View From The Cab

By David Tollefson, Columnist

As many of you know, a Farm Bill is slowly making its way through Congress.

First of all, as a corn farmer, I am a member of the Minnesota and Pope County Corn Growers associations, so I may have a built-in prejudice since a big part of every Farm Bill includes payments to corn, soybean and wheat farmers mainly. 

The Summer 2024 edition of Corn Talk has an interesting article by Jeff Harrison, Senior Counsel, Combest, Sell and Associates, a lobbying group in Washington. Minnesota Corn Growers is a client of CSA. Here is the article:

There’s a lot of doom and gloom about the prospects for a Farm Bill this year but there’s also reason not to give up.

Yes, Senate Republicans are underwhelmed by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) Farm bill because it doesn’t “put the farm in the Farm Bill.”

These, Democrats say are red lines that can’t be crossed.

So, what’s the road forward then?

Well, first, Chairman Thompson cleared the first hurdle for the House Farm Bill, passing the measure in Committee on a bipartisan vote, a feat few expected he could pull off. But without the support of Democratic leadership in the lower chamber and a handful of squirrelly House Republicans that largely prevent Republicans from passing legislation alone, more rank-and-file house Democrats will need to express their support in the coming months before the measure can proceed to the floor.

That puts the ball back in the Senate’s court. While it’s true there’s also a logjam in that chamber, it’s also true that there is an opening…if the Senate wants to take it.

Senate Democrats will likely insist that SNAP’s Thrifty Food plan provision cannot be altered, as the House proposes, so big increases (or cuts) can be unilaterally implemented by an Administration, an insistence that would pay off under a second Biden Administration but which Democrats might regret under a Trump Administration.

Senate Democrats will likely insist that IRA dollars invested in conservation programs be dedicated to climate rather than spread amongst other important conservation initiatives.

But, maybe, maybe, Senate Democrats would also see the opportunity presented by Chairman Thompson’s quest to have the Budget Committees overturn CBO’s plainly flawed budget scoring of a provision in Thompson’s version of the Farm Bill to limit the Secretary’s use of the CCC so that the savings from this can be parlayed into at least $53 billion that can be used to write the Farm Bill. For the record we believe the $53 billion over 10 years is still very conservative given the $75 billion in CCC funds used over the past six years, but CBO assigns the savings at a paltry $8 billion which simply lacks credibility.

When President Trump used the CCC to make Market Facilitation Program payments, Democrats argued the authority ought to be restricted and Congress should reclaim the power of the purse. However, President Biden has subsequently used the CCC but in a manner that is much more in line with Democratic priorities.

So, it boils down to whether the CCC question is really a matter of principle. If it is, then Chairman Thompson’s idea is one Senate Democrats might latch onto.  Sure, if President Biden wins, Democrats might have some regrets. But if former President Trump wins, Democrats will have killed two birds with one stone: they will have completed a Farm Bill and limited the new President’s use of the CCC.

If the additional funds allow the Chairwoman to satisfy Senator Boozman’s Farm Bill priorities, a bipartisan bill could sail through the upper chamber on a supermajority vote, putting winds in its sails in the House where Chairman Thompson could take up the Senate-passed bill or make tweaks to his own bill to adopt Senate provisions that diffused current controversy. Under either scenario a Farm Bill could be adopted by the House by a supermajority without having to go through a gauntlet of amendments.

With the explosive items having all been addressed, there would then be little to stop Congress from completing work on the Farm Bill or to prevent the President from signing it into law.

On the other hand, if the Senate fails to seize upon the opportunity presented, it’s hard to see the Farm Bill moving further this year. What is more, under a divided government, it’s difficult to see what changes next year. The wild card, though, is if one party sweeps: then watch for reconciliation process where the party in power can write the Farm Bill on its own terms.

In short, there’s a path to completing the Farm Bill this year. It may not be a perfect path but, in the worlds of Yogi Berra, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

For more of a national view, I found on the Corn Growers website an update by Brooke S. Appleton, Vice President of Public Policy of the National Corn Growers Association. Here it is, edited for length:

After a long impasse, there has finally been some movement to reauthorize the Farm Bill. The House Committee on Agriculture recently passed the Farm, Food, and National Security Act by a vote of 33-21.

Getting to their point has been a long haul. Corn grower leaders testified in front of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees throughout 2022 and 2023, sharing the Corn Growers Association’s position on the legislation. Grower advocates also took part in roundtables and listening sessions across the country.

While the Farm Bill was initially due for reauthorization last year, it has already been extended once as Congress debated and voted on government funding bills and sorted through House leadership issues.

For the Farm Bill to be successfully reauthorized this year, there will ultimately need to be broad support from members of both parties in the house and Senate.

I am feeling good about Corn’s position to secure many of our priorities throughout this process. But we still have a ways to go to reauthorize this legislation, which is so vital to farmers and rural America.

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Please contact David Tollefson with thoughts or comments on this or future columns at: