With farmers rallying at the Capitol Wednesday and the Senate showing no appetite for disaster aid substitutes, divisions are surfacing more among House Republicans over their leadership’s decision to block action on a five-year farm bill.
Fresh from the summer recess, farm state lawmakers set off what was described as a spirited discussion at Monday’s meeting the GOP whip team, and the echoes continued at a Tuesday session of the full Republican conference.
Freshman Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who has been hurt politically at home by the farm bill impasse, helped to trigger the whips’ discussion. But grayer heads—and traditional team players— backed him up including Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), as well as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)
“Members had been home. People know the clock’s ticking,” Cole said of the exchanges. “I believe we have a product ready to move,” he told POLITICO. “We have an opportunity to do something that is not partisan. I think we ought to do it.”
“Of the 100 agriculture districts in the House, 73 are in our hands. A majority of our conference would vote for it,” Cole said. “Politically it’s the smart thing to do and institutionally it’s the right thing. It may not be perfect but we ought to have the courage to put it on the floor and let Congress work its will.”
Neugebauer said his fellow conservatives demanding still greater cuts from food stamps were missing the point that the nutrition program will continue without change under the continuing resolution to be voted on Thursday, while the existing farm program will begin to unravel if nothing is done before Sept. 30.
“If you don’t do anything, the food stamps continue regardless of what you do on the farm bill,” Neugebauer said in an interview. “But if you let the farm bill expire on Sept. 30, the farm policy part of it expires, and you don’t get any reforms which were actually passed in a very bipartisan way out of the House Ag Committee.”
Berg, who met Tuesday as well with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-N.D.), told POLITICO he remains frustrated but hopeful “there is a different momentum in the House from 24 hours ago.” And Cantor? “I certainly think he’s more attuned to it today,” Berg said.
Berg said his frustration was that House Republicans had been committed to an open, often messy debate on other topics but then pulled up short on the farm bill.
“To just say we’re going to stall and not do anything…This is not the way the process has to work here,” Berg said. “Farmers at home do their job. This is the House’s job.”
Lucas is keeping a low profile, and following on private talks with the House leadership at the Republican convention in Tampa, the chairman appears resigned to no action on his bill until after the election. Lucas spoke up in the whip’s discussion Monday but has shown no willingness to do more to challenge Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who seems intent on running out the clock until after the election and then pushing for a one year extension of the current farm program.
“Every contingency is we’ll run the world on the other side of the election,” Cole said, describing the mindset for some inside his conference. “You can wait later and also lose the elections and do worse.”
The situation has most infuriated Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. And in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, the Michigan Democrat all but ruled out any action on an interim disaster aid package until the House shows some movement on the larger bill.
This could pose a real hardship for livestock producers caught in the devastating drought this summer. But Stabenow dismissed the short-term disaster aid bill passed by the House before the August recess as “wholly inadequate” and said she has seen “no desire by the House leadership to do anything” to broaden the coverage.
“This is just absolutely unacceptable,” Stabenow said of Boehner’s position on the farm bill. “In my time here—and this is my fourth farm bill—I have never seen a situation where a bipartisan bill came out of committee and was not taken up on the floor.”
“It’s very clear that farm country is overwhelmingly saying: just get the job done. The House should take the precious few days they have in session and act.”
FAll our representative not counting healthcare, pensions which goes on to their spouses are over paid in regard to their seem lack of concern. Leaving DC when they know of the farmers plight with the extreme weather is unconcienciable.
By Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) - 09/11/12 07:06 PM ET
Members of Congress are back in Washington this week after a month in their districts, and we are hoping they have come back with a renewed commitment to getting a farm bill done.
We fought hard to get a farm bill done before August. Unfortunately the clock ran out and members of Congress returned home to find drought-stricken crops and displeased farmers looking for leadership from Washington. As Congress returns to Washington, we will continue the rallying cry for a farm bill now.
We don’t have much time. This drought has ravaged corn crops, damaged soy beans and caused the price of feed to skyrocket, hurting our nation’s dairy and livestock farmers. The current farm bill expires at the end of this month, and each day we don’t have a new bill is another day of uncertainty for farmers and ranchers who are already struggling through the worst drought in half a century.
When it comes to a farm bill, too few in Washington really understand just how far-reaching an impact this important legislation has on America. The legislation not only sets farm insurance policies, conserves agricultural land and provides nutrition programs for millions of Americans, it affects food supply and food prices for every American.
American farmers feed the world, and this job doesn’t come without massive risk. It takes just one lightning strike, one flood or a drought like the one we are experiencing to wipe out an entire crop and a family’s entire investment. In fact, some of America’s major farm states are seeing their economies sputter as a result of the current drought and uncertainty about government. The Mid-America Business Conditions Index, the lead economic index for nine Midwest and Plains states, fell below growth neutral for July and August.
Disasters like the current drought don’t stay confined to certain states: they spread across the country in the form of a more limited food supply and higher prices at the grocery store. We’re already seeing food prices go up. The World Bank recently reported that food prices went up 10 percent from June to July. It doesn’t matter where your family lives — in South Dakota, Vermont or California — there are not a lot of Americans who can afford to spend more at the grocery store.
We recognize that a farm bill can’t prevent a drought, and we applaud the Department of Agriculture for its efforts to provide disaster assistance to drought-stricken states. But the certainty a farm bill provides for rural America is the single best drought assistance we can offer. Our farmers and ranchers risk their livelihoods to feed America, and they deserve a risk management system and a farm bill they can rely on.
The bottom line is that getting a farm bill done is critical to all Americans. That’s the message we are repeating to our colleagues in Congress. We will continue to fight for a...