In a recent post about the timing of the Farm Bill, I talked about when things related to farm and food policy are likely to move in Congress. There is new information available now, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that we all could be in serious trouble if we don’t act now to voice our opinion about the state of our food system. Though pressure to consider major reforms in the bill is as strong as ever, events of this week are leaving me with much less hope that new leadership will lead to any positive change without a fierce shove in the right direction.

The first surprise since my last post was the structure of Chairman Peterson’s mark. Instead of outlining his ideas in one large package and allowing people a chance to review the language and understand its implications, he is releasing the mark piecemeal. Two subcommittees met this week, and Peterson made public only the parts of his mark where the Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Subcommittee or the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Subcommittee have jurisdiction.

Wednesday’s Congress Daily (requires subscription) had this to say about the timing:

Peterson said he believes subcommittee markups should be finished by mid June, with the nutrition and commodity titles last. He said the full committee markup would be held either the third or fourth week of June and that he expects to finish in a week or less.

While we have that much information on timing, there isn’t a lot of public information on what the content will be, which has some members of the Agriculture Committee a little upset. This from Tuesday’s CQ:

Aides say members of the House Agriculture Committee are unhappy with how Chairman Collin C. Peterson has handled this year’s farm bill so far.

The dissatisfaction intensified last night, aides said, when Peterson told panel members that his draft of the legislation would spend all of a proposed $20 billion “reserve fund” that was meant to pay for new initiatives.

The subcommittee meetings have been relatively short so far, but that’s another surprise in this process — Peterson instructed that anyone offering amendments in the subcommittee that cost money would have to name an offset. Since committee members don’t know how Peterson plans to spend the reserve fund, naming offsets this early seems pretty unpopular. Listening to the webcast of the hearing is sadly humorous, with legislators introducing and having to withdraw amendments because they are out of order without an offset. It seems like no one was really prepared for that one.

Lastly, Peterson has been laying some smack down regarding the idea of a long floor fight. In CQ on May 10, he was quoted as saying:

People are misguided if they think the farm bill will be written on the floor … it would be a recipe for chaos.

He has implied elsewhere that he has assurances from leadership that an alternate Farm Bill won’t be considered on the floor. In order for that to happen, House leadership must have the agreement of the Rules Committee, since they control what amendments are introduced on the floor for a particular bill. Seven of the nine Democrats on the Rules Committee have signed on to at least one marker bill calling for some kind of reform, so it could get interesting.

The threat of a bloody floor fight even has people talking about the possibility of no Farm Bill. This from DTN Ag Policy Blog:

Some Washington Insider contacts are beginning to hear talk of a possible two-year extension of the current farm bill, should fiscal and political realities cause the farm-bill writing process to become overly difficult. Such talk was more common last year, but died down after Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in January.

It seems that the Democratic leadership is sliding down that very slippery slope. If they choose not to open the Farm Bill because the Agriculture Committee is resisting reform — against the will of at least 200 members of the House — it will be a signal that nothing has changed.

All this is to say that Memorial Day recess is the time to contact legislators while they’re in your state and district. Let them know what your priorities are in the Farm Bill, and most of all stress to your legislators that you want a fair, open, democratic process.