What’s Next for the Farm Bill?


WASHINGTON, DC (WENY) -- It was touted as bipartisan legislation that would help cut the deficit. But a new Farm Bill never made it out of Congress before the last session ended. 
    But j
ust moments after being sworn in for a third term, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow - chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee - said she's making it a priority.
"Right now, it's getting a Farm Bill passed in the entire Congress this year," said Sen. Stabenow.
      A new Farm Bill, which sets the country's food and agriculture policy for the next five years, passed out of the Senate Ag Committee in April. In June, the full Senate passed it with bipartisan support. And a month later, the House Ag Committee passed its own version. But it never made it to the full House floor before the old law expired at the end of September.
      "The Senate did our work -- $24 billion in savings, something that was good for farmers - but the House never took it up," Stabenow said.
       Emily Goff from the conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation, says House leaders were also worried new subsidies would cost more than the old ones they'd be replacing and that food stamps weren't cut enough.
"There were concerns that the bill still spent too much - one trillion dollars over ten years," Goff said.
      When it was clear House leaders weren't going to bring the new Farm Bill to a vote before the end of the year, lawmakers instead passed an extension of the old law through September 30th of this year.
      That does some good things - like prevent milk prices from spiking. But it also continues programs like direct payments, which both Senate and House bills attempted to eliminate.
     Goff says she sees a silver lining in this debate.
     "Lawmakers have a tremendous opportunity right now. They have the rest of the fiscal year to really craft meaningful reforms," she said.
      Senator Stabenow calls the extension of the old Farm Bill "responsible." But she also says farmers need a full five-year law to plan for the future. Since there's a new Congress, both House and Senate Ag Committees have to start from scratch and draft new bills.