Congress returns from the August recess on Monday and throughout the Midwest the question on a lot of minds is the fate of the farm bill. The $957 billion bill, which would set farm policy for the next five years, expires on September 30. But it can’t seem to get on the House schedule for a vote.
If the bill isn’t passed, an extension of the most recent bill, the 2008 bill, must be passed and if that doesn’t happen we revert by default to the provisions laid out in the last farm bill without an expiration date: the 1949 farm bill. Yes, really.
How did we get here? Partisan wrangling during an election year.
Both the House and the Senate passed versions of the bill. The House Agriculture Committee passed its version with bipartisan support. The Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry describes its bill as representing “the most significant reforms in agricultural policy in decades. The bill ends direct payments, streamlines and consolidates programs, and reduces the deficit by $23 billion. It also strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners continue to grow our economy.” The House version cuts $15 billion more. That’s not enough for some members and too much for others.
“No wonder no one likes Congress,” House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said in a floor speech before the August recess.“It’s just mystifying to me why House Leaders can’t take yes for an answer. We’ve done our work – the Senate has passed a farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee has passed a farm bill but Leadership does not want to bring up the bill.
“The farm economy is one part of the economy that’s actually doing well and has been solid through the past few difficult years. This is due, in part I believe, to the strong farm bill that we passed in 2008. Weathering a natural disaster without the certainty of a five-year farm bill could jeopardize one of our economic bright spots.”