The dust has settled after Tuesday’s midterm election. It’s now clear that the Democracts will take over the House, while Republicans gained seats in the Senate. So now we face two years of divided government in Washington, D.C.
But what does that mean for the farm bill?
If you remember, we’re currently wandering around in no-man’s land. That is, the 2014 farm bill expired in October, and Congress hasn’t passed a replacement.
Earlier this year, the GOP-dominated House passed a version of the Farm Bill that included significant reforms to the nutritional benefits program, including work requirements for able-bodied adults. The more evenly-split Senate also passed a farm bill. But that legislation didn’t include work requirements and funded more conservation programs.
House and Senate leaders assembled a conference committee just before Congress left for its August recess. Leaders in both chambers were optimistic that a compromise bill could be crafted by Labor Day, and passed before the 2014 farm bill expired.
When that didn’t happen, those same leaders told us not to worry, because it would likely be done before the midterm election.
So now we enter…
The Lame Duck
Some commentators believe the farm bill will be negotiated, passed, and signed into law during the lame duck session. If that seems optimistic, that’s because it is.
If Republicans want to pass a farm bill while they still control Congress, the House will likely have to drop the SNAP work-requirements. The Senate is still so close that Republicans likely can’t garner enough votes to pass the House’s version of the legislation. But if Speaker Ryan offers the Senate farm bill in the House, more conservative members of the House could bail on the bill completely.
So unless we see some other concessions or negotiations, I think the odds are against a 2018 farm bill.
That leaves us with the option of waiting until 2019 to pass a farm bill. Let’s not forget that we currently don’t have any active legislation. And unless Congress passes some type of exentsion to the 2014 farm bill, there are a lot of programs that will end on January 1st (ironically, not SNAP benefits).
Does that mean we won’t have crop insurance in 2019? Farmers need to know because we’re already planning for the season!
Regardless, Congress will need to come together to pass legislation in a divided government. With the divisive political atmosphere, I’m not confident that will happen. Recall that the 2012 farm bill became the 2013 farm bill and then the 2014 farm bill because Congress couldn’t get its act together.
Honestly, this is precisely the situation I was afraid would happen. Waiting until the lame duck session wasn’t a good idea. And trying to pass a farm bill in a divided government was almost impossible last time. The frustrating thing is that we were really really close to having a 2018 farm bill done before the election.
Farmers can’t continue with this type of uncertainty, especially with all the other stressors on the industry. We need Congress to do its job and get it done.
As always, I’ll continue to monitor…