As a news headline recently noted, every farm bill is unique and so is the process to pass it. To set the stage a bit more, the 2018 farm bill terms out this year and Congress is racing to develop new legislation for the next five years. And while NSP continues to set the stage for effective policy in Washington, D.C., the process in the 118th Congress for moving a new farm bill through the House and the Senate this year can be summarized in one word: complicated.
As of August, an initial public draft of new farm bill legislation has not been released. Meanwhile, the end of the fiscal year is rapidly approaching on September 30, 2023–and with it, the expiration date for the 2018 farm bill. Fortunately, Congress has moved past its thorny debt ceiling debate earlier this year, but only to step into other procedural considerations for big ticket, must-pass items packaged with complicated dynamics of their own. While both committees have done yeoman’s work with public farm bill hearings and listening sessions in the country, both of which have included testimony from commodity groups like NSP’s own leadership, development of some legislative text behind the scenes is sure to have occurred.
However, Congress must first continue work through exacting pressures. The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); and the entire federal appropriations process–12 individual bills across both chambers with time allotted for hundreds, potentially thousands, of amendments to be offered–will command significant time on the legislative calendar. GOP control of the House, albeit with an extremely tight and fractious margin for the Republican majority, pits the Lower Chamber against the Senate and Oval Office, both controlled by Democrats. Herein lies the obvious truth: a new farm bill this year (or this Congress) must be bipartisan to become law simply by virtue of the split government.
Politics aside, there is also a procedural issue standing in the way of sound policy: no new significant source of funds have been provided to the committees to meaningfully and adequately enhance the farm safety net. That’s not for a lack of trying, as both House and Senate Ag Committees made strong arguments for necessary resources in their initial Budget Views and Estimates letters to their congressional scorekeepers earlier this year. One should never say never when it comes to the legislative processes, but a practical viewing of the calendars for both the House and Senate opens the possibility for a short-term extension of existing law.
For example, the Senate is in session for 17 days in September and the House for 12 days, which effectively means just three weeks for committee markups, floor consideration, and conferencing to get an enrolled farm bill out of Congress for the President’s signature. If the fiscal year ends and the current farm bill requires a shortterm extension through calendar year 2023, the Senate is in session 44 days from October to December, while the House is in session 24 days during that period. Lastly, as the 118th Congress encompasses 2023 and 2024, there is the possibility of farm bill season extending into the new year. Yet, time is of the essence.
That’s why, in just the first half of 2023 alone, sorghum growers across NSP and their state sorghum associations have together held nearly 100 meetings with legislators or their staffs either in D.C. or out in the country to ensure our priorities are heard and not lost in the weedy process of legislating. NSP is committed to ensuring its members are successful in the years to come, and we are working hard to advocate for the policies that will help growers and the industry thrive.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2023 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.