While much focus around Congress’ return has been around the “fiscal cliff” and Benghazi, Congress faces a whole host of unfinished business.
The farm bill, which sets agriculture policy and funds the food stamp program, expired Sept. 30. Its expiration hit farmers immediately, especially dairy farmers who have not received their supplemental payments. If Congress doesn’t act by January 1, the cost of milk is expected to skyrocket and dairy farmers would have to comply with decades-old regulations that don’t conform to the modern industry. As for crop farmers, they have been in limbo, unsure of what sort of subsidies and priorities Congress will set for next year. The Senate passed a bill but the House has not. Analysts say a one-year extension is possible during the lame duck session but a full-fledged five-year reauthorization is unlikely.
The U.S. Postal Service is another area in need of Congress’ attention. The broke quasi-government agency is not government funded but lacks autonomy to make much needed changes in service and pension payments as it’s constrained by the heavy hand of Congress. The service has been unable to meet $1.1 billion in payments for future retirees’ pensions and is asking Congress to act. The Senate passed a bill but the House has yet to act over wrangling over the high cost of the food stamp program.
Congress also faces deadlines to extend the post-9/11 surveillance bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, funding for the intelligence community and a bill to authorize defense spending and programs.
Today, President Obama called out VP candidate Paul Ryan over the Republican’s block of the Farm Bill.
After doing a bit of research, I think the president has a case. Paul Ryan is a leader of his party and as such should take some of the responsibility for their continued failure to govern.
NY Farm Bureau concerned about GOP holdup of Farm Bill
U.S. House Republicans have gotten themselves in a tight spot with the 2012 Farm Bill and they can count the New York Farm Bureau among those who are concerned. The Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years. The Senate has already passed its [bipartisan 64-35] 2012 Bill. The House Agriculture committee also passed a version of the farm bill. But Republican leaders in the House have not been willing to bring it to the floor.
Instead, they’ve been pushing for a one-year extension of the current Farm Bill. Julie Grant reports about the latest politicking, and what it might mean for New York farmers.
Democratic Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, New York, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. The 2012 Farm Bill passed the committee by a bipartisan vote. However, Owens says that Republican leaders won’t allow the full House to consider it.
‘I’m very disappointed. I think that this is really the worst kind of partisan politics that one could imagine,’ said Owens. According to him, the problem is bad because House Republicans won’t consider the Farm Bill if they need Democratic votes to pass it. He said, ‘The Republicans have taken the position that they would not bring the five-year Farm Bill, which was passed out of the Ag Committee, to the floor because they couldn’t pass it with only Republican votes. So in other words, even though it came out of the Ag Committee on a bipartisan basis, they didn’t want it to pass the House on a bipartisan basis.’
More from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition
What’s the Hold Up with the Farm Bill
Here is a quick recap to bring you up to speed:
The Senate passed its farm bill version back in June – while there were some letdowns, it was overall a good bill. It contained some cuts to conservation programs, but it included some important amendments for beginning farmers, and also streamlined crop insurance subsidy programs. You can read more about it in this analysis by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), of which NYFC is a member.
The next step, though, is for the House to pass its own version, and then for the two groups to reconcile them. Given the increasingly polarized nature of Washington, it has been frustrating but not surprising that the House has been dragging its feet on approving a bill. While the House Agriculture Committee has passed a draft bill, it has been kept from reaching the House floor.
At the tail end of July, the House leadership instead tried to push forward a one-year extension and disaster-relief bill that would postpone the creation of a real farm bill until 2013. In the meantime it would have left the current commodity and crop insurance subsidy programs and the SNAP program (food stamps) without significant change from the 2008 Farm Bill, and would have cut farm bill conservation programs by $761 million. Frighteningly, it would also have eliminated all of the farm bill-funded rural economic development, renewable energy, organic agriculture, local food, and beginning and historically underserved farmer programs for the period of the extension. NYFC, along with NSAC, publicly stood against this political ploy. Just days later, under pressure from a wide variety of groups, the House leadership pulled the extension proposal.
