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House Speaker comes out in support of farm bill

June 20, 2013 | 0 comments

Farm groups and their leaders are holding out hope that a farm legislation package may soon pass the House of Representatives, with new support from House Speaker John Boehner.

Though he didn't give a ringing endorsement of the measure that was recently approved in the House Agriculture Committee, Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a press conference last week that without passing something there would be no opportunities to make changes in either farm or nutrition programs.

The Senate has already passed its version of a farm bill.

During that press conference, Boehner said that he planned to vote for the farm bill to reflect the good work of his Agriculture committee and whatever amendments his colleagues might make on the floor to improve the bill.

Farm leaders took it as a good sign that the Speaker came out publicly in favor of the food and farm program bill. Last year the Senate also passed a farm bill, and so did the House Agriculture Committee, but Boehner never allowed it to come up for debate and a vote in the full House.

Eventually Congress passed a nine-month extension of some current farm policies and that's what the nation's farmers are operating under this growing season.

His support of the current measure in this go 'round has farm leaders somewhat optimistic.

"With his statement of support for the farm bill, Speaker Boehner is giving all Americans, including the farmers who feed them and those concerned with nutrition programs, real optimism that Washington can get important work done in 2013," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

Stallman said that in return, the Speaker was attacked unfairly by those "who want to make the bipartisan progress on a farm bill appear to be the work of party politics by President Obama or the speaker himself."

Conservative groups oppose the farm bill based on a number of things they see as problems in the nearly $1 trillion bill - sugar subsidies, "vast" government subsidies for crop insurance that they say enables farmers to take excessive risks and rely on the government to bail them out if anything goes wrong.

Though these opponents agree that the measure cuts food stamps by $4 billion they claim it doesn't go far enough in addressing fraud.

Several ultra-conservative groups with virtually no link to agriculture quickly attacked Boehner and the legislation, said Stallman.

"It is unfortunate that outside political groups with no interest in the agricultural economy or the farm and ranch families who underpin our rural economies have reacted by promoting inaction, effectively supporting no reform, no progress," he said.

"Heritage Foundation-Heritage Action, for example, opposes the legislation, but they are misstating the facts in characterizing reforms advanced in the legislation as a referendum on the President. It certainly is not the view of a single leader in the political debate."

Stallman said the policies in the farm and food package are a bipartisan product - the House bill that cleared committee on a bipartisan 36-10 vote will soon be on the House floor.

"The American Farm Bureau calls on Congress to work its will through a fair process and an open debate, to finish the House bill, leading to a conference committee, which can then produce legislation that reflects the will of the American people. It is time to put aside partisan bickering and get to work."

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson was also pleased that Speaker Boehner voiced support for the 2013 Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act.

"It is promising to hear that House leadership is embracing the 2013 Farm Bill and its importance to all Americans. In order to provide certainty for U.S. family farmers and ranchers, it is critical that the farm bill continues making progress toward conference and final passage prior to the Sept. 30, deadline."

That's when the current extension of farm programs is set to expire. Some of the conservative groups and editorials in the last week seemed to say that the country would be better off without government farm programs.

Johnson said that the House bill "makes significant, much-needed reforms to agriculture programs, including significant deficit reduction. The farm bill also prevents the necessity for emergency ad hoc disaster programs, which almost always represents deficit spending."

Johnson said NFU supports the bill's elimination of direct payments. "American farmers need a safety net in times of natural disaster and long-term price collapse, not when conditions are more favorable."

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