Thursday, November 8, 2012
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Specialist in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy
Randy Alison Aussenberg
Analyst in Nutrition Assistance Policy
Farm bills, like many other pieces of legislation, are becoming more complicated and are taking longer to enact than in previous decades. Generally speaking, the 2008 farm bill expired on September 30, 2012, or is expiring with the 2012 crop year. Both the House and Senate have moved on drafting a 2012 farm bill. The Senate passed its version (S. 3240) on June 21, 2012, by a vote of 64-35. The House Committee on Agriculture reported its version (H.R. 6083) on July 11, 2012, by a vote of 35-11. But House floor action and/or reconciliation of the differences between the chambers is pending. Concern over budgetary reductions and other policy differences is complicating efforts to advance the bills. These dynamics and election-year issues have delayed the farm bill.
Without a new farm bill or an extension, many discretionary programs do not appear to have statutory authority to receive appropriations. 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. Therefore, discretionarily funded programs are continuing under the appropriations continuing resolution (P.L. 112-175).
Many of the farm bill’s nutrition programs rely on annual appropriations regardless of whether they use mandatory or discretionary funds. Thus, appropriations action is sufficient to continue most of the major nutrition programs’ operations. Exceptions include mandatory funding for a farmers’ market nutrition program for seniors, and a few pilot or other small nutrition programs.
Other farm bill programs that rely on mandatory funding are more at risk for discontinuation, since both their authorization and their funding depend on farm bill action. The last year of farm commodity program support under the 2008 farm bill is the 2012 crop year, and is not tied to the fiscal year. Passage of the farm bill is pressured by a set of essentially mothballed provisions for the farm commodity programs that date from the 1930s and 1940s. Known as “permanent law,” they would be reinstated if the current farm bill expires. This makes the effective deadline(s) for enacting a new farm bill December 31, 2012, for dairy, and the first harvest of a supported commodity in 2013 (e.g., wheat in May). The permanent law provisions 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 permanent but the authority to receive mandatory funding expired at the end of FY2012. Without an extension of mandatory funding, new contracts or agreements likely cannot 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.
Several agricultural trade and international food aid programs also have expired. Crop insurance is permanently authorized and therefore does not expire with the farm bill.
Date of Report: November 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R42442
R42442.pdf to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART
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