Finally, late last week the House passed a stand-alone disaster-relief bill, intended again to address the most pressing issue (drought) while putting off discussion of the rest of the bill. The Senate bill, it should be noted, includes disaster-relief in it, and a House bill could have as well. At this point the two chambers have been at loggerheads as the House calls on the Senate to pass a disaster-relief bill and the Senate calls on the House to pass a comprehensive farm bill that would also include disaster-relief.
Congress has just begun a five week recess, giving them only a few weeks back in Washington before reaching the September 30th deadline for reauthorization of the farm bill. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition continues to support a comprehensive reauthorization of the bill, and not an extension that will most likely cut valuable programs and at best defer important decisions that need to be made today.
and finally from Politico
Never before in modern times has a farm bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee been so blocked. POLITICO looked back at 50 years of farm bills and found nothing like this. There have been long debates, often torturous negotiations … but no House farm bill, once out of committee, has been kept off the floor while its deadline passes.
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No, the real reason for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to delay the farm bill is not because there will be better answers after the election. It’s because he doesn’t like the answers he sees before.
The farm bill came out of the House Agriculture Committee on a strong bipartisan 35-11 vote July 12. Nearly a year after the August debt accords — and eight months after the November collapse of the deficit supercommittee — it is the closest this Congress has come to enacting real deficit reduction from mandatory spending.
But it’s not perfect, and Boehner’s Republicans are split regionally and ideologically, with the right demanding still greater savings and a more free-market approach to agriculture policy.
Given Democratic concerns over the depth of the food stamp cuts already made, Boehner says there are not 218 votes for passage. Rather than wrestle with this problem, it’s easier to run out the clock with symbolic anti-red tape, anti-tax votes on which the GOP is more united.
In July, Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler proposed an amendment to the farm bill to fry the seemingly wasteful program.
Hartzler’s amendment was similar to an amendment proposed in the Senate by Senators John McCain and John Kerry, who pointed out that few Americans have ever been sickened by catfish, and that the Centers for Disease Control calls it a “low risk” fish.
Their amendment was approved in June, but Hartzler’s amendment in the House bill went nowhere.
Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford, whose constituents include catfish producers, helped efforts to keep the catfish inspection program in the farm bill.
“Advocates for Ms. Hartzler’s proposal completely ignore the dangers posed by banned substances which have been discovered in shipments of catfish,” Crawford told the Delta Farm Press of his decision to support the program.
It is unclear what substances Crawford was referring to. An outbreak of Salmonella-caused illnesses in 1991 believed to be caused by catfish was never clearly linked to the fish, according to GAO.
Producers of catfish argued that the new USDA program was needed because the FDA’s inspection had been too lax.
But the FDA program is also much cheaper: The USDA estimates its new program would cost $14 million per year, while the FDA currently spends $700,000
The next reauthorization was not expected until late in 2012—if not 2013—but through an unexpected turn of events, it may be decided much faster, and with even less input from the good food movement than the last one.
And when I say faster, I mean at warp speed. Earlier this week, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the House and Senate Ag Committees suddenly announced that they would write the entire 2012 Farm Bill in the next two weeks.
This new Farm Bill will also be smaller thanks to the deal cut to avoid a government default over the summer. In the wake of that agreement, Congress convened a super-committee of House and Senate negotiators that’s required to come up with a plan by this Thanksgiving to cut $1.2 trillion from the deficit over the next decade. Of that total, $23 billion must come from the USDA budget—a number recently recommended by House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders. There is panic in the fields of Big Ag at such a drastic reduction in farm and food spending.
As well there should be. The prospect of a small group of negotiators who are not beholden to traditional farm interests working behind closed doors to slash farm spending might strike some as a sign that our long national industrial agriculture subsidy nightmare is over. But, as Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and an advocate for farm subsidy reform, told me, it’s likely that we will get a “secret farm bill” with “no accountability” for those involved.