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No vote on Farm Bill as House adjourns

Sept. 27, 2012 | 0 comments

Members of Congress have left Washington, leaving work on a Farm Bill undone.

Washington insiders said it was concerned over the food and nutrition programs and their cost that caused Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to prevent the measure from coming up for a vote in the House.

In a press briefing Sept. 20 Boehner confirmed what most had thought would happen - a vote will take place after the election, if then.

In that briefing, Boehner said fiscally conservative members don't like the $900 billion price tag on the measure that was passed out of the House Agriculture Committee, while those with more liberal leanings do not support a proposed $16 billion cut in food assistance programs.

The Senate passed its version of a five-year Farm Bill in June and the House committee came up with its version a short time later, but the full House never had a chance to vote on the package.

Though some members believe the measure may come up for a vote in the lame-duck session after the election, some voiced frustration that Congress left town without getting this work done.

Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble (R) said that as a former small business owner it was frustrating that Congress adjourned instead of staying in session "to resolve important national issues.

Ribble is Wisconsin's only representative on the House Agriculture Committee.

"I have worked with colleagues in both chambers, both Republican and Democrat, and will continue to work with anyone who is serious about finding solutions to pay down the debt, create jobs and ensure a better future for our children and grandchildren."

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) had joined a bipartisan effort in the House to force a vote on a new five-year Farm Bill.

She said she has pressed repeatedly for a Farm Bill that reforms programs, strengthens farm safety nets and gives farmers long term certainty. Baldwin opposes an extension of the existing Farm Bill, which she said "contains wasteful spending, including direct payments to millionaires and billionaires."

Congress should not break from its current session until farmers have a new Farm Bill and the certainty that it provides, she said. "The clock is ticking and there's simply no more time for political game playing.

The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill and the House version sits in limbo awaiting a vote, she added.

About 40 programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill will not continue beyond the Sept. 30 expiration date of the current farm policy legislation.

This includes wetlands and grassland reserve programs, some nutrition assistance programs, a few energy programs and some rural development provisions.

Some have proposed a one-year extension of the current farm policy if Congress can't get agreement on the new proposal or even a shorter three-month extension.

National Milk Producers Federaion (NMPF) President and CEO Jerry Kozak said that if Congress can't generate the necessary effort to pass a new farm bill this year, his organization would not support an extension of current dairy programs.

Instead, his members would insist on getting the Dairy Security Act - the dairy reform bill already included in the Senate version of the Farm Bill - included in any extension package of other farm programs.

"We've come too far to acquiesce to another serving of the status quo. Dairy farmers need more than platitudes from Congress - we need action and leadership," he said.

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson used even stronger language after the Speaker's announcement that action on the Farm Bill was being put off.

Johnson said his organization "is deeply disappointed" with Speaker Boehner's decision.

"It is crystal clear that Republican leadership is what is holding the Farm Bill hostage. While the announcement comes as no surprise, punting the Farm Bill into the lame duck session is a transparent political maneuver that leaves rural America holding its collective breath about its livelihood and future."

Johnson said the lame duck session after the election will have to deal with some very significant tax and funding issues, which have also been left undone by this Congress.

"We worry about whether the Farm Bill might become a pawn in that process."

Johnson believes there are enough votes to pass the Farm Bill now and strongly urged the Speaker to "reconsider the recess," take up the bill and deal with it now.

"On the heels of one of the most devastating disasters our country has seen in many years, the agricultural community needs certainty here and now, not in six weeks time. Allowing Congress to pack up and leave town once again without taking up the Farm Bill is an irresponsible travesty."

Not passing the bill will make getting it passed during the lame duck session even more difficult, he added.

Wisconsin dairy farmer and president of Wisconsin Farmers Union Darin Von Ruden agreed.

"It appears that the House would rather play politics than finish the essential business of passing a new Farm Bill before the current legislation expires September 30," he said.

"Pushing the Farm Bill off until the lame duck session - if it evens comes to the floor then - or calling for a three-month extension of the current legislation still leaves our farmers without certainty on important programs necessary to make business and planting decisions. Especially when we're just coming out of severe drought, Von Ruden said.

The Senate and House versions of the new Farm Bill have been marked up and ready to be brought to the House floor for a long time, he added.

"There is no reason that the new Farm Bill should not have been acted upon, other than the majority leaders in the House wanting to wait and see the results of the November elections.

"The House leadership chose to walk away from farmers rather than do their job and deal with the tough political questions and take the difficult votes. Our family farmers and our rural communities should not be used as pawns in this game."

For more information, visit www.FarmBillNow.com.

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