As crops shrivel in the field and the deadline for the 2008 Farm Bill nears, there's concern on Capitol Hill that farmers may be facing next year with nothing more than an extension of the current bill. While the U.S. Senate has passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill, the House has only gotten as far as pushing a finished bill out of its Ag Committee. This week a group of 62 representatives are pushing for more.
In a letter sent to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., urging them to bring the farm bill to the House floor for a vote before August. Led by Reps. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., the bipartisan letter was signed by 62, all asking that the bill be taken up for consideration.
Signed by 38 Republicans and 24 Democrats, the letter is the latest move to get something going in the House on the farm bill. In the letter, the group asks for action ahead of the August District Work Period "so that the House will have the opportunity to work its will. We ask that you make the legislation a priority of the House as it is critically important to rural and urban Americans alike."
The House bill, which brings with it significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, an end to direct payments to farmers and other cost cuts, also ramps up crop insurance beyond what was included in the Senate version. And the House bill includes a new program to protect the dairy industry. Getting the bill to the House floor is a key move, because once passed a significant House-Senate conference committee negotiation will be needed to hammer out a final bill.
In its letter the group also says the writers "share the goal of giving small businesses certainty in these challenging economic times. Agriculture supports nearly 16 million jobs nationwide and over 45 million people are helped each year by the nutrition programs in the farm bill. We have a tremendous opportunity to set the course of farm and nutrition policy for another five years while continuing to maintain and support these jobs nationwide."
One factor widely reported is that Speaker Boehner is opposed to the farm bill in general. He has voted against past measures claiming they have an artificial impact on markets. However, the 2008 Farm Bill does expire on Sept. 30 of this year, which will require an extension. In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in announcing disaster relief measures recently, noted that many programs the agency could use to help farmers in the drought expired a year ago.
As the calendar marches on, there's a growing sense among observers that Congress will pass an extension of the current bill and work on the new bill after fall elections.