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House fails to pass farm bill

June 27, 2013 | 0 comments

"Unprecedented," "stunning" and "amateur hour" were some of the terms used to describe the failure of the of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a five-year farm bill after leadership brought the measure up for a vote last week.

Only a few days after House Speaker John Boehner gave his endorsement to the pending five-year farm bill, members of the House failed to pass it, leaving farm leaders and legislators to wonder about the future of the measure.

Some are now saying the only way forward is to pass another stop-gap extension of current policies - which will really satisfy no one.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) warned House leaders that the Senate would not pass another extension of old farm policies and urged the House to pass the Senate's bill, which received bipartisan support.

Though it's called the farm bill, farm lobbyists point out that 75 percent of the funding in the measure is spent on public food programs. It is also the federal law that dictates crop program subsidies, conservation programs, rural development, agricultural research and international food aid.

These farm programs are due to be renewed every five years but Congress failed to get the bill done last year, instead passing a nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill.

Last week the new farm bill failed on a 234-195 vote in the Republican-controlled House. It was the first time such a bill has ever failed in the House.

Tea Party members of the Republican Party voted against the measure because they wanted even deeper cuts to food programs.

The failed House bill - H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) - would have cut $20.5 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years, which cost the measure some of the Democratic support it had.

A five-year farm bill was passed a week earlier by the Democrat-controlled Senate on a bi-partisan vote.

Conservative members of Congress argued that the food stamp program hasn't been reformed in decades and they wanted to make their mark on the feeding program.

They wanted to see the bill rein in the cost of food programs by enforcing asset and income tests and ending "recruitment activities" that increase enrollment.

Most agreed the measure would have improved agricultural programs to be more cost-effective and market-oriented, reforming the farm safety net by cutting more than 36 percent from traditional commodity programs.

Farm leaders were disappointed in the House failure to pass the bill.

"The American Farm Bureau Federation is highly disappointed the House did not complete work on the 2013 farm bill 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," said the group's president Bob Stallman.

"We commend House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) for their commitment and hard work in bringing the bill to the floor and working toward its passage. We look forward to working with them as we regroup and move forward. We also appreciate House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for working with the Agriculture Committee leadership to bring the bill to the floor."

Stallman said a completed farm bill is sorely needed to provide farmers and ranchers certainty in coming years and to allow the Agriculture Department to plan for an orderly implementation of the bill's provisions.

Lucas and Peterson pledged to find a way forward. "I'm obviously disappointed," said Lucas, "but the reforms are so important that we must continue to pursue them."

Farmers, ranchers and rural constituents need the certainty that a five-year bill offers, he added.

Peterson said the bill failed because Boehner couldn't control the far right-wing of his party.

More than 60 Republican members voted against the bill, despite the endorsement of Speaker Boehner. Only 24 Democrats voted for the legislation after amendments related to the food stamp program were approved.

Some analysts tied part of the lack of bipartisan support to the dairy program as well as funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - food stamps.

In the Wisconsin delegation, Republicans Sean Duffy, Tom Petri, and Reid Ribble voted in favor. Voting against the bill were Republicans Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner and Democrats Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan.



DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said he was deeply disappointed at the House failure to pass the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM.)

"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."

Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he was disappointed that the House failed to pass the Farm Bill.

The measure, which had passed the committee easily, had many provisions, said Ribble that would have "streamlined and improved our nation's agriculture policy, as well as helped many hardworking Wisconsin farmers."

While the bill was "far from perfect, this measure would have been a step in the right direction," he said. "The Farm Bill has a vast impact, not only on Wisconsin, but the entire country, and Congress owes it to the American people to get the job done."

While the farm bill certainly had flaws, it represented a bi-partisan effort of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to put in place the structure for American agriculture over the next five years, said Bill Oemichen, president and CEO of Cooperative Network.

"Unfortunately, the House majority let perfect be the enemy of good. The failure to pass a farm bill means future uncertainty for one of the cornerstones of the Wisconsin and Minnesota economies."

Cooperative Network is the trade association representing 600 Minnesota and Wisconsin cooperative businesses. It had recently joined nearly 200 other organizations in a letter to all House members urging support for the proposed five-year farm bill.

Oemichen said the cross-section of U.S. agriculture noted in that letter that the bill "achieves spending cuts that reduce the federal budget deficit, saving taxpayers $40 billion. It also repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

The organizations told members of Congress that "failure to pass a five-year farm bill before the end of September would mean continued uncertainty for farmers, ranchers and their rural communities; it would also mean that the American taxpayer would see none of the budget savings achieved."

In September the nine-month extension of existing farm programs will end.

Calling the House action a "true injustice" to the American people, National Grange President Ed Luttrell his organization had been a supporter of the bill that offered "stability to one of the nation's leading industries."

"Last year's extension of the farm bill was extremely disappointing to the ag community and the House's failure to pass the bill just deepens this frustration," Luttrell said. "The farm bill isn't just about farming and agriculture. It's about jobs, energy, and our nation's overall recovery in this still struggling economy."

The stability provided by a farm bill is needed by the nation's farmers and ranchers or they will be unable to make rational, informed decisions about the future, he added.

"Cuts to the SNAP program were undoubtedly the cause of the farm bill rejection in the House, which is especially frustrating because I believe that the Senate and House bills had a lot of common ground on which to build. It's going to be a long and dreary road from here as the Washington ag community regroups and reevaluates its work on this issue," said National Grange Legislative Director Grace Boatright.

Boatright said the continued inability of Congress to move forward on even the most crucial measures is disappointing.

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