Deal on a Farm Bill Appears Unlikely
September 12, 2012
WASHINGTON — Congressional agreement on a stalled farm bill seemed increasingly out of reach on Wednesday, as a few hundred farmers gathered near the Capitol to press for its passage. They were greeted by an unusually bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing for action in the House, where Republican leaders have declined to pursue legislation.
“Americans want us to work together to get it done for rural America,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to the farmers’ cheers.
Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas, also spoke, chiding members of his own party in the House for refusing to bring their own committee’s farm bill to the floor. “Don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen,” he said.
Over the summer, the Senate passed a five-year farm bill with bipartisan support, and the House Agriculture Committee came up with a similar bill, with deeper cuts.
But House leaders declined to take up either version of the legislation. They are not eager to force their members to take a vote that would be difficult for some of them, nor would they wish to pass a measure largely with Democrats’ votes right before an election.
Just before the August recess, the House instead passed a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to act on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.
Should the current law expire at the end of the month, direct payments to farmers would still continue at $5 billion a year, and the food stamp program would continue through other spending bills. But nearly 40 other programs would not be financed after the 2012 fiscal year.
Cobbling together a new farm bill, something that used to be fairly easy, is difficult within the political architecture of the current Congress.
Some conservatives in each chamber dislike the farm bill generally and would like to see it cut back much further than House or Senate committee members propose. Many Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs in the House bill, and some Southern members who represent rice and peanut growers do not like other proposed changes.
“Agriculture has always been bipartisan,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But the extreme element of the House doesn’t believe” in a farm bill at all, she said, while others “don’t want reforms.” She added, “The anti-reformers are hiding behind the extreme elements.”
Some Republicans are now pondering a one-year extension of the current law. Democrats in both chambers have declined to entertain that idea for now.
Just outside the Capitol on Wednesday, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation held a modest rally to press for the approval of a bill, and lawmakers appealed to them with folksy talk about tractors.
Lynn Belitz, a farmer from Nebraska who attended, said, “They should just get it done.”
Some Democrats are trying to press the House leadership to allow a vote through something called a “discharge petition,” which, if signed by 218 members, would force a floor vote. But it is being held up by procedural impediments.
“I’ll sign it as soon as it’s available,” said Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican freshman from South Dakota. When it was pointed out to her that this would probably greatly dismay Republican leaders, she added, “I take my orders from my district.”
Some liberal Democrats said that though they opposed even modest cuts to the food stamp program, they would support the House bill because they assumed its cuts would be reduced somewhat during negotiations over the final bill. They also reason that should Mitt Romney prevail in the November presidential election, larger cuts to nutrition programs would most likely be in the offing.
“This is far from a perfect bill,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont. “But we should vote up or down on this bill, and then we can be held accountable. We could be in a worse position next year, including on food stamps.”
Ms. Noem and Mr. Welch sent a letter late Wednesday to Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, requesting a meeting “to discuss our urgent concern that a farm bill be brought to the floor for a vote.”
Republicans are feeling the heat from some of their members in farm states, like Representative Rick Berg of North Dakota, who is running for an open Senate seat. Mr. Berg’s opponent, Heidi Heitkamp, spent much of August attacking him about the bill, even though he has been outspoken about supporting a vote on the measure.“In North Dakota the number one job of a member of Congress is to secure a farm bill,” Ms. Heitkamp said.
Congress Puts Farm Bill On Post-Election Chores List
OPB | Sept. 25, 2012 4:58 p.m. | Updated: Sept. 26, 2012 3:24 a.m. | Portland, Oregon
Michael Clapp / OPB
Congress has adjourned without approving a farm bill. As Rob Manning reports, that means the current farm bill expires this weekend.
Without Congress enacting a farm bill federal law reverts back to a bill from the first half of the 20th century.
Experts say the old bill includes out-of-date price supports that either pay too much, or nothing at all, for farm products.
It does not include food stamps.
The federal Food Nutrition Services agency has told Oregon officials “there will likely be no interruption” in the program.
But Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader says without a new farm bill, the program’s legal foundation is in question. The Democrat says he’s not sure whether to tell constituents they’ll get food stamps after Sept. 30.
“And I would say honestly ‘I don’t know if you’re going to,'" he says. "It’s a very, very scary situation out there.”
Schrader blames House Republicans for stopping the farm bill he supported in committee. GOP leader John Boehner says the House will tackle the farm bill after the election.