If Congress Can’t Pass a Conservative Farm Bill, It Should Extend Existing Law

COMMENTARY Agriculture

If Congress Can’t Pass a Conservative Farm Bill, It Should Extend Existing Law

Sep 13th, 2018 2 min read
Daren Bakst

Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy

Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.
A one-year extension would give Congress more time to work on conservative reforms for the next five-year bill. demerzel21/Getty Images

Congress should not rush to pass a farm bill. Lawmakers should seek to pass sound policy, not lock in bad policy for five years.

This means passing a conservative farm bill—one that would include strong food stamp work requirements, significant reforms to the out-of-control farm handout system, and repealing the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.

But what about the expiring 2014 farm bill?

Farms bills don’t get enacted on time.

Yes, the 2014 farm bill is set to expire on Sept. 30, but, despite claims to the contrary, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if a new bill isn’t passed by this date or even this year.

Farms bills over the last half-century rarely have been enacted before the expiration date. The Congressional Research Service has even stated this is “commonplace” for farm bills since 1965.

As for extensions of existing farm bills, Congress has passed extensions for the last two farm bills as it worked on new ones.

If Congress enacted a new farm bill on the same timeline as the 2014 farm bill, there wouldn’t be a new farm bill until February 2020.

A new farm bill is not required for many major programs.

Even if Congress didn’t pass a new farm bill, major programs such as the federal crop insurance and food stamp programs would continue. They don’t need to be reauthorized through a farm bill.

However, this doesn’t mean the 2014 farm bill should just lapse without Congress taking action. If that occurred, outdated agricultural policy (referred to as permanent law) from 1938 and 1949 would kick in. This is how agricultural interests ensure a new farm bill is enacted, and it is not appropriate.

As explained by the Congressional Research Service:

The commodity support provisions of the 1938 and 1949 permanent laws are commonly viewed as being 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.

A clean one-year extension.

If Congress can’t enact a conservative farm bill on time, it should pass a clean one-year extension.

Agricultural interests often assert a new farm bill needs to be enacted to provide predictability for farmers. Predictability is a reasonable goal, but not if it means locking in bad agricultural or welfare policy for five years.

For conservative legislators, imagine how much worse it would be for them to pass a farm bill that doesn’t strengthen food stamp work requirements and reduce the cronyism that characterizes the current farm subsidy system, as compared to not getting a farm bill passed this year. This is especially true given that getting a farm bill passed this year would be early compared to the past two farm bills.

Congress could pass an extension later this year, but this would lead to rushed and likely poorly thought out policy since legislators won’t be around much and their focus will be on the elections. Not getting a one-year extension now also would create unpredictability the rest of this year for farmers and ranchers.

A one-year extension now would help to provide some predictability and enable Congress to take its time to enact both much-needed subsidy reforms and much stronger food stamp work requirements next year.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal