Congress pushes Farm Bill to 2014

By: Gina Luke, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

The Farm Bill reauthorization has been filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and plenty of intrigue, and now faces another hurdle as Congress has decided to punt work on the legislation to January.

The House of Representatives added a bump in the road when they passed a one-month extension of the current law on Dec. 12. The measure, H.R. 3695, now goes to the Senate, which is not expected to take it up. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Congressional Quarterly that it was unnecessary to pass the extension since a House-Senate conference committee expects to have a new multiyear Farm Bill ready for January floor votes.

Despite the ever-evolving Farm Bill discussions, AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division continues to actively monitor the bill to ensure that provisions that affect the veterinary profession are included.

“For AVMA, this has been a multi-year campaign,” said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division. “Several years ago we began laying the foundation to secure new programs and shore up support for others that needed to be reauthorized. When the legislation finally passes, which is unlikely before early 2014, veterinarians who worked with us to repeatedly emphasize to Congress the importance of animal health and welfare will see a bill that is now more advantageous for veterinary medicine.”

A veterinary services grant program to complement the existing Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, a new budget line for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and a new competitive research program for animal sciences are all expected to be included in the final version of the new Farm Bill. Also, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank and the Animal Health and Disease Research programs will continue.

As many of you may already know, the Farm Bill has two primary components: food assistance programs, which comprise 80 percent of the bill’s total spending, and the “farm” portion, which is roughly the other 20 percent of the spending. All of AVMA’s priorities for the bill fall into the latter portion.

Negotiations over the final bill continue between House and Senate conferees, but there remain a few sticking points that must be ironed out before an agreement can be made. Fortunately, none of those sticky points pertain to priorities for veterinary medicine.

The 2013 Farm Bill conference committee is comprised of 41 lawmakers (29 representatives and 12 senators), who are charged with resolving the differences in the bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives. Once they have ironed out the differences, the conference report will be returned to each chamber for a vote. To pass the conference report, the House needs 218 votes and the Senate needs 51.

For more information on the Farm Bill, visit AVMA’s website.

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