The chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is seen as being a key cog in getting a new farm bill passed this year. Stabenow is up for re-election in her home state of Michigan and not getting a farm bill passed might be a problem for her. Another problem for the farm bill might be the U.S. House. Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., says the challenge will be educating big-city lawmakers about the realities of the agriculture industry and how tied it is to our overall economy and our food security.
The farm bill has been accelerated in the Senate Agriculture Committee. It could be ready for markup by month's end. If the farm bill isn't reauthorized by September's end, deeper cuts are expected in early 2013. That's because last summer Republicans and Democrats agreed to across-the-board 9% budget cuts early next year as a last-ditch effort to trim $1 trillion from the deficit. House Ag members say they'll build on a bipartisan proposal crafted last fall to cut $23 billion from farm spending.
Farmers expect opposition from urban lawmakers unfamiliar with farm economics and from Tea Party Republicans looking for deeper cuts to government programs. Prices for most commodities have been historically strong, making the argument for federal support more difficult.
As the Senate Agriculture Committee begins crafting the 2012 Farm Bill Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., says she will fight for a strong crop insurance program and dairy policy reform. Klobuchar hopes the bill can pass at the committee level this spring, but says it may take more time for floor action.
"It has been really difficult to get bills through the Senate; there are a few members who seem to like to hold everything up," Klobuchar said. "That is why we are trying to get vast support for this bill; Republican, Democrat that makes it easier to move it to the floor."
Klobuchar says the farm bill could be a stand-alone bill or part of an omnibus spending bill during the lame duck session.
"Most likely if it was somehow part of a larger deal at the end of the year," Klobuchar said. "That's what we were trying to do this past year with that Super Committee that wasn't that super. Obviously that whole thing fell apart unrelated to agriculture, but we have a ready-made basic agreement."
Not all of the t's have been crossed or the i's dotted, Klobuchar says, but the agreement puts the Senate in a better position in a lot of interests.