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Understanding the Farm Bill Reauthorization Process and How You Can Influence It

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

By Nicole Cook

Image is of the U.S. Capitol. Image by Nicole Cook.

The article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.

The “Farm Bill” is an omnibus piece of federal legislation covering agriculture, conservation, rural development, research, and food assistance. It has been continuously reauthorized approximately every five years since 1933. The current Farm Bill will expire on September 30, 2018, which is why Congress is drafting a new bill. What’s in the new Farm Bill will directly affect how U.S. agriculture operates for the next five years. To learn more about the reauthorization process and how you can educate your legislators about the Farm Bill issues that matter to you, keep reading.

The Farm Bill actually begins as two different bills: one in the House and one in the Senate. First, the House Agriculture Committee develops the sections of the Farm Bill called “titles,” which pertain to issues like Commodities (Title I), Crop Insurance (Title XI), Nutrition (Title IV), etc., and then the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) estimates how much each title will cost taxpayers to fund. The CBO’s estimate establishes the budget the House and Senate committees can use in developing their respective bills. The committees then apportion the CBO’s projected budget between the specific programs within each title.

Once finished with its draft, called “the Chairman’s Mark,” the House Agriculture Committee sends it to the House floor for debate and a vote. That’s when people outside of the House Agriculture Committee, including the public, get to see the draft. Last Thursday, Representative Michael Conaway of Texas, the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, scheduled a markup on the House’s draft for tomorrow, April 18, 2018 at 10 a.m. in Room 1300 of the Longworth House Office Building. The bill is known as “H.R.2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.”

Now that the House’s draft bill has been released and scheduled for debate in the House, you can contact your House representative to express what you like, what you don’t like, and what you would like to see amended in the draft bill.

After the House passes its version of the bill, the bill goes to the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee, currently chaired by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, also creates its own draft bill, which goes to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. As of this posting, the Senate Agriculture Committee has not released its draft bill. As such, if your senator is on the Senate Agriculture Committee, you can contact him or her to voice your opinion on what should be in the bill. If your senator is not on the committee, you can still ask your senator to make your wishes known to the members of the committee.

The versions of the bills passed in the House and Senate then go to the Joint Conference Committee where the differences between the House and Senate bills are worked out. In general, the Joint Conference Committee is made up of senior members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. In theory, the Joint Conference Committee reconciles the two bills, but there can be surprises and deals made along the way which substantially alter some aspect of the combined bill. This means that, although the Joint Conference Committee has not been formed as of this post, once it has, if you live in a district represented by a member of the Joint Conference Committee, you may contact that member and could have an important voice in the Farm Bill process.

Once agreement is reached by the Joint Conference Committee, the reconciled bill is sent back to the House and the Senate for debate, and each chamber votes on the bill. If one chamber makes any changes to the bill, the bill is sent back to the Joint Conference Committee for further work on reconciling the changes and then is sent back to the House and the Senate for a vote. Once the reconciled bill passes both chambers, the final bill is sent to the President to sign into law.

Enacting a Farm Bill is a long process. You can follow the House’s activity on the bill at the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill website and the Senate’s work at the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Legislation website. And you can contact your representatives and senators throughout the process to let them know how the Farm Bill impacts you.

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