Farm Bill Caught in Political Fire

DC Dialogue

Conditions do not look ripe for harvesting a farm bill before the Sept. 30 expiration.

Published on: September 18, 2012

Time is ticking, and for farmers wanting a farm bill, time is not on their side.

This week looks to be the final few days before Congress returns home before this fall's elections. And to hammer another nail in the coffin of hopes of getting a farm bill passed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced that the farm bill would not be one of the remaining votes.

“The 2008 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30. Congress is well aware of its expiration, and sadly leadership has succumbed to political pressure and will leave with unfinished business. Aside from politics, there is no reason that the House doesn’t bring the farm bill to a floor vote. Leadership has chosen to cancel all votes in October," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. "It is disappointing that leadership has chosen to leave us hanging because of political games."

Hundreds of farmers flocked to Washington D.C. last weekin a last attempt to have their voices heard, meeting with their representatives.

Many of the statements from those who spoke at the rally called on Congress to get their job done. One of the telling comments from the rally came from National Corn Growers Assn. president Garry Niemeyer who rightly said that Congress has known for 1,732 days that the current farm bill is going to expire on Sept. 30. "We are tired of the excuses as to why the new farm bill isn't done," he said.

Late Thursday Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, initiated a discharge petition, which would require signatures from a House majority to bring the farm bill passed out committee to the House floor. If a majority of the House of Representatives signs the petition, the bill will be automatically taken to the floor to be voted on.  

The Club for Growth sent out an alert stating that any House member's signature on the discharge petition, or any similar petition, "will count heavily as an anti-growth action on the Club for Growth's 2012 Congressional Scorecard." The alert states that "fiscal conservatives should be acutely aware of the flaws in this big government spending bill. Among other concerns, it authorizes a whopping 60% increase in spending over the 2008 bill, it creates new entitlement programs that could prove extra costly to taxpayers and it does nothing to reform the food stamp program."

The discharge attempt is not expected to strongly influence the process but in voicing support for the move, many agricultural groups expressed it was the only way to help push for action on a five-year farm bill, not a piecemeal disaster bill or one-year extension.

But that doesn't seem to be in the cards as of yet. In questioning House Speaker John Boehner's office about the status of a farm bill, a spokesperson said, "We certainly hope the Senate will pass the livestock disaster aid bill that was approved by the House so that it can be signed into law by the president, and we are still discussing options on a farm bill extension.”

Some talk has circulated this week that there may be some support for a three-month extension. House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called the idea "strictly nonsense" in an interview Monday.

Peterson also said it is not the nutrition title, but rather commodity title, that has Republicans divided on farm bill support. In the House mark-up of the farm bill, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., attempted to stone wall Peterson's dairy reform and domestic sugar programs. Goodlatte also has been outspoken against the RFS and reports indicated Goodlatte and Cantor have been actively working against House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas since Cantor first asked Lucas to delay his bill earlier this summer. Goodlatte has been part of a camp of thinking who think it would be better to wait for a new Congress to shape the farm bill rather than go along with this one. He voted against the bill during the House mark-up for it.

It now appears that the extension is not even a sure thing with resistance from Democrats and the GOP remaining divided.