American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman believes that farmers should apply all the pressure they can to get their Congressional delegation to enact a new farm bill as soon as possible.
The national president was a featured guest on the program at Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Wisconsin Dells.
“Twenty-six years ago on this date President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed a nuclear treaty,” he told members. “If these two guys could agree on nuclear reductions we should be able to get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to come together and get a farm bill done.”
Other issues will also be important to farmers, he said, including the Food Safety Modernization Act, trade deals and immigration reform, which looked like it was on a fast track and then got stalled.
“The secret weapon is you,” he told farmers, urging them as individuals and as part of their county organizations to stay in touch and get Congress to act.
Stallman, a Texas farmer, quoted a philosopher who said that any government is the exact symbol of their people with “both their wisdom and their un-wisdom.”
“The dysfunction (of our government) will stop when the American people get tired of it,” he added.
Later, talking with reporters, Stallman said it’s “not impossible” to get a farm bill done this month, but the time is short. The two Agriculture chairs and their committees’ ranking members are “a little more optimistic and they’re smiling a little more,”
Without some action -- by January farm policies will revert to the “permanent law” he said, and it is a good thing that law is still in place. It serves as a spur to get modern-day lawmakers going on new legislation.
This “permanent law” refers to bills enacted in 1933 and 1949 that remain on the books. “They provide pressure to get a job done. Without them it would create an environment where we get into infinite extensions.”
The biggest difference between the current House and Senate farm bills is the amount of reduction in the food stamp program – now called Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.) The Senate bill proposed cuts of $4 billion and the House bill proposed cuts of $40 billion over ten years.
Stallman said he couldn’t predict how the farm bill conference committee would deal with that yawning gap. “That would be like predicting grain prices. It will be decided at the highest political levels.
“It’s not democracy to draw a line in the sand. We’ve had lawmakers over the years who have found a way to work together,” he said.
“I’m personally very frustrated. We need to get it done. The chairmen and the ranking members are making progress, but the clock is ticking.”
Stallman said that the permanent law goes into effect on for dairy, but he doesn’t believe Congress will allow that to happen. A short-term extension of current policies will likely be enacted to serve as a stop-gap measure.
But he hopes that extensions don’t continue. “We need to modify the programs. Let’s get the work done now.” Extensions, if they are enacted, will do nothing but “kick the can down the road” and won’t make needed program improvements.
As far as dairy goes, he said that if the Dairy Security Act contained in the Senate’s bill becomes the law of the land, it will “take a long time to get going.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is already pondering how to get the new programs going, he said.