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The Politics of the Farm Bill

Despite Farm Bill negotiations that have been fairly dormant…things just escalated really quickly.  House Agriculture Committee Chairman GT Thompson (R-PA) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released their plans for the Farm Bill today. Chairman Thompson provided an overview of his proposed Farm Bill and Chairwoman Stabenow provided more comprehensive information with a section-by-section, but neither have a clear, bipartisan path forward. Nonetheless, the Farm Bill debate has clearly accelerated. 

There are now two visions for the Farm Bill (one released by Senate Democrats and the other by House Republicans), and there are significant gaps between the two. There are also many other issues (not covered in either proposal) that are Member priorities and will inevitably become amendments if not included when bills move through Committee or the House and Senate floor. 

There are a few things to consider when analyzing the versions released today:

Words on Paper Matter: Regardless of whether it’s a bill or a broader framework, the fact that there are two visions released is a significant step forward, despite the fact they are somewhat competing with each other. Just the fact that proposals are out in the public space will ignite the broader conversation and debate around the Farm Bill, which is important.

Bipartisanship is Key: At the moment, there is not a bipartisan Farm Bill proposal. Nothing is going to move through the House or Senate (with narrow majorities) without both Republicans and Democrats on board. It is great progress to see frameworks of a Farm Bill, but until a bipartisan consensus emerges, there is a still a significant journey ahead. 


Urgency Helps Drive Progress: While the Farm Bill is not making the headlines yet, there is some urgency to get it done - not the least of which is driven by the looming 2024 election. As the election nears, policymaking becomes tougher (even for small pieces of legislation). Completing the Farm Bill with the distractions of an election is a challenge, so moving quickly is important. Also, Chairwoman Stabenow’s retirement at the end of this Congress provides some urgency to get this across the finish line. as does the potential for the House and Senate to have a change in majorities post-election. The bottom line here is that urgency helps…and there is some urgency around the Farm Bill.


Lots to Do with Little Time Left:  The agenda for Congress is long and complex. FAA Reauthorization, FY 2025 funding, National Defense Authorization (NDAA), and many other bills that are big priorities for well-positioned policymakers are being worked on for this year. As the year goes on, we may see a bit of a traffic jam slowing progress on some legislation. Every hurdle that emerges (partisanship, election, other priorities) becomes a liability for the Farm Bill. Navigating the path forward will take a sophisticated approach by both sides of the Capitol in order for it to get done on time.


A Loud and Powerful Constituency Helps: The Farm Bill is a huge priority for all sectors of the agriculture community (and many adjacent industries and sectors). They also have the ear of many policymakers, especially those charged with advancing the Farm Bill. The intensity with which these collective communities advocate in the coming months and the level of noise they can create (especially prior to an important election) may be the determining factor on whether the Farm Bill is done this year or it becomes a 2025 priority. 

If the Farm Bill is not on your Congressional Bingo Card, you may want to adjust. It seems like a longshot now because of the many factors at play and an already busy agenda, but these proposals will drive interest and focus…which may be enough to get this bill moving.    


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