Farm bill flurry for final passage
By Seymour Klierly
Despite the 2008 farm bill expiring on Sept. 30, 2012, needing a one-year extension, and overhanging a conference committee for months, the final conference report was finalized in a flurry of activity. Largely behind closed doors, the four principles of Reps. Frank Lucas, R-OK, and Colin Peterson, D-MN, and Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, and Thad Cochran, R-MS, negotiated a package and pushed it through the finish line.
The conference committee for the farm bill met only once, on Oct. 30, 2013, for quick opening statements. While staff for those members met a handful of times to discuss outstanding issues, they never met to discuss the commodity, crop insurance, rural development or nutrition titles. Members of Congress were given only a few hours to review the final legislation before being asked to sign the report the night of Jan. 27.
When announcing the final agreement, Chairman Lucas said, “I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms.” We never lost sight of the goal, we never wavered in our commitment to enacting a five-year, comprehensive farm bill.” Stabenow also was excited saying, “This bill proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, was one of the four conferees, out of 41, who chose not to sign the conference report. “I think, when you look at this conference process, if you weren’t one of the big four, then at the end of the day, you really don’t have much of a say,” McGovern said. “So I can understand the people looking at this, saying, ‘Look, you had a meeting, where were the other public meetings? Where was the debate? Where was the amendment process? We didn’t even have a meeting to vote the bill out.’ So if the new norm is going be, no conferences, then we should say it.”
The other conferees that objected were Reps. Steve King, R-IA, and Sandy Levin, D-MI, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS. “I am disappointed to say that the negatives of this farm bill outweigh the positives,” Roberts said. “When you look at the policies of this report, we have a return to government subsidies and farmers planting for the government. While we all want to provide certainty to producers, the conference has missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to our nation’s farm programs, federal nutrition programs, and burdensome regulations.”
With less than 48 hours to review the 949 pages of legislative text and 186 pages of report language, the House passed the Conference Report by a vote of 251 to 166. Farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses are celebrating the final passage of the now 2014 farm bill. While the bill has lagged for far too long, a majority of members eventually grew weary of fighting amongst themselves and passed what they could without final public scrutiny or discussion.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.