Everywhere I’ve been the last several weeks—from the halls of Congress to places clear across the country—I’ve heard the same mantra. The farm bill will be handled “after the election.” Farmers and ranchers have been told to “wait until November” to find out where this crucial piece of federal policy stands. Well, the election is now behind us, so let’s put the farm bill front and center .
Most folks following the dance between the election and the farm bill have felt that a status quo election—meaning no change in leadership in either chamber of Congress or the administration—would result in the best possible scenario for passage of a five-year farm bill in the lame duck session. That is exactly what has happened. With the election season complete, it is now high time for Congress to focus on the critical work at hand and include the five-year farm bill along with other items of unfinished business in the lame duck.
At every vote, the farm bill has had bipartisan support. It passed the Senate Agriculture committee by a vote of 16-5. It cleared a cloture vote with the support of 90 Senators. It passed the full Senate by a two-to-one margin; it cleared the House Agriculture Committee by a three-to-one margin. And a recent whip count, conducted just before the election recess, indicated sufficient votes to pass the House floor. That bipartisan support did not happen by accident. It was the result of careful thought and deliberation that were poured into the House and Senate versions of the bill. While some aspects differ between the two versions, there is no reason why our political leaders cannot come together and move ahead in reaching a compromise.
Congress should pass a five-year farm bill for the sake of farmers and ranchers who are still hurting from the most severe drought in decades and need a measure of certainty. They should pass a five-year bill to continue meaningful investment to protect farmland and safeguard sensitive landscapes through conservation programs. They should pass a five-year bill to help ensure a safe, stable and affordable food supply for all Americans. And perhaps most importantly, they should pass a five-year bill to renew the faith of the American people that Congress as an institution can function, can work together and can lead.
We’ve been patient, and the election is over. It is time to refocus, to roll up our sleeves and to get the job done.
Jon Scholl became the President of American Farmland Trust in July 2008, after serving as Counselor to the Administrator for Agricultural Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) since 2004. Prior to that, Scholl served the Illinois Farm Bureau for 25 years. He is a partner in a family farm in McLean County, Illinois.