Former longtime U.S. Congressman Charles W. Stenholm told the annual meeting of the Rolling Plains Cotton Growers that "Congress is broken." As keynote speaker for the RPCG meeting in conjunction with the 2013 Texas Farm, Ranch & Wildlife Expo in Abilene, he said not to expect a new farm bill soon.
He said after the House and Senate get a new budget completed by April 15—then with a budget in hand—the House and Senate Agriculture Committees could begin work in crafting a farm bill.
Currently, farm programs are operating on a 9-month extension of the 2008 farm bill with the extension running through Sept. 30.
Stenholm says organizations such as RPCG need to put maximum effort toward good crop insurance in any new farm bill to protect against drought and other acts of Mother Nature. It will be important to see waste, fraud, and abuse is eliminated in any insurance program, he noted. Stenholm said producers can expect that direct payments will no longer exist in any new farm law. A new farm act won't come easy.
"Congress is split 50-50," Stenholm said.
The native of Ericksdahl, Texas served 26 years in the U.S. Congress, including his role as Ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee his last 8 years in the House. With his southern "Boll Weevils" in Congress, Stenholm became recognized for his bipartisanship. A major example was Democrat Stenholm working with then-U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, a Lubbock, Texas Republican, to produce the 2000 Crop Insurance Bill and a popular 2002 Farm Bill.
Stenholm told the RPCG meeting he has no apologies for his legacy being one of bipartisanship among Democrats and Republicans. He said if some legislation was good for agriculture or the country, he didn't care whether the sponsor had a "D" or an "R" by his or her name.
"Compromise has never been a 'bad word' until recently," Stenholm said. "Our (U.S.) Constitution would not have been written without compromise."
~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~Stenholm said he was extremely disappointed when Congress left town with the arrival of the New Year, without passing a full five-year farm bill, despite the fact the full Senate had a bill, and the House Agriculture Committee also had a bill that satisfied budget cuts.
"For the first time in my lifetime, the Speaker of the House would not bring a farm bill to the House floor for a vote," Stenholm lamented.
He called the work by Congress "pathetic" and said Members of Congress aren't even willing to stay in Washington to conduct business vital to the nation.
"It's scandalous the Senate hasn't passed a budget in the last four years—that's ridiculous!" Stenholm decried.
Meanwhile, the nation is in terrible debt, he said.
"We (U.S.) now owe 16-and-a-half trillion dollars, and by the next four years, it could be 20 trillion," Stenholm said.
He noted that is leaving an unthinkable debt to children and grandchildren.
"You simply can't borrow as much money as we've been borrowing over the past 12 years," he said.
The veteran Washington lobbyist said water will remain a huge issue after years of horrific drought in Texas, and noted 120 Texas communities currently have less than a 180-day supply of water.
On energy, Stenholm said hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to capture oil previously unreachable, is a "game changer for America" and the U.S. could be self-sufficient in 4 to 5 years.