On Tuesday, the House voted 257-167 to pass legislation already approved by the Senate that will avert the government from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” by increasing taxes on those making more than $400,000 ($450,000 for couples) along with postponing sequestration cuts for two months. The agreement also includes a one-year (through Sept. 2013) extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. Not all programs from the 2008 bill survived however, and specifically some 35-plus farm bill programs were effectively terminated or are in jeopardy of not being funded. Among those programs are the Specialty Crop research Initiative (SCRI) used for long-term research, and the Clean Plant Network program that targets pests and diseases.
In addition, the package includes a “patch” to the dairy problem that has gripped attention during the last few weeks. “Patch” is an apt description of the whole package as nearly none of the extensive reforms voted on and agreed to in either the House or Senate versions of the full five year versions of the farm bill were included. The package also does not include any specific disaster relief money that numerous producers across several regions of the country requested. A clearly angry Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, "This is Mitch McConnell's farm bill," and while she said she would vote for the overall agreement, noted that she was, "on record that I am not happy with what was done to agriculture."
A new Congress was sworn into office today and in March, budget projections used to craft the House and Senate versions of the farm bill will be revised. With new members coming to the Agriculture committees, leadership shake ups, and new budgetary numbers, we may be faced with needing to ‘start over’ on crafting a bill. In fact, we anticipate a difficult farm bill process going forward in which tighter budgets will create pressure on specialty crop industry programs.
In other Farm Bill news today, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) will become the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee replacing Sen. Pat Roberts who will become the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee. The Senate Ag Committee will have nine Republican members, one less than the 112th Congress, and 11 Democrats.
Western Growers will continue to work with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) and members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as we work to grow and protect the specialty crop industry.
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