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Published July 20, 2012, 03:52 PM

House urged to act on farm bill

Citing the drought, many farm groups and House members including House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., are putting pressure on the House Republican leadership to bring the farm bill to the House floor in the next two weeks, but so far House Republican leaders have made no decision about advancing the legislation.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Citing the drought, many farm groups and House members including House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., are putting pressure on the House Republican leadership to bring the farm bill to the House floor in the next two weeks, but so far House Republican leaders have made no decision about advancing the legislation.

Time is of the essence because the current farm bill expires Sept. 30 and disaster aid programs have already expired. The Senate has passed the farm bill and the House Agriculture Committee has passed another version of it. Under regular order, the full House needs to consider it before the two bills could go to conference to write a report that would then go back to both houses. If that conference report passes both houses, it would go to President Obama for his signature. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also said the House should take up the bill.

Noem and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., are leading a bipartisan group of 62 House members urging House leaders to bring the farm bill to a vote before August, they said in a joint news release on July 19.

Their letter, addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., is signed by 38 Republicans and 24 Democrats.

“The message from our constituents and rural America is clear: we need a farm bill now,” the letter said. “We ask that you bring a farm bill up before the August district work period so that the House will have the opportunity to work its will. We ask that you make this legislation a priority of the House as it is critically important to rural and urban Americans alike.”

Forty-six farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition had already written House leaders to urge them to bring up the bill. On July 20, Pelosi responded to that letter, saying she was urging the Republican leadership to bring it to the floor even though she cannot support the food stamp cut in the House bill.

The same day, Boehner was asked at a press conference if the bill would come to the floor. “No decisions have been made on the farm bill yet,” he responded. Republican leaders are known to be nervous about bringing up the bill because there are deep divisions within the Republican ranks over cuts to food stamps and other provisions in the bill.

“I join Democrats and Republicans and dozens of groups — representing farmers, ranchers, the faith community, nutrition advocates, scientists, environmental and conservation organizations — calling for swift action on the farm bill,” Pelosi wrote in the letter. “Inaction by the Republican congressional leadership means that disaster assistance will expire at the very time when we are experiencing the worst drought in 50 years. Rural America is already facing the termination of livestock and crop assistance in the midst of this crisis. Inaction means economic, nutritional and employment crisis throughout our rural communities.”

The best farm bill

Pelosi noted that in 2008, House Democrats led the way in passing what Peterson has called, “the best farm bill in the history of our nation.” Peterson was the House Agriculture Committee chairman then and is now its ranking member.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota on July 12 introduced legislation to provide a one-year extension of the agriculture disaster assistance programs that were in the 2008 farm bill, but expired at the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

“As severe fires and drought threaten ranchers and farmers across the country, this extension will provide certainty for American producers while Congress works to pass the next farm bill,” the senators said in a news release. Conrad and Baucus insisted on the inclusion of what they called permanent disaster programs in the 2008 farm bill, but those programs have expired because there was not enough money to enact them for the full length of the five-year bill.

The four senators’ bill would re-establish the five disaster programs that were in the 2008 farm bill for the 2012 crop year. They are: Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program, Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Livestock Indemnity Program, Emergency Livestock, Honey bee and Farm-raised Fish Assistance Program and the Tree Assistance Program. The authorization for these programs expired on Sept. 30.

The Senate-passed farm bill includes all those programs except SURE, which became controversial because it took so long to make payments. The four senators’ bill would speed up SURE payments by using a “first five-months of the marketing year” price calculation rather than the full marketing year period to determine crop prices in calculating farm revenue.

Inclusion of the SURE program is controversial, but the need for disaster assistance for cattlemen is clear.

Loud and strong

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said the disaster provisions in the bill need to be improved in the conference and that the bill needs to be finished before Sept. 30.

Stabenow has said on television news shows and before groups including the National Corn Growers Association, which has been in Washington for its annual Corn Congress, that the House needs to bring up the bill.

“We need you to be loud and strong about this. There is no excuse not to pass a farm bill in the House,” Stabenow told the corn growers, according to a DTN report. “Don’t accept no. Don’t accept maybe.”

Pam Johnson, a Floyd, Iowa, corn grower who is the vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, told Agweek that she sees no reason the House should not take up the farm bill.

“The drought is a wake-up call and a visible reminder of why we write the farm bill,” Johnson said. “It just plain needs to be done. They’d better come up with a good reason why this isn’t moving, in light of what is going on in the countryside. I’ve heard the reasons, and I haven’t heard a good one yet.”

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