Friday,May 18, 2007 By Shawn Wade
Inthe end House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) decided notto issue a comprehensive Chairman's Mark for the 2007 Farm Bill. Instead he hasopted to release a total of ten draft farm bill titles that will be marked upindividually in Subcommittee.
Accordingto the plan outlined by Peterson and Agriculture Committee Ranking Member BobGoodlatte (R-VA) May 17, development of the 2007 Farm Bill will be handledincrementally beginning May 22 and culminate in a planned full Committee markupsession to bring everything together the week before the July Fourth holiday.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, who was in attendance for the House announcements, said that he still plans to release a Chairman's Mark to the Senate Agriculture Committee sometime in June and that the full Senate Agriculture Committee would markthe bill up on a title by title basis.
Accordingto the information detailed at the press conference announcing the HouseAgriculture Committee's schedule, Peterson and Ranking Member Goodlatte havedecided that conservation will be the first title up for consideration. Membersof the Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Subcommittee will kick themarkup process off on Tuesday, May 22, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. (EST) in the HouseAgriculture Committee's main hearing room. Members of the Livestock, Dairy andPoultry Subcommittee will begin markup of the livestock title on Thursday, May24.
Planscall for a preliminary draft of each farm bill title to be posted on theAgriculture Committee website as soon as they become available. The draft ofthe conservation title can be found at: http://agriculture.house.gov/inside/legislation.html
Also,delivering on Chairman Peterson's pledge to conduct the process in an open andpublic manner, audio from each of the subcommittee markup sessions will bebroadcast live on the internet (http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/audio.html
Followingthe Memorial Day recess Subcommittee's will get back to work the week of June 4when the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee will beginmarking up the commodity title.
Petersonexplained that his reasons for delegating the initial development of theseparate Farm Bill titles to the various Subcommittees is to ensure thelegislation is developed through a bipartisan, open and public process. He alsonoted that it allows legislators that are most familiar with the specificissues involved in each title to apply their expertise and craft soundlegislation.
TheChairman's stated goal is to create a Farm Bill capable of addressing therapidly changing landscape of the agricultural economy. Unfortunately a numberof challenges are already presenting themselves that will make that alreadydifficult process even harder.
BothPeterson and Goodlatte acknowledged that significant debate about thelegislation is likely to occur on the House floor, especially if additionalfunding sources are not secured to accommodate the host of new initiatives thathave been outlined.
Hoping to keep floor debate to a minimum, they encouraged legislators that aren'tmembers of the Agriculture Committee to present their ideas or proposedamendments to the appropriate Subcommittee Chairman during the AgricultureCommittee's markup process so that they could be thoroughly reviewed and actedon.
Thepotential impact of a looming budget crunch didn't even wait until the end ofthe press conference before rearing its head. Among the ideas Petersonhighlighted from the draft conservation title was a proposal to reallocate justover $1 billion in baseline funding for the Conservation Security Program toother programs.
HighPlains Agriculture Committee member Rep. Randy Neugebauer attended the pressconference and immediately expressed his readiness to get to the negotiatingtable and start crafting a bipartisan Farm Bill that promotes agriculture intothe next decade. Neugebauer is a member of the General Farm Commodities andRisk Management Subcommittee, the Department Operations, Oversight, Nutritionand Forestry Subcommittee, and, is the Ranking Minority Member of theHorticulture and Organic Agriculture Subcommittee.
Indiscussing the process that will be undertaken to develop the 2007 Farm Bill,Neugebauer said that he believes the success of the 2002 Farm Bill gives theAgriculture Committee a solid blueprint to work from.
Echoingthe budget worries expressed by both Democrats and Republicans, Neugebauer saidhe is concerned about the intended reliance on reserve funds to increasespending on conservation and nutrition programs, and also address additionalnew initiatives.
Withover twenty other "reserve" funds established in the FY08 Budget Resolution,competition for additional money is guaranteed to be fierce. Chairman Peterson'sopening decision to recommend a significant change in the Conservation SecurityProgram and to redirect funds to other conservation measures seems to signalhis understanding that there is a good chance that none of the extra $20billion in spending authority provided by the agriculture reserve fund willever materialize.
Ifadditional funds are not found, and the Committee is ultimately asked torearrange spending priorities within the existing budget authority, the nextfew weeks could include even more tough decisions being made at theSubcommittee and full Committee levels.
Eitherway members of the House Agriculture panel are now fully engaged in the processand it is safe to say that they have a long, tough road ahead of them.