Washington Week Ahead: Hitting the campaign trail without a new farm bill

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

 Together we can feed the Bees

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2012 - After several days of partisan bickering over which party is most to blame for the failure to tackle some of the nation's biggest challenges, lawmakers managed to approve a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded for another six months. With just 45 days left between now and the election, Congress approved a series of measures and then went home to campaign.

Both the House and Senate are now adjourned until Nov. 13, when they will face a dizzying array of issues, ranging from the 2012 Farm Bill to expiration of the so-called Bush tax cuts and the potential for $109 billion in sequestration cuts.

Failure to pass a new farm bill on time has become more the norm than the exception. As researchers at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) point out in their report, “Possible Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill,” in the past 40 years, only the 1973 and 1977 farm bills were enacted before Sept. 30. The 1981, 1985, and 1990 farm bills were enacted by Dec. 31. The most recent three farm bills have been enacted much later: April 1996, May 2002 and June 2008.

But failure to pass a new farm bill in a year divisible by four certainly increases the political liabilities, as well as the opportunities - depending on which side of the aisle you are on.

For example, there was significantly less political drama when the 2002 farm bill expired on September 30 of 2007 - in part because this farm bill garnered more bipartisan cooperation in Congress. The House completed floor action on its version of the farm bill (H.R. 2419) on July 27, 2007. The Senate Agriculture Committee approved its version (S. 2302) on October 25, 2007. It wasn't until December 14 that the Senate, controlled by Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, completed floor action on the farm bill, which was offered as a substitute to the House bill.

But last week, the tone was markedly different. Majority Leader Reid and Senate Democrats sent out a release titled, House GOP Heads For Exits, Leaving Farm Bill ‘To Die On Vine',” highlighting news coverage of the farm bill and the failure of House GOP leaders to pass a new five-year package before Sept. 30.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose wife Christie is running against House Agriculture Committee member Steve King, R-Iowa, also weighed in by issuing a rare Saturday press statement:

“In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America's farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America. Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed. U.S. agriculture is fighting to maintain the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years, but with natural disasters and other external forces threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever. Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens." 

For his part, Secretary Vilsack will stay in Washington for the first part of this week to address the GreenGov symposium before heading back to Iowa.

In the meantime, farm groups remain frustrated by the political gamesmanship and lack of action.

“It is a sad statement on the perceived lack of importance of rural America in Washington when a bipartisan bill that provides certainty for farmers, livestock disaster assistance, nutrition programs, crop insurance improvements, conservation of our natural resources and reduces our Nation's budget deficits is shelved in favor of scoring political points in an election year,” noted American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman

“When members of Congress return after the election in November, the excuses and the foot-dragging must stop, and the House must dedicate itself to passing a new comprehensive five-year farm bill that provides farmers with the stability, security and certainty they need while doing agriculture's part to contribute to deficit reduction,” Wellman added. “Anything less will be another failure by Washington on the part of American farmers.”

"Members of Congress are now fanning out across our nation to ask for our support in their efforts to get their jobs back,” noted National Association of Wheat Growers President Erik Younggren.”Regardless of party or position, we strongly encourage farmers to ask their legislators for an explanation of why they have failed to pass this fundamental legislation despite ample time and the worst drought conditions in our lifetimes.

"We can only hope that House leaders have the will to bring forward the five-year reauthorization of the farm bill as the first item of business when they return in November and get done what should have been done long ago."

For other events and reports this week, see the list below.

Monday, September 24

Deputy Secretary Merrigan will visit Rieke Elementary School in Portland, ME and give a college tour presentation at University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH (open press).

USDA Reports: Crop Progress

Tuesday, September 25

Secretary Vilsack will give remarks at the 2012 GreenGov Symposium as part of a panel with Nancy Sutley and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The Secretary will discuss the tremendous economic opportunity for rural America in the development of new feedstocks, new energy sources, and the biobased economy in Washington, DC. The event will be held at the Marriott Wardmann Park Hotel in Washington, DC.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan will host a press availability following an organics roundtable, co-hosted by Stonyfield and New England Farmers Union.

Thursday, September 27

USDA Report: US Export Sales

Friday, September 28

Deputy Secretary Merrigan will speak at the Vermont Law School's Inaugural Conference on Agriculture and Food Systems in Washington, DC.

Saturday, September 29

Secretary Vilsack will speak at the ”Rally For Iowa's Outdoor Legacy” conservation summit in Des Moines, IA.


This story was updated at 6:30 am on 9/24/12.

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