Lawmakers react to continued stalling of House farm bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2012- The House of Representatives, unable to get the GOP votes to advance a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill this week, will consider a stand-alone livestock disaster aid package Thursday before leaving for August recess at the end of the week.

“Everyone is obviously disappointed that we're not considering a five-year farm bill,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, on Wednesday. A five-year farm bill plan passed through the committee on July 12 with a bipartisan 35-11 vote, but House leadership has declined to present it on the floor for a vote. 

“We're actively working on a five-year deal,” Conaway said, insisting that Congress members with agricultural interests would continue plugging for a five-year bill in September, emphasizing that he and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., “are frustrated that we don't have a direct path forward.”

“I would prefer an extension of the current law over just the drought assistance,” said Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., on Wednesday afternoon. “At the very minimum, we have to do drought assistance right now.” 

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Crawford indicated that he believes, and hopes, the House will have the votes to pass the disaster package Thursday. He noted that after the August recess, he believes “people's attitudes will change considerably after spending a month at home” and hearing from those impacted by uncertainty in Washington and the severe drought. 

“Some of this conferencing can go fairly quickly,” Crawford noted, regarding the potential for a five-year bill between both chambers in September. “I think if we're able to pre-conference, we can reconcile the bills pretty quickly.” 

Conaway noted the importance of making disaster aid a priority this week for livestock producers suffering from the historic drought covering vast areas of the country. The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 66 percent of the nation's hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 73 percent of the nation's cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought.

The disaster package being considered by the House on Thursday will cost approximately $383 million over 10 years, with $639 million in offsets from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for a net reduction of $256 million over 10 years.  

Conaway indicated that now is not the time to be picky with disaster offsets, because they “have to come from somewhere.” However, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), with 15 other organizations, sent a letter to House leadership stating that “disproportionately cutting conservation dollars to pay for disaster aid is shortsighted, and the long-term investment in conservation should not be usurped by the short-term thinking to address severe drought.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., responded to the conservation offsets in the House package on Wednesday, saying “I don't like it.” She acknowledged that those programs are already limited through Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS), but noted the Senate-passed farm bill, as well as the version passed through the House Agriculture Committee, have broad support for streamlined conservation spending.   

“Pay-fors are always going to be very difficult,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., emphasizing “that's for the House for decide; just get a drought bill done.”

“I want to do a farm bill, but right now my first concern is to get a drought bill passed,” Roberts said. “We could do a drought bill and then we want to turn, in a very expeditious fashion, and see if we can't get a farm bill done apropos.”  

Roberts also indicated the Senate would take up a drought disaster package in September, noting that “we do everything in the eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute.” 

“I cannot imagine somebody holding up drought assistance in the middle of this disaster we're facing,” he said of the Senate.

Noting that she is “absolutely committed to a disaster assistance proposal” and that “we certainly need to be doing that when we come back in September,” Stabenow said a five-year farm bill agreement remains her first priority.

“My goal remains on getting a five-year farm bill and using the August recess to work with colleagues in the House and Senate to come to some policy agreement,” she said.

“I believe all four of the Ag Committee leaders are very sincere in wanting to work together and get a five-year farm bill,” she said, emphasizing that after the August recess, she would focus on farm bill legislation in September, or, if not, “we'll certainly will be offering a disaster assistance package.”

Regarding the House's disaster aid package being considered this week, Stabenow also said she is “concerned about the narrow scope,” which at this point, focuses on livestock programs. Stabenow indicated a lack of protection for fruit growers and other nursery crops. However, as Rep. Conaway indicated Wednesday afternoon, “livestock is the main issue here” and although there are several measures he would like to see included, the House is focused on a narrow bill. 

The House disaster aid bill retroactively extends the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP). 

“If the House simply passed the five-year farm bill reported out of Committee on a bipartisan basis, this bill would not be necessary,” according to a statement to congressional members from a group of 12 farm organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU). 

“Almost identical provisions to retroactively extend these four programs are included in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill reported by the House Agriculture Committee,” according to the statement. “Agriculture will already provide a minimum of $23 billion in deficit reduction by passing the farm bill.”

The following organizations signed the statement sent Wednesday: the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Association, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Canola Association, USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and Western Growers.


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