Pressure to extend
By Seymour Klierly
Scanning the headlines from recent town hall meetings across the country shows that the hottest topic seems to be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and associated attempts to defund “Obamacare.” Other meetings and members are more focused on immigration reform, the debt ceiling and tackling tax reform. Occasionally there are reports of foreign policy questions regarding Egypt and Syria, but generally most issues are focused here at home in America.
Agriculture and the farm bill do sporadically pop up in a news story covering a representative or senator’s visit; however, those stories typically involve the very members who are already involved and working on advancing agriculture. Whether it is Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI; House Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, or the members of their prospective committees these are the folks that already get the importance of passing a farm bill. Telling them to get to work is just preaching to the choir as the committees have been forging ahead for over three years.
The most pressure should be put on the senators and representatives that are not as intimately familiar with the specifics in the farm bill or agriculture at all. If the House is able to pass their partisan nutrition bill in order to get to a conference, it is going to be a giant challenge to pass the conference report back through both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Farm bills have always taken a bipartisan and rural-urban coalition in order to sign the package into law and at the end of the day this year will be no different.
Already, groups aligned on either side of the aisle are pushing for Congress to just do another extension of the 2008 farm bill. Nutrition advocates have taken the hardline that there should be no cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Although they could stomach the $4 billion in savings from the Senate bill, they are already against the $40 billion new House plan and will be hard to please in the conference with increased savings expected above the Senate bill. With an extension or no farm bill, food stamps would potentially go untouched.
On the other side of the coin, outside conservatives groups have already expressed their support for an extension. Americans for Prosperity analyst Christine Hanson recently penned an editorial for The Hill titled “Congress should table the farm bill.” In the article she writes, “The least-worst option right now is to extend current farm law for one year. This is what Congress should do. This would give lawmakers enough time to find real reforms to farm bill programs and bring them up to match current economic realities. Current farm law certainly has its problems, but extending it is better than locking in five more years of corporate welfare.”
With both political far wings against advancing agriculture, it will take farm families and business to stand up and at least get the farm bill back on the radar.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.