Many lawmakers, farm groups not pleased with farm bill outcome
By Derrick Cain
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2013 - Several lawmakers and agriculture groups expressed disappointment today over the House's rejection of its five-year farm bill (H.R. 1947).
The legislation, which was downed by a 195-234 vote with the assistance of several defectors in both parties, now faces a very uncertain future.
“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., “I'm obviously disappointed, but the reforms in H.R. 1947 - $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] since 1996 - are so important that we must continue to pursue them.”
Lucas said bill supporters will be assessing all options to move a long-term agricultural policy bill.
“I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers, and rural constituents need,” Lucas said.
Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., squarely placed the failed bill on House Republicans.
“The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party,” Peterson said. “From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law.”
Peterson said the vote “flies in the face” of several years of bipartisan work done by the committee.
“I'll continue to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed but I have a hard time seeing where we go from here,” Peterson said.
Obviously, the Senate, which approved its farm bill (S. 954) on June 12, was closely watching the House action.
Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Nutrition Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., noted that the Senate has approved a bipartisan farm bill on two occasions.
“The House needs to find a way to get a five-year farm bill done,” Stabenow said. “The speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”
Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said, “The agriculture community and our economy need the certainty that comes with a five-year farm bill. We face a September deadline to provide that certainty, and I am hopeful the House will still be able to come back and pass a bill that can be responsibly conferenced with the farm bill passed by the Senate.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said she was deeply disappointed with the vote.
“Instead of supporting real reform that ends outdated farm policies, consolidates programs, provides billions of dollars in savings to the American tax payer, and ensures the continuation of a farm safety net - the House has bent to extreme views in its failure to pass this needed legislation,” Heitkamp said.
For the administration, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called the vote “a tremendous disappointment for all Americans.”
“Unfortunately, the House version of this bill would have unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America,” Vilsack said. “As a result, the House was unable to achieve bipartisan consensus.”
Back in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., was one of 172 Democrats to vote against the bill.
“The farm bill before the House of Representatives would have harmed both Connecticut dairy farmers and families relying on food stamps,” DeLauro said. “I hope Congress can now work across party lines to produce a balanced farm bill that supports both farmers and critical anti-hunger efforts.”
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., noted that if the farm bill is not completed or extended by September, agriculture policy could revert to 1949 permanent law.
“[This would cause] drastic price increases for consumers and major disruptions for farm operators,” Crawford said. “This option is unacceptable. While the ill effects would hit everyone in America, rural states like Arkansas would be disproportionately affected.”
Various farm groups also expressed disappointment.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said, “It was a balanced bill that would have provided much needed risk management tools and a viable economic safety net for America's farmers and ranchers.”
Stallman said his group plans to continue working with lawmakers to move forward.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said, “With today's failure to pass a farm bill, the House has let down rural America. We are deeply disappointed that the House voted against the best interests of family farmers and rural America.”
The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) said it “remains imperative” that Congress approves a long-term bill before the current extension expires in September.
Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said the bill's failure “leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch.”
“Once again, the nation's soybean farmers and the 23 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture are left holding the bag,” Murphy said. “It is incumbent on both Republicans and Democrats to find a way forward for American agriculture.”
Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said the bill would have had a better chance at passage if it included “moderate crop subsidy reform.”
“We still need a new farm bill, but one with more reform and better nutrition and conservation titles than the bill rejected today,” Hoefner said. “The path forward is unclear, but we are ready to continue to work for a bill that expands opportunities for family farmers to produce good food, sustain the environment, and contribute to vibrant communities.
National Cotton Council Chairman Jimmy Dodson, said, “U.S. farmers need a stable, long term policy in order to continue to make the substantial investments necessary to continue to adopt new technology necessary to provide safe, affordable food and fiber to U.S. processors and consumers and to maintain competitiveness in world markets.”
During a teleconference, Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said the bill's defeat provides “more evidence of the waning political power of the ag lobby.”
Faber said the failure was caused by a number of miscalculations by the big agriculture lobby and lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee.
“No other way to see it but failure to understand the extent to which rank and file lawmakers are offended that we should kick millions people off SNAP in order to finance lavish subsidies for really profitable farm businesses,” Faber said.
Conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation said the bill's failure should be considered a victory for taxpayers.
“The bill was not only bloated with programs to reward special interests, it would have also locked in President Obama's massive expansion of spending on food stamps,” the group said. “But like all things in Washington, today's victory is a temporary one.”
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