Farm bill stalled over funding battles

Sara Wyant

Members of Congress extended the current farm bill for one year and technically that means there are several months left in 2024 to finish the job.

With appropriations bills stalled, partisan bickering over foreign aid and border security, and a year divisible by four, it seems like passing a farm bill this year will be extremely challenging—especially if members can’t agree on the “pay fors.”

To hear House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA, tell it, “creating a robust and resilient farm bill is virtually impossible without reforms and significant new investment.”

He’s identified bipartisan priorities across all 12 titles that exceed a whopping $75 billion. That’s on top of a farm bill that was already estimated to cost $1.5 trillion.

However, the Pennsylvanian outlined a plan to pay for these reforms and enhancements.

His process would involve reinvesting some of the $20 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act investments in conservation programs and repurposing dollars from the Thrifty Food Plan. At the same time “not cutting nor decreasing benefits for families in need.”

Takes two to move it through

The problem for Thompson is Democrats aren’t buying it. And he can’t likely move a farm bill through the House without them.

House Ag Committee Democrats, led by Rep. David Scott, Georgia, recently outlined his members’ farm bill principles. They made clear that they are united in opposing any cuts in projected nutrition assistance or Inflation Reduction Act funding to pay for boosting commodity programs or addressing other parts of the farm bill.

“We will not compromise on our principles or shortchange on the promises made under the IRA or the nutrition title of the 2018 farm bill,” the committee’s senior Democrat, Scott told reporters ahead of the memo’s release.

Open lines

He insisted Democrats are keeping “lines of communication open” with Republicans on the committee. “We’re negotiating in good faith,” he said.

In a rebuttal to Thompson’s opinion piece published on Agri-Pulse, Scott wrote that “House Republicans don’t appear to have been listening.

“Despite clearly knowing where Democrats stand, they continue to push their objectionable offsets. So maybe reading our views in black and white in the press will help Republicans understand that no means no.”

Trying to move ahead

Sources tell us that staff members from both sides of the political aisle are having discussions about finding a path forward.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, emphasized that farm bills are always complicated with lots of ups and downs.

“But we have to get in a room and just start slogging through” some of the toughest issues.

Speaking at the recent Crop Insurance Industry Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, Stabenow told participants the process ultimately boils down to the “art of the doable.”

“We have to understand and trust each other on what is doable and then let’s go get it done.”

The Michigan Democrat believes “the only way to get a new farm bill this year is to get a strong bipartisan bill in the Senate first.

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Political relationships matter

Stabenow says she has a great relationship with Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, the committee’s ranking member, and Thompson. However, Thompson faces “much more difficult situations going on in the House on so many different levels,” including battles over appropriations.

Although there are some senators interested in reforming crop insurance, Stabenow said, “overwhelmingly” there is support for crop insurance and for adding more options and addressing costs.

She has floated a proposal to increase premium subsidies for area-based crop insurance policies along the lines of the Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX, that is currently available only to cotton growers.

STAX coverage comes with a catch: Farmers who buy the coverage for a crop can’t enroll the same commodity base acreage in the Price Loss Coverage or Agriculture Risk Coverage programs that year.

Hopeful start

By offering that proposal, Stabenow said she’s “trying to really jump-start some serious negotiations” on the farm safety net.

Stabenow defended the concept from critics. Allowing growers to participate in ARC or PLC at the same time they’re buying the highly subsidized insurance would open the crop insurance program to new attacks from industry critics. 

STAX allows farmers to insure 75% to 90% of their county’s expected revenue, with the government picking up 80% of the premium. Subsidies on crop insurance policies generally average about 62%. Farmers can insure up to 85% of their expected revenue, but only about 70% to 75% in coverage, due to the steep premiums. 

“What I want to do is create more opportunities around crop insurance … and other risk management tools, and this is just one idea,” Stabenow said.

“And I welcome my colleagues on the other side of the aisle coming to the table with their own ideas, which just hasn’t happened yet.”

Editor’s note: Sara Wyant is publisher of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., www.Agri-Pulse.