Farm Bill May Wait For Fiscal Cliff Resolution

Hohmann listens to Blois Olson

America’s agriculture industry needs to be patient.

Jennifer Duffy of The Cook Political Report said Tuesday that an overall budget-debt deal needs to happen before Congress can pass new federal farm policy.

“I don’t know how they pass anything that deals with revenue without dealing with the fiscal cliff,” Duffy said, using a term in vogue about federal government budget problems due after Dec. 31 unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach an agreement.

In an interview after speaking to the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council’s annual meeting, Duffy said, however, that “we are in very uncharted waters” so anything is possible.

She also said the budget issue is a “moving target.”

“I don’t think they are going to do it by the end of the year,” she added.

Apple Valley, Minn., native James Hohmann, a reporter for the Politico news organization, agreed that he does not expect a budget solution before 2013.

That is not good news for farmers and others who rely on the bill to provide programs such as crop insurance that pays when weather damages crops.

Current federal farm policies expire Dec. 31.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents western Minnesota, said he wants the farm bill passed by the end of the year. He does not want simply to extend farm programs.

Congress returned to work Tuesday, with many observers saying they expect work on the budget to continue through the end of the year.

The overall federal budget will get more attention than the farm bill, one of the few stand-alone funding bills awaiting congressional action.

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill earlier this year, but the House has not taken it up after its Republican leaders said there were not enough votes to pass it.

The bill, which funds nutrition programs such as food stamps as well as farm programs, is sitting on the back burner as Congress and Obama look at ways to avoid drastic cuts that federal law requires if they don’t take further action. That also needs to be done by Dec. 31.

The farm bill’s future rests with Republicans, Hohmann said.

Many Republicans oppose the size of nutrition programs connected to the farm bill, and some oppose what they see as subsidies given to farmers. Still, Hohmann said, some Republicans see the need for continuing farm programs.

The political reporter called the division, and many like it within the party, a “Republican civil war.”

Hohmann traveled with the Mitt Romney campaign in the final weeks before Election Day, and said: “Rural issues definitely got the short shrift” in the presidential campaign. Days before the election while traveling through rural Ohio, Romney talked about coal mines but not farms, Hohmann said.

While rural America normally is Republican country, “Democrats did much better than anyone expected,” he added.

With the Senate Democratic caucus split from very liberal to moderate, North Dakota’s new senator Heidi Heitkamp will be important, Duffy said.

As a rookie in that caucus, Heitkamp will have “a little voice, but will be a voice within the Democratic caucus,” she said.