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Farm Bill Jargon 101

March 11, 2011
by Kasi Boyd

Researching the Farm Bill makes me wonder if politicians use complicated language just to make it…well, more complicated. The Farm Bill is perplexing, but the jargon doesn’t have to be. Here is a glossary of the vocabulary you’ll be certain to come across when reading up on the bill:

Appropriation – Process by which funds are allocated.  Every year, Farm Bill funds are appropriated to specific programs.  Every 5-7 years when the bill is reauthorized, however, funds are appropriated to overall Titles.

Appropriations Committees – Agriculture committees in both the House and the Senate that deliberate on top priorities, and establish appropriations before they are discussed on the floor.

Authorization – Political-speak for instating a bill. The Farm Bill is officially reauthorized every 5-7 years, but in reality, the appropriation process causes the previously authorized bill to be reviewed every year.

Baseline – Each year the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the cost of specific programs for the next year.  In most cases, these funds to be awarded to the programs are known as the baseline. Programs with mandatory funding may not have baselines since they are almost all automatically renewed.

Bill – A broad term meaning an idea or proposal being written up that can possibly become law.  A bill becomes law if it successfully passes through the House and Senate and is signed by the President.

Commodity – In the context of the Farm Bill, 20 crops designated to receive subsidies — five of which are major beneficiaries: corn, cotton, rice, soybeans and wheat.

Counter-Cyclical Payments – Payments made to commodity producers when the year’s average crop price falls below the target price determined by historical data. (I wish someone paid me when my income fell short of expectations!) The US paid $7.7B in counter-cyclical payments between 2002 and 2006.

Discretionary Funding – Indicates that funding for a particular bill is not a priority and will be determined yearly during the appropriations process based on cash available and budget restraints.  Discretionary Funding status means the bill will absolutely be reviewed each year by the appropriations committee.

Dumping – When a country exports a product for below production costs. The WTO considers it illegal, but the US continues to do this.  For example, Dan Imhoff in Food Fight proposes our dumping of corn into Mexico is a main cause of Mexican immigration. When US grain can be bought in Mexico for less than it costs to produce, farm workers lose work and many immigrate to the US for income.

Flat Funding – Somewhat of a misnomer, when an appropriations committee decreases funding to a bill that has mandatory funding status. This capability makes the Farm Bill more of a yearly concern, especially for conservationists who have seen funding decrease over the years. This is an example of the immense power of the appropriations committees and why we should keep tabs on them every year.

Mandatory Funding – Indicates that funding for a particular bill is flagged as a priority by Congress for the appropriations committees. These bills are most likely to survive the appropriations process each year. Subsidies and food stamp programs are usually marked with this status.  Mandatory Funding status bills may or may not be chosen for budget review by the appropriations committee.

Marker Bills – Marker bills contain a set of specific proposals to reform one or more Titles, and are deliberated on by the appropriations committees. They typically get introduced to Congress but are not discussed on the floor right away.  A marker bill typically has at least a few Congressional cosponsors upon introduction. The goal is to enlist more cosponsors after it is introduced for a better chance of passing later in the process.

Omnibus Bill – One single bill that actually contains many measures, amendments, and even new laws in the single bill. An omnibus bill is accepted or rejected in a single vote in the House or Senate.

Provision – An element of a bill that may be further subdivided into sub-provisions and sub-sub-provisions for clarity of the laws put forth and denoting each segment will receive some obligatory spending.

Specialty Crops – In the context of the Farm Bill, refers to all crops that aren’t commodity crops; in other words, fruits and vegetables we eat.

Subsidies – Financial payments from the government to primarily commodity crop producers. They were first created to protect our basic food supply during the Great Depression, but today subsidies are not necessarily going to the producers who most need assistance. According to EWG, 15 of the top 20 subsidy beneficiaries in 2009 were cotton growers, only 10% of CA producers received 90% of federal payments, and commodity spending outpaced funds for conservation programs by more than 3-to-1.

Sunsetting – Term used to indicate that a specific bill’s funding is running out soon.

Titles – Segments in which the Farm Bill is separated and categorized: Commodity Programs, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition Programs, Credit, Rural Development, Research and Related Matters, Forestry, Energy, Miscellaneous (states fines for violations of animal welfare, school lunch programs, funds a coordinator for rural and underserved areas, etc.).   I mentally switch out Titlefor Chapter because the bill is divided by its Titles like a book is divided by its chapters.

 

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