Farm Bill Woes

6/29/2013 1:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor


I would like to say I was shocked last week to hear that the U.S. House’s version of the 2013 Farm Bill had failed to gather a majority of members’ votes.

But I was not.

Instead, I find I’ve become cynical about the whole process and see the failure as a vindication of fears that what had been a bipartisan, good-faith effort to back the all-important production of food in this country has become hijacked by the current overarching conflict in Congress over the role of government in our lives.

Judging by the commentary coming in from national farm groups, a sizable portion of the agricultural community is incensed by this latest turn of events.

The failure leaves the ag sector in the lurch, according to the American Soybean Association. It was an injustice to the American people, according to the National Grange.

The National Corn Growers Association said it was “extremely disappointed,” and the Dairy Farmers of America called the bill’s defeat “a blow to dairy.”

Of course, this is not the first time the Farm Bill has failed in the House of Representatives. Last year, the bill cleared the Ag Committee but was never brought to the floor by the leadership.

This time around, it looked like there was hope for the bill until a couple of last-minute amendments stripped it of a significant number of votes.

One was a change in the dairy safety net to substitute an amendment proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., for provisions backed by the National Milk Producers Federation and other dairy processing groups.

Curiously, Goodlatte, who is vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, ended up voting against the overall bill despite his amendment passing.

Another was one of three amendments cutting back the food stamp program. That amendment, put forth by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., would have allowed states to introduce work rules in conjunction with food stamps and to divert the federal funding to other programs.

According to the Farm Policy newsletter, David Rogers reported Sunday at Politico that, “Among the 62 House Republicans voting against the Farm Bill last week, all but one had voted minutes before” for the controversial amendment.

Republicans later accused Collin Peterson, ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, of failing to deliver the votes needed to pass the bill, but Peterson blamed the Southerland amendment for breaking “the camel’s back” when it came to his party’s support.

Now, as the countdown begins to the Sept. 30 expiration of the current extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, it will be interesting to see how Congress tries to resolve this impasse.

It seems unlikely the House leadership will simply take up the Senate’s bill. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says the Senate will not go along with another extension of the 2008 bill.

Given the hazards of weather, insect and weed infestations, and livestock diseases, farmers have always had to live with a great deal of uncertainty.

The past few decades, some of that has been countered by government support in the Farm Bill. Without that support, the uncertainty will increase to the likely detriment of the farm economy and U.S. food production.

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