Now that the presidential election is over, and a new session of Congress has officially convened (their first day was yesterday), the government is focusing once again on the critically important Farm Bill, a $500 billion behemoth of a bill that expired in September of last year. Both sides are hoping that a new session will lead process on a bill that cannot afford to remain expired for very long. On the surface, the fact that Congress and the President allowed the Farm Bill to expire in the first place is surprising; the Farm Bill is usually passed very quickly, and last Congress’ inability to pass it just goes to show the level of gridlock and partisan rancor in Washington these days.
But, with a new day and a new Congress filled with mostly old faces, Congress is preparing to begin the process anew, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wants it to be known that he desires action be taken on the Farm Bill, and soon. “We need a five-year farm bill and we need it now” Vilsack said on Monday, while also advocating for an elimination do “direct payments”, a.k.a. direct subsidies, and a strengthened crop insurance system. This position is supported by most, as it eliminates subsidies that blindly give away money, condition free, to farms, many of which are some of the largest in the country and arguably do not need the subsidies. Instead, it would introduce an insurance model which would most benefit farmers in summers like our last one, in 2012, in which the largest drought in 50 years swept through the agricultural heart of the country.
This new round of negotiations marks the first time that a Farm Bill has had to be reintroduced to the Congress, a step that must be taken anytime a new session begins in the legislative body. Last year Congressional Republicans refused to let the Farm Bill come to the floor for a vote. The reason for this is that despite its name, a majority of the bill’s largesse goes towards Food Stamps, a widely-used program aimed at the lower-class. It is the expensiveness of this program, as well as the hefty $500 billion price tag of the Farm Bill itself, that caused Congressional Republicans to hesitate in a pre-election atmosphere where Republicans’ main platform was fiscal responsibility and austerity.
As you might have read before, ASAP has devoted quite a few articles to the Farm Bill and its implications, and if you’re interested in more background info or number crunching, I’d highly suggest you read our previous posts on the subject here. We will continue to keep you up to date on any and all Farm Bill updates in the coming weeks and months. It’s going to be interesting, folks.