Disappointment in rural America over Farm Bill

Posted on January 5, 2013

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The failure of House and Senate Ag Committees to turn the Farm Bill into anything more than an extension of 2008 legislation with no added funds has caused some to wonder whether the agriculture sector has lost its political oomph on Capitol Hill.

After failure to reach an agreement on a new Farm Bill, on Jan. 1 Congress passed a nine-month, patchwork extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, without added goodies from the House or Senate. Farm, ranch and dairy lobbyists failed to get the reform many wanted, and pretty much no one is happy with the legislation, and the way it was ham-handedly stuffed into the fiscal cliff deal.

There was a fix for milk, to keep the price from skyrocketing this year as it was predicted to do, but the dairy sector still didn’t get several programs it wanted–including a new insurance program to replace the old price-support programs for milk.

Nearly all of the 2008 legislation remains the same, except for 37 programs which reached their budget limits. These remain on the books but without funding. That includes disaster legislation.

The House and Senate Ag committees developed disaster legislation to help producers deal with the 2012 drought, but these weren’t included in the bill.

In fact, a lot of work went into crafting a new $1 billion Farm Bill from the ag committees with little result, generating sore feelings on Capitol Hill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, put her feelings bluntly on the House floor: “There is no way to explain this. None. There is absolutely no way to explain this other than agriculture is just not a priority.”

Farm groups are not happy either. The Center for Rural Affairs called the bill a “disaster.” And the National Farmers Union released a statement after the bill’s passage, in which President Roger Johnson stated that Congress has again “left rural America out in the cold.”

But the simple fact is, with the fiscal cliff looming, policymakers simply couldn’t do much more for farmers and ranchