A Wilting Farm Bill

9/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

A month ago, when Congress recessed for summer break, it appeared possible that farm interests would be able to put enough heat on House members to persuade them to pass the 2012 Farm Bill when they returned.

That is now looking less and less likely, despite those back-home lobbying efforts and a rally on Capitol Hill last week by dozens of farm organizations.

As of Lancaster Farming’s press deadline, it appeared that Congress was preparing to adjourn until after the election without taking any action on the House Ag Committee’s Farm Bill. The Senate has long since passed its own version of the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner has said in the past that he simply didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill.

Meanwhile, opposition appears to be stiffening, and several major newspapers weighed in Monday with editorials against the Farm Bill.

“Taxpayers should hope that Republicans keep this boondoggle buried,” The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial titled Farm Bill Foolishness.

“Every taxpayer should hope the Farm Bill Now’ movement falls short,” said an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.

“Neither the Senate nor the House measures come close to adequately reforming America’s system of down-home country giveaways,” a Chicago Tribune editorial said. “Both versions of the bill should be scrapped.”

There has been a movement afoot, led by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, to line up 218 signatures on a discharge petition to force a House vote on the Farm Bill, but that effort has fallen far short so far.

One reason, according to the Farm Policy newsletter, quoting The Hill’s On the Money Blog by Erik Wasson, is that the conservative group Club for Growth has threatened to count any signature heavily as an anti-growth action on its 2012 Congressional Scorecard.

Another alternative is a short-term extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which is set to expire Sept. 30. According to David Rogers at Politico, the GOP leadership has been drafting a three-month extension that would include livestock disaster aid as well as new assistance for dairy farmers.

Democrats have been loathe to support such measures, including a disaster relief bill passed earlier by the House, viewing them as obstacles to an agreement on a new five-year Farm Bill.

Meanwhile, many in Congress are more concerned with fending off the “fiscal cliff” looming at the first of the year than they are with passing a Farm Bill, which many see as just part of the greater unsolved puzzle.

The automatic spending cuts that are set to take place when sequestration kicks in are also less than the cuts in both House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, draining some of the incentive away from efforts to pass a Farm Bill ahead of an overall spending agreement.

One thing that does appear to be clear, though, as these future battles shape up is that farm interests need to do a much better job explaining why the farm safety net is vital to everyone’s food security.

Although much of the disagreement over the Farm Bill centers on how big a cut to make to the food stamp program, there are also strong voices calling into question the validity of some of the farm subsidies, what the LA Times calls, “a vast expansion of the once-reasonable federal crop insurance program.”

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