committee process collapsed, the Agriculture Committee leaders decided to discontinue their process, too.
With the failure of the Super Committee, Congress now has one more year to figure out a way to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion (over 10 years) before automatic budget cuts (known as “sequestration”) kick in on January 2013. If sequestration is triggered, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the farm bill’s share of the automatic cuts could be as high as $15.6 billion. (The near-deal included cuts roughly equivalent to that figure plus another $7.8 billion in cuts from CRP and SNAP, which are exempt from sequestration.)
What Happens Next for the Farm Bill?
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), there are several scenarios for the next Farm Bill. The most unlikely is that it would still happen in 2011, with the net cuts of $23 billion in the near-deal serving as an offset for some immediate spending on non-agriculture programs.
Scenarios for 2012 include two variations on taking it up early in 2012 and finishing it by summer, before attention focuses on the elections. Variation one would pick up where things left off, with the draft deal from last week serving as the initial draft that would then be open to amendment. Variation two would start the whole process over from scratch. And of course there would be combination approaches in which some pieces would start over, but others would start from where things left off.
Another scenario for 2012 could be more of a wait and see approach, with the Agriculture Committees crafting a bill only after the dust settles on the mega-budget situation and deficit reduction targets are known.
A final scenario is for Congress to pass a one-year extension of the existing farm bill and delay work on the new one until 2013. This would keep the process out of the 2012 election year, and allow the Agriculture Committees to shape cuts that are in sync with any long-term deficit reduction deal.
What’s Next for the Sustainable Agriculture Community?
Meanwhile, all Americans can still influence future Farm Bill legislation by urging Congressional support for marker bills such as the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. According to NSAC, these bills are even more relevant with a longer process. The more support that builds for them, the greater the likelihood that important pieces will be included in the ultimate farm bill.