Editorial: Doors Crack Open

11/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

The end of the government shutdown that resulted in a three-month reprieve for Congress to work out a spending plan appears to have cracked open one or two doors for legislation of interest to farmers.

One is the Farm Bill, now in the hands of a joint conference committee to work out a compromise between House and Senate versions of the bill.

Some people believe the spending cuts contained in both versions could provide a starting point for a broader compromise over government spending, and that appears to have focused more than the usual media attention on the Farm Bill.

Less conspicuous is an effort to restart work on immigration reform, an issue of special interest to some farmers who rely on an immigrant workforce to grow and harvest labor-intensive crops.

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill back in June, and the House, rather than take up that measure, has several separate bills coming out of committee that would affect immigration.

Although not as prominent an issue in the East as in the produce- and fruit-growing regions of the West, immigration reform is important in several of our agricultural sectors, including dairy.

In fact, one of the farmers that the American Farm Bureau Federation has been featuring this week in its lobbying efforts to spur the House into taking up the issue, is Pennsylvania mushroom farmer Ed Leo.

His story is told in one of three videos the Farm Bureau has produced to highlight how much some farmers rely on immigrant workers.

Nor was the American Farm Bureau Federation the only organization trying to mobilize the House this week on immigration reform.

According to the Bloomberg news service, the Partnership for a New American Economy, an association of mayors and business leaders, flew in 600 business, religious and technology leaders to target House Republicans from more than 40 states.

In addition to the Farm Bureau, they were joined in their efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a couple of other organizations.

If there is any hope in the House moving on immigration reform, it probably lies in those committee bills dealing separately with such issues as employment verification, guest worker programs and the legal status of undocumented immigrants.

This piecemeal approach resembles the path the House took toward the Farm Bill when it split the nutrition and farm subsidy components.

Whether those separate bills can form the basis for the House to work out a compromise with the Senate over immigration reform is questionable.

Just as Republicans and Democrats face huge differences over food stamp funding in the Farm Bill, the two sides have widely different positions on the undocumented immigrants already in this country.

The Senate bill includes a path to citizenship for those 11 million workers. One of the proposals in the House, known as the SAFE Act, would designate all of them as criminals.

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