After months and months of campaigning, sometimes harsh critiques, and final pushes from the candidates, the 2012 election is over and the result is … status quo? Washington looks set to remain exactly in the same party control as it now sits: President Obama will reside in the White House, Democrats will remain in control of the Senate, and Republicans will continue to control the House. Any projections of significant election mandates seemingly fall away with the same thin margins of support either party has on Capitol Hill.
Expectations could very well be for a continuation of the status quo. But the reality in Washington that will hit Congress when they reconvene next week is that the status quo is simply not sustainable. Congress has been unable or unwilling to address expiring tax legislation or spending legislation that would forestall automatic budget sequestration set to begin Jan. 2, 2013. This dual threat has been dubbed the fiscal cliff for the obvious danger ahead if either is neglected. Expiring tax legislation would raise tax rates on millions of Americans beginning Jan. 1, 2013, and would predictably harm the slow economic recovery. Any extension of current tax policy to avoid the higher rates would also costs billions in terms of federal budget scorekeeping. Similarly, automatic budget sequestration would make substantial cuts to numerous domestic and defense programs, but any effort to avoid those cuts would also cost billions on the federal budget sheet.
Lost in this fiscal cliff headline is the status of the farm bill. There have been promises to “address” the farm bill in the lame-duck session of Congress, but it is unclear exactly what that promise could deliver. What is clear is that something needs to be done before the end of the year to reauthorize or at least temporarily extend the expired legislation. The farm bill status quo is not sustainable. The current timeline is inching toward permanent legislation of 1949 with production allotments, marketing quotas, and parity price-based support levels that are arguably not politically palatable, economically sustainable or maybe even technically feasible.
Can the farm bill be resolved before the end of the year? Can Congress take action during the lame duck session to avert the fiscal cliff? Could agriculture somehow play a role in resolving both issues? On that question, the answer seems to be a yes. The new farm bill as proposed in either the Senate or the House is projected to save at least $23 billion over the next 10 years relative to a continuation of current programs. While there are still differences to resolve in commodity program design as well as nutrition assistance spending, the reality is that agriculture and the farm bill could make a significant contribution toward solving the fiscal cliff challenges.
The proposed cuts from the farm bill would clearly not be enough to solve the whole budget issue. It is important to note, however, that agriculture has done its job toward budget cuts and reduced spending. In fact, agriculture was the only committee group to develop and submit a framework for budget cuts to the Super Committee in late 2011 as requested from all committees. That agriculture did its job then may not earn it any higher favor in the current debate, but there clearly is at least one opportunity to move on from the status quo, resolve the farm bill debate, and contribute to the nation’s needed solution to the pending fiscal cliff.
Hear more viewpoints about what the 2012 elections may mean for food, agriculture and rural policies at the Farm Foundation® Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 14. The Forum will be 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. EST at the National Press Club. A live webcast is also available. Visit the Farm Foundation website for details on how to register.