(CBS News) Some form of farm legislation is likely to make it through the hoops of Congress by year's end, analysts say, but not before the current law expires Sunday, leaving dairy farmers in the lurch and 2013 agricultural subsidies in limbo.
On Oct. 1, farm regulations will revert to a 1949 "permanent" law by default, after both the House and Senate last week adjourned without having passed an extension of the 2008 agriculture law or struck a deal on a new 2012 bill. The change won't touch programs such as food stamps, but for dairy farmers, the hurt will be almost immediate, including suspension of their supplemental payments with November's milk checks. And while crop insurance - critical for Midwest farmers affected by the summer drought - will also remain intact, resources funneled to assisting farmers in the face of such natural disasters will be cut off.
Because the 2008 law covers all crops planted in 2012, and federal funding for many agricultural programs is assured through March 2013, lawmakers - who will reconvene post-election in November - have a bit of a grace period, until Jan. 1, when products like milk would spike to ludicrous prices with the implementation of incompatible regulations created 64 years ago. Even so, crop farmers and their bankers face imminent choices about 2013, hinging entirely on what Congress decides to do.
"Right now the main issue is the uncertainty," Dale Moore, public policy deputy with the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Reuters. "The biggest thing by not knowing what the new farm program is when they are sitting down with their bankers to get their credit while planning for next year - they don't know what they are going to be dealing with."
According to Reuters, most analysts agree that at the very least, Congress will vote to extend the 2008 law before Jan. 1. Reaching an agreement on a new law designed for 2012 seems more of a stretch, particularly given the partisan nature of this split body: In June, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the "Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012," but the version approved by the House Agriculture Committee never made it through the GOP-controlled chamber, due largely to disagreements over how deeply to cut food stamps.
During a recent meeting of the Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations in Harrisburg, Pa., Rep. Tim Holden, D-Pa., lamented, "I don't have any good news for you. The current Farm Bill expires at the end of the month, and there is political deadlock in the House." Speaking on behalf of Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., in the same meeting, John Busovsky indicated the chances for any farm bill's passage by Jan. 1 rests on the outcome of the Nov. 6 election, since House leadership is advocating against "lame-duck passages."
But in a column published Saturday in Roll Call, Rep. Kathy Hochul, D-N.Y., called on her fellow members of Congress to return to the Hill even before the election to hash out current proposals from both sides and pass a deal for America's farmers. Arguing most of "the legwork" is already done for such legislation, Hochul blamed the inaction on "a House leadership team unwilling to put politics aside and do the right thing for rural America."
"I am not alone in fighting for this legislation," she wrote. "Representatives on both sides of the aisle and from across the country are ready to act - and I know many would gladly return to Washington before the election if it meant delivering real results for our farmers."