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National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

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 Farm bill makes its way out of House, Senate ag committees

By Erik Johnston
ASSOCIATE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR

The obstacles preventing a reauthorization of the farm bill are quickly clearing as both the House and Senate agriculture committees passed farm bill packages with bipartisan support on May 14 and May 15. The farm bill was slated to move to the Senate floor the week of May 20 at the publication deadline. The biggest shift in farm bill status is the promise by House leadership to give the bill floor time by this summer.

If the House and the Senate stick to this schedule, then there will be enough time for the two chambers to negotiate a compromise and pass a final bill by Sept. 30, when the current farm bill extension expires.

The Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) of 2013, H.R. 1947, which passed the House Agriculture Committee by a vote of 36-10, includes $940 billion in funding over 10 years. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, S. 954 by a vote of 15-5. The measure includes $955 billion over that same time period.

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A farmer works her fields in Solano County, Calif.
During the markups this week NACo successfully supported and opposed several amendments. In the Senate, NACo was the lead champion behind the adoption of Brown Amdt. 1, which would give USDA Rural Development the flexibility to prioritize 20 percent of funding to projects that are a part of multijurisdictional economic development strategies. This will help ensure that USDA focuses on the priorities identified by counties and their partners in their county and multi-county economic development strategies. NACo successfully opposed attempts to repeal country-of-origin labeling in both the Senate (Johanns Amdt. 1) and House (Austin Scott Amdt. 20). Similar efforts are expected on the House and Senate floor.

 

Another key NACo win was the successful inclusion of McIntyre Amdt. 41 in the final House bill. The amendment makes technical assistance an eligible expense under USDA’s community facilities program. NACo successfully tweaked the language to ensure that local governments are eligible to receive and provide technical assistance under the program. In addition, the NACo- supported Healthy Food Financing Initiative (Fudge Amdt. 29), which authorizes $125 million in appropriations for USDA to incentivize construction of grocery stores in food deserts, was approved by a vote of 21-19 in the House.

NACo narrowly lost a priority effort to restore $50 million in mandatory funding for a backlog of water and wastewater projects.  McIntyre Amdt. 39 was defeated by a vote of 23-22 during the House markup. The effort to provide $15 million in mandatory funding for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program and change eligibility to include local governments (McIntyre Amdt. 40) was also defeated in the House by a vote of 25-20.

The larger fight in the amendment process in both bodies was over the size of the cuts to nutrition programs and the type of risk management system for producers. After lengthy and heated debates, all major efforts to amend the committee leadership’s proposals for nutrition and risk management were ultimately unsuccessful.

 

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