Monday, April 2, 2012
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy
Randy Alison Aussenberg
Analyst in Social Policy
Farm bills, like many other pieces of legislation, are becoming more complicated and are taking longer to enact than in previous decades. Enactment of the 2008 farm bill was complicated by revenue provisions that involved other committees of jurisdiction, temporary extensions, and presidential vetoes.
The 2008 farm bill generally expires on September 30, 2012, or with the 2012 crop year. A potential timeline discussed by agriculture committee leadership was for the Senate Agriculture Committee to mark up a farm bill in the spring of 2012, and the House Agriculture Committee to follow suit thereafter. The House budget resolution (H.Con.Res. 112) might complicate that schedule and cause the House to act first by identifying budget cuts, although a separate farm bill might still be needed later. Some think these dynamics and election year politics may delay the farm bill.
Without a new farm bill or an extension, many discretionary programs would not appear to have statutory authority to receive appropriations in future years. However, the Government Accountability Office has said that there is no constitutional or statutory requirement that an appropriation must be preceded by an act that authorizes the appropriation.
Programs relying on mandatory funding are perhaps more at risk for discontinuation, since both their authorization and their funding depend on farm bill action. The last year of support under the 2008 farm bill’s commodity programs is the 2012 crop year. Therefore, the effective deadline for enacting a new farm bill is when the first commodity is harvested in 2013, not the fiscal year. Exceptions include dairy programs that expire with the fiscal year or on December 31, 2012.
Passage of the next farm bill also is pressured by a set of essentially mothballed provisions that date from the 1930s and 1940s. Known as “permanent law,” they would be reinstated if the current farm bill expires. The commodity support provisions of permanent law are so radically different from current policy—and inconsistent with today’s farming practices, marketing system, and international trade agreements—as well as potentially costly to the federal government that Congress is unlikely to let permanent law take effect. Some see the existence of permanent law as an assurance that the farm commodity programs will be revisited every time a farm bill expires.
For many conservation programs, program authority is often permanent but the authority to receive mandatory funding expires at the end of FY2012. Without an extension of mandatory funding, new contracts or agreements likely could not be approved. But all existing contracts and agreements (including long-term easements) would stay in force. Passing a new farm bill became less imperative for several conservation programs that were extended by the FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-55). It scored savings by limiting five conservation programs but protected their long-term budget baseline by extending the expiration date to 2014.
Many of the farm bill’s nutrition programs rely on annual appropriations regardless of whether they use mandatory or discretionary funds. Thus, a regular appropriation could be sufficient to continue most of the major programs’ operations if the 2008 farm bill expires. Exceptions include a farmers’ market nutrition program for seniors, and a few pilot or other small nutrition programs.
Several agricultural trade, international food aid, and rural development programs also are subject to expiration unless a new farm bill is enacted.
Date of Report: March 29, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R42442
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