U.S. government shuts down, House votes to merge farm, nutrition bills
By Larry Dreiling
The U.S. government went into shutdown mode at midnight Eastern time Oct. 1, leaving the debate over a new farm bill in limbo.
Due to the lack of appropriations funding, U.S. Department of Agriculture staff deemed “non-essential” have been prevented from staffing their offices, which will have an impact on farmers.
The expiration of the farm bill also means multiple programs have ceased. Conservation programs affected include the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Foreign aid programs affected by the farm bill’s expiration include the Food for Peace Program, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, and the Emerging Markets Program. Expiration of funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development (Cooperator) Program has also occurred.
The shutdown is of undetermined duration, awaiting agreement between Senate Democrats, House Republicans and President Barack Obama on a way forward to fund the government.
The House, meanwhile, took one step Sept. 28 toward a conference on the legislation by approving a resolution that remarries the nutrition provisions of the farm bill to the rest of the bill.
The House voted 226 to 191 to approve the resolution that also permitted same-day consideration was one of many pieces of stopgap legislation to avoid a federal government shutdown that ultimately failed, leading to the shutdown.
The Nutrition title of the House farm bill seeks to cut about $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Senate’s version of the legislation has about $4 billion in reductions.
Voting in support of the House resolution were 222 Republicans and four Democrats. In opposition were 187 Democrats and four Republicans. Fourteen members did not vote, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California, who was spending her 50th wedding anniversary on a long-planned weekend off with her husband.
The resolution now allows House leadership to appoint conferees in order to work out a deal with the Senate, which approved its farm bill in June.
Members of Congress sent releases with expected reactions.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, ranking member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, railed against the vote, saying many Americans would suffer from the proposed SNAP cuts.
“In the midst of a potential government shutdown, it is a moral outrage that the House majority is pushing through a measure that would deny food to over four million Americans by slashing $40 billion from the food stamp program while spending $90 billion on crop insurance subsidies,” DeLauro said. “This includes the 26 anonymous individuals who receive over $1 million each.
“Almost as disheartening is the thud with which our longstanding bipartisan cooperation on the farm bill has ended. For decades, a strong coalition of members from both sides of the aisle supported the farm bill and ensured both farmers and vulnerable Americans were made whole. But the House majority has bowed to their most extreme members and millions of Americans may have to suffer the consequences. Once again, House Republicans are taking America in the wrong direction.”
In contrast, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-AR, a former farm broadcaster in his second term on the House Agriculture Committee, applauded the move.
“This is another step forward toward conference with the Senate on this critical legislation,” Crawford said. “We must have a full, five-year farm bill in place and I will continue to advance the process forward for the good of Arkansas agriculture.”
Meanwhile, farm groups called for Congress to finish the legislation.
“Today’s actions should pave the way for the farm bill to be completed this year,” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said. “Extending the 2008 farm bill again is not an adequate solution. While it is obvious we will not have a completed farm bill by its expiration on Sept. 30, I urge House leadership to appoint conferees so that the process of conferencing the Senate and House versions of the bill can begin right away.
“NFU will continue to advocate for a five-year, comprehensive farm bill to be completed in the next month.”
The American Soybean Association called the shutdown and resulting suspension of discussions on a farm bill “another failed opportunity on the part of Congress to provide the nation’s soybean farmers with the certainty they need to remain competitive and plan for the future.”
ASA President Danny Murphy said, “Congress has yet again failed its most basic duty: to debate and pass legislation and, frankly, we’ve run out of ways to say we’re disappointed.
“The farm bill authorized and provides critical funding for myriad programs on which farmers depend, including key conservation programs, indispensable foreign food assistance and market development activities, and industry-advancing research,” said Murphy, a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Canton, Miss.
“These and other programs have helped to make American agriculture a bright spot throughout the recession and into the recovery. We’ve created jobs, supported rural communities and fed our neighbors both at home and abroad. All of these programs will come to a grinding halt tomorrow because this Congress is more interested in scoring partisan political points than serving its constituents. Once again, Congress fails to act and American farmers pay the price.”
Adding to the frustration for farmers, Murphy added, is the fact that innumerable USDA agencies will close until further notice as a result of today’s shutdown of the federal government. “Farmers depend on these agencies,” Murphy said. “Whether it’s the county Farm Service Agency office, staff at the Risk Management Agency, market access work done by the Foreign Agricultural Service or Office of U.S. Trade Representative, or the work done at the Agricultural Research Service, soybean farmers have a longstanding and valuable working relationship with our federal partners at USDA, and their absence for the foreseeable future will be painfully apparent.”
National Association of Wheat Growers President Bing Von Bergen, a wheat farmer and seedsman from near Moccasin, Mont., had a similar comment.
“For the second year in a row, we have watched as our legislators let the farm bill expire without an extension or a new law in place,” Von Bergen said. “This year’s expiration is doubly concerning because our leaders have also failed to approve a new budget, shutting the federal government down wholesale until a compromise can be reached.”
“I know I join my fellow farm leaders and my fellow wheat growers when I say that enough is enough. Funding the government is the basic charge of Congress, and policymaking on farm and nutrition policy impacts direct stakeholders and our economy as a whole.”
For the last two years, Von Bergen said, wheat farmers are planting their next year’s crop without knowing what farm programs will exist by the time they harvest or how vital research, trade promotion and conservation programs will be funded while there is no farm law at all.
“Maneuvering around this level of uncertainty is no way to run a farm, and creating this level of uncertainty is no way to run a country. We call on our agriculture leaders and, more importantly, our leaders in the full House and Senate to move past regionalism and partisanship and get their jobs done,” Von Bergen said.
Murphy echoed that comment.
“Congressional gridlock has cost farmers yet again, and we demand a stop to the political gamesmanship,” added Murphy. “It’s time for our elected officials to remember who they represent and get to work passing a farm bill that works for American farmers.”
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.