What now for the Farm Bill?

Because Congress wasn’t able to pass an updated Farm Bill in time, the 2018 iteration officially expired on Sept. 30. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything switches off. This turn of events isn’t exactly uncharted territory given the history of passing past versions of the Farm Bill into law.

According to a new report from the Congressional Research Service, recent farm bills have faced legislative hurdles for enactment, such as insufficient votes to pass the House floor, presidential vetoes, and delays resulting in short-term extensions. The 2002 farm bill expired at the end of 2007, and parts were extended in the spring of 2008. The 2008 farm bill expired at the end of 2012 and was extended for one year in 2013. The 2014 farm bill was not extended because the 2018 farm bill was enacted during the period between the end of the fiscal year and the end of the calendar year.

The timing and consequences of the farm bill expiring vary by program across the breadth of the act, CRS said. There are two principal expiration dates: Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, 2023. According to CRS, the major issues and consequences for expiration are:

  • For programs with mandatory funding that is provided by the farm bill and have provisions that expire at the end of FY2023, authority to operate may cease.
  • For programs with a fiscal year authorization that are funded with discretionary appropriations, or for programs with mandatory spending authorized but not appropriated by the farm bill—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—an appropriations act or continuing resolution could allow operations to continue.
  • For the farm commodity and dairy support programs that expire after the 2023 crop year, the consequences of expiration begin on January 1, 2024, when inactive and outdated laws—commonly called “permanent law—would be restored for dairy, the first commodity affected in the new crop year.
  • Some programs had their expiration dates extended beyond the expiration of the farm bill by other legislation. P.L. 117-169, commonly known as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, extended some—but not all—conservation programs through FY2031.
  • Some programs, such as crop insurance, are permanently authorized, do not expire, and would not be affected by farm bill expiration.

Given that the House of Representatives is currently paralyzed by the lack of a speaker, some lawmakers on key agriculture-related committees are joining the push among other House Republicans to empower a short-term speaker in order to move legislation, according to reporting from Politico.

“I’m hoping that under a [short-term] speaker we can go back to business as usual,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing agriculture, who cited the Farm Bill and other must-pass legislation this year.

According to Politico, lawmakers have begun to publicly acknowledge that passing a Farm Bill extension before the end of the year will likely be their only option given the current state of the House—as compared to passing a new Farm Bill and reconciling it with the Democratic Senate’s version.

“We have no choice but to extend it,” Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.), another House Agriculture member, said of the current bill, told Politico.