Hoard's Dairyman Editorial: Farm bill's future appears bleak

The path to a new farm bill hit a major roadblock last month following a failed 195 to 234 vote for passage. In the final count, 62 mostly conservative Republicans and 172 Democrats withdrew support for a new five-year plan. That tally seriously calls into question whether a bipartisan coalition can regroup to pass a new farm bill this year, much less agree on an extremely complicated immigration reform package.

The farm bill ultimately failed for two principle reasons. Only 24 Democrats voted for the measure as the remainder of their party believed the $3.8 billion reduction in annual spending, half of which came from food stamps, was too steep. Additionally, the late-hour Southerland amendment changed work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries, another deal breaker for most Democrats. Meanwhile, 62 majority-party House Republicans voted down the measure because they believed spending reductions, to both food assistance and farm programs, didn't go far enough. That was eyebrow raising because 61 of the 62 Republicans who voted for the controversial Southerland food stamp reform amendment then voted against the farm bill.

Like many past farm policy votes, dairy was front and center. While the Dairy Security Act, with its market stabilization component, was in the original House package, the Goodlatte-Scott Amendment stripped it out of the bill. The topic was so heated that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) raised the stakes and sent a letter in strong support of the Goodlatte-Scott insurance-only option prior to the final day's vote. That amendment passed by a 291 to 135 tally but ultimately died with the farm bill's rejection.

Moving forward, lawmakers have until September 30 before last year's extension of the 2008 Farm Bill will expire once again. Food assistance programs are permanent law, so funding will continue past that expiration date. As for dairy, we'll get to read a barrage of headlines that claim $38 milk is on the horizon as the result of the 1949 permanent law. Like last year, that has zero chance of taking place.

The stunning defeat of the farm bill leaves no clear path to move forward. Perhaps House leaders will come to their senses and pass a bipartisan reform package with a strong dairy safety net. But those chances appear slim after June's vote, with greater focus on passing amendments than ensuring votes for the final passage. The most likely outcome is that we'll end up with another cobbled together, outdated farm bill extension.

This editorial appears on page 458 of the July 2013 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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