Hundreds attend 'Farm Bill Now' rally
By Larry Dreiling
A crowd estimated at several hundred persons shouted "farm bill now" on the west front of the U.S. Capitol during a Sept. 12 rally to support passage of long-awaited legislation to assist farmers and consumers.
The crowd heard from members of Congress as well as leaders from a cadre of various farm, consumer, and charitable groups who each said the farm bill is important to their constituencies.
The U.S. Senate passed their version of the 2012 farm bill June 21 by a vote of 64 to 35. The House Agriculture Committee approved their version of the bill July 12. The bill's supporters have been waiting for House Speaker John Boehner to allow floor debate on the bill ever since.
Boehner, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have so far refused to bring the bill to a vote of the full House. By most accounts, there remain just a handful of days for the House to act before it takes another recess in preparation for the 2012 general elections.
That's what caused more than 90 farm and consumer groups to band together to hold the rally.
"Never in the history of farm legislation have so many diverse farmer and rancher voices joined together in such a common call to action," Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said.
"All of us share a resounding and common message: Congress, for our farm and ranch families, their communities, and for our nation, pass the farm bill now."
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the farm bill isn't just a farm bill, "It's a conservation bill. It's a jobs bill. It's a food and consumer bill. It's a hunger bill. It's an energy bill. More than anything, for farmers it provides certainty for the next five years."
Congressional leaders then spoke in favor of House debate, including Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN, ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
"There is no good reason why we haven't brought this bill to the floor," Peterson said. "People say we don't have the votes. I say we do. We just need the opportunity to bring this bill up and work on it.
"We need about 100 to 200 calls from people in their districts to those members (who don't want to bring the bill to a vote). That's what is going to change this. If you don't do that, you won't get a farm bill. It's that simple. You've got to make this happen. We can still get this done."
Peterson said there were eight days effectively left in this session of the House. It would only take two days to pass the bill.
"We're not doing anything else to speak of," Peterson said, "so we've got the time."
Peterson said there would not be time to have the bill through a House/Senate conference committee prior to the election, however, if passed through the House now that work could be completed in a lame-duck session in November or December.
"Put the heat on them," Peterson said. "There's no good outcome if this get dragged into next year."
Peterson called an extension of the current farm bill a bad idea, with no good outcome.
"There are some policy wonks out there," Peterson said. "You should know there are a lot of people out there who don't like this bill and want to have a whole other bill and hope if they get this into next year they can do that. This is nothing but a delay tactic and if it goes into next year it won't be until next August or September."
The chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, said there wasn't any reason the House shouldn't pass the farm bill and send it onto a conference committee.
"You just have to want to get it done," Stabenow said. "This is all about political will," singling out Boehner and Cantor for not backing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas in allowing the farm bill to reach the floor.
"There's work to be done and you can't put it off to another day."
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, spoke on behalf of his fellow Kansan, Sen. Pat Roberts, Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was attending another meeting across town.
For his own part, Moran took House members of his own party to the woodshed.
"If you have objections to this farm bill, bring it to the floor, amend it and send to conference so your issues can be resolved," Moran said. "It is a false suggestion that if the bill spends too much money in a certain area, that doing nothing solves that problem. If that's your concern, come fight the fight, work it out. Solve the problem and pass a farm bill so some certainty can occur.
"Don't sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen that will not happen."
Indeed, sitting in a hearing room of the Rayburn House Office Building while the rally was going on was Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, who replaced Moran when Moran moved to the Senate.
Huelskamp was a part of a "Conversations with Conservatives" luncheon with conservative bloggers that was led by two other freshman Republican House members, Raul Labrador of Idaho and Jeff Landry of Louisiana.
As was reported Sept. 14 on the online edition of The Hill, the conservatives at the luncheon had no desire for a lame-duck session, even if it means allowing higher tax rates and deep spending cuts to take effect before the next Congress can come back to address them retroactively.
Huelskamp was quoted as saying his constituents trusted him to address tax rates then more than they trusted that a new Congress would lower them retroactively. Huelskamp and other Republicans complained that while the House has acted to stop both the tax hikes and the Pentagon cuts, the Senate has not.
Meanwhile, back on the west lawn of the Capitol, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD, spoke to the crowd. Noem has announced she is working with Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, to start a discharge petition, to be signed by 218 House members, which would force the farm bill to the floor.
"I've heard a lot of excuses about why we can't pass this farm bill, and frankly, I'm tired of it," Noem said. "Washington makes too many excuses. I'm not taking it anymore and I hope you aren't taking it anymore either. Let's get this done. Let's have a farm bill now."
Shortly after Noem's speech, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-IA, formally introduced the petition. As of the writing of this story, 51 members of the House had signed, far short of the goal.
Those from the area signing the petition included Braley and Noem, as well as two other Republicans: Jo Anne Emerson of Missouri and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska. Democrats Ed Perlmutter of Colorado as well as Leonard Boswell and Dave Loesback of Iowa signed onto the petition.
One area member, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-CO, had originally signed onto the petition, but then withdrew his name from it a day later.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.