January 10, 2014
Somewhat surprisingly, a formal conference meeting failed to materialize this week. Most had expected Congress to return this week and schedule a formal conference meeting to finalize any outstanding issues followed by floor consideration next week. Unfortunately, the four principals encountered more difficulties than they anticipated. Their difficulties appear to be quality vs. quantity.
From all accounts, they are very close to a final agreement and there remain few outstanding issues. However, the outstanding issues are the thorniest to address. Ironically, although nutrition has been a major stumbling block in Farm Bill consideration, it now appears to be largely settled with agreed upon savings of approximately $9 billion. The remaining stumbling blocks are centered on the commodity title and what most are referring to as "regulatory issues."
The regulatory issues include an amendment that is intended to stop states from imposing import restrictions on agricultural products based on production methods, country of origin labeling and the EPA and the regulation of the use of pesticides in or near navigable waters.
The commodity issues are centered in two areas. Eligibility requirements involving payment limits, actively engaged, and adjusted gross income limits are under intense negotiations. However, the biggest hurdle at this point in time appears to be dairy policy. The original House Agriculture Committee version (similar to the Senate version) was stripped from the bill during floor consideration with active support from Speaker Boehner. Boehner has stated that if the conference report includes a dairy "supply management" program similar to what was struck in the House bill, then the conference report will not be scheduled for floor consideration.
It is not unusual to have seemingly insurmountable obstacles crystallize in the last moments of conference negotiations. Certainly, an objection from the Speaker of the House is a tough one to overcome. Most veteran Farm Bill observers believe that the conferees will be able to complete the path to final agreement. It does appear that this will occur later than expected, which complicates the expired status of the current Farm Bill.
Written by Cornerstone Gov't Affairs