With just days left on the 2012 congressional calendar, Politico reports today that some progress is being made among “The Big Four” in the Farm Bill debate on Capitol Hill.
The Big Four are the House and Senate Ag Committees’ chairpersons and ranking members. The four were brought together one week ago by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack at the department for a round of meetings to see if a full five-year Farm Bill can be salvaged from what’s been a messy political year in Washington. As it stands now, the Senate has passed a bill and the House Ag Committee has moved a bill out of committee. Ohioan and House Speaker John Boehner has not allowed the House Farm Bill to come to the floor for a vote allowing the process to move forward and a reconciliation of both chambers’ bills. The previous Farm Bill expired on Sept. 30.
Time is certainly running short, if there is any hope of salvaging a bill before this Congress ends. But in a major effort to get a compromise, (Sen. Pat) Roberts said last week that he is prepared to drop his opposition to target price supports favored by many Southern producers. And it’s expected the final commodity title will include these, together with a new “shallow loss” revenue insurance option favored by the Senate and many Midwest corn and soybean farmers.
The outdated and costly system of direct cash payments to producers would be ended. Together with cuts from food stamps, the end result is the Senate and House farm bills promise net savings of $24 billion to $35 billion over 10 years.
The shame of it all is in the fact that in both the House and Senate there has been bipartisanship on display in moving the Farm Bill in a year when much other important legislation dies in either chamber due to purely partisan gamesmanship. It’s also a shame that U.S. farmers and ranchers and their supporters in Congress have put forward a bill that includes real deficit reduction and a move away from direct payments – yet the so-called Tea Party Caucus in the House seems to be holding Boehner and farmers hostage.
The National Farmers Union continues to represent OFU interests in Washington. On Tuesday, NFU President Roger Johnson said,
“There is a simple way to avoid the proverbial fiscal cliff and that is to pass what many can agree on now: raise additional revenues but also reducing expenditures. Besides increasing some taxes, strategic cuts should also be made to government spending, and among them should be the inclusion of a five-year farm bill.”
“Both the House and Senate agriculture committees, along with the full Senate, have passed bipartisan versions of the farm bill that will save between $23 billion and $35 billion. A compromise version of this five-year farm bill represents a smart way to cut spending that Republicans and Democrats can agree to,” Johnson continued.
NFU legislative staff and Johnson have cautioned that one potential approach – passing a short-term extension to the Farm Bill – would have negative long-term implications. These include more arbitrary cuts as part of an extension, lower caps for conservation programs and less funding for Agricultural Risk Coverage, Price Loss Coverage and the like.
NFU and OFU continue to ask our members to contact their members of Congress and Senators to let them know passing a full five-year Farm Bill remains one of the most important things they should do before the end of the year. You can look up your member’s or senator’s information here. (Use the Zip Code lookup near the bottom of the page.)