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McConnell concedes farm bill will be late; Stabenow eyes year-end

Stabenow questions need for short-term extension

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has noted that a short-term lapse in the farm bill is possible.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has noted that a short-term lapse in the farm bill is possible. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress will still deliver a farm bill but it won’t be in September, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Thursday, voicing what was already looking inevitable as Congress runs out of legislative days left before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current law.

McConnell, a Senate Agriculture Committee member, is the most prominent lawmaker to date to say the timeline is shifting to beyond September for reauthorizing the five-year bill that sets policy for farm, conservation, nutrition, research and other areas overseen by the Agriculture Department.

“We’ll figure it out,” McConnell said. 

The current bill expires on Sept. 30, but the new deadline for a 2023 farm bill appears to be Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, 2024, some farm policy would revert to controls on production and costly price supports adopted in the 1940s.

Even the final three months of the calendar year could prove a heavy lift as lawmakers work on fiscal 2024 spending bills and other high-priority legislation. But pushing the farm bill into 2024 raises other challenges because it’s a presidential election year and members of both parties will be battling for control of the House and Senate.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has shifted the time horizon for a finished bill ready for the president’s signature to December without flatly declaring the Sept. 30 deadline moot. The Senate Agriculture Committee circulated Stabenow’s general comments about the farm bill when asked if she agreed with McConnell’s statement on Thursday.

“The committee is continuing to work toward a bipartisan bill that can be signed into law by the end of the calendar year,” Stabenow has said, according to the committee. “It is not uncommon for Congress to pass the September 30th deadline without passing an extension of the Farm Bill. This is what happened in 2018, when Congress did not pass an extension, and the Farm Bill was signed into law in December.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which will account for more than 80 percent of farm bill spending, could continue without an extension if appropriators provide funding. The crop insurance program is permanently authorized and doesn’t expire. Some conservation programs have had their expiration dates extended to fiscal 2031 under a 2022 law. 

SNAP, a perennial point of division, is again an issue this year. Republicans, having already achieved tighter work requirements for able-bodied recipients without children in the debt ceiling law, are looking for further tightening in the fiscal 2024 Agriculture Appropriations bill. Democrats are opposed, and even House Agriculture Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., has urged his Republican colleagues not to take on the food stamp issue in the spending bill.

That the timetable for a new farm bill is after the expiration date is no surprise. The House and Senate Agriculture committees are working on their respective draft bills over the August recess. 

McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans and Democrats have different priorities in writing the new bill. He wrapped politics and policy into his message to the farm bureau as he portrayed Republicans as the champions of agriculture in a government where Democrats control the Senate and the White House and the GOP controls the House. 

McConnell said a resolution of the farm bill will come “not before Sept. 30, but we’ll all put that together and look out as best we can for rural and small-town America priorities.”

Thompson said earlier in August that his committee could hold a markup on its draft bill in September, but he acknowledged the possibility of an extension without specifically saying a final farm bill would be late. 

“The extension will not be because we have not done our job,” Thompson said after an Aug. 14 farm bill listening session in Missouri. “There’s a lot of competition for weeks on the floor in September with the appropriations bills and bills that expire just like the farm bill does.”

Thompson didn’t directly respond to McConnell’s comments Thursday. 

“As we continue drafting, it is my goal that the 2023 Farm Bill will be one that strengthens national security, restores the farm safety net, and revitalizes rural America,” he said in a statement provided by the committee.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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