Rice Farming

All Eyes On ‘The Hill’

110th Congress reconvenes its second session

Editor’s note: Informal Farm Bill conference discussions and preparation have begun. Once the House and Senate reconvene this month to open their second session, conferees will be named and formal negotiations will commence. Conference Committee leaders hope to have a Farm Bill conference report completed in February. Following is pertinent legislative information related to the Conference Committee and the Farm Bill that is an update of reports issued by the USA Rice Federation on Dec. 14 and 20, 2007, respectively.

Conference Committee
It’s all about “Above The Baseline Funding” (ATBF).

• Above The Baseline Funding consists of the extra Farm Bill dollars extruded primarily from various White House-opposed tax devices in the House and Senate bills. What happens with ATBF will determine the final distribution of the Farm Bill’s baseline bucks (BBs).

• As ATBF shrinks, BBs – in particular Commodity Program BBs – are likely to be microscopically evaluated and potentially redistributed for fiscal and political reasons.

• The less ATBF for conservation, nutrition, energy, etc., the greater the temptation to Peter and Paul baseline funding, in particular transferring Commodity Program dollars to other programs.

On Nov. 6, 2007, the Statement of Administration Policy listed five tests that a Farm Bill must pass. Please link to www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-1/index-date.html, then scroll down to H.R. 2419.

White House successes with vetoes and veto threats reinforce its determination to acquire its version of farm legislation or none at all. In 2007, Congress did override the President’s veto of legislation to authorize flood control, navigation and related programs.

Congress will have to pass its House-Senate conference report by veto-proof margins of at least 290 House votes and 67 Senate votes. Otherwise, the outlook for overriding a Farm Bill veto would dim proportionally by the number of votes short of an override margin. The House passed its Farm Bill 231-191. The Senate passed its bill 79-14.

As essential to the bill’s completion will be the role played by key Republican House and Senate members to convince the White House (a) not to veto the conference report and (b) work bipartisanly and cooperatively with the two Chambers to reach an acceptable compromise ASAP.

Timing pressures also will escalate the longer conference takes and the quicker planting season approaches.

But, the underlying 1949 farm act is a pending, advancing reality for Congress and the White House if politics dominate and delay passage and signing of a new Farm Bill.

Farm Bill Extension
A brief Farm Bill extension to March 15, 2008, has been signed into law as part of the FY 2008 USDA appropriations bill. See Chairman Collin Peterson’s Dec. 12 explanatory news release at http://agriculture.house.gov/list/press/agricul-ture_dem/pr_121207_FBExt.html. “This provision will protect the budget we have for the Farm Bill that Congress is currently writing,” Peterson says. The legislation does not extend the 2002 commodity support programs to the 2008 crop year.

March 15, 2008, extension language: “SEC. 751: EXTENSION OF AGRICULTURAL PROGRAMS. (a) EXTENSION. – Except as otherwise provided in this Act and notwithstanding any other provision of law, the authorities provided under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-171; 7 U.S.C. 7901 et seq.) and each amendment made by that Act (and for mandatory programs at such funding levels), as in effect on Sept. 30, 2007, shall continue, and the Secretary of Agriculture shall carry out the authorities, until March 15, 2008.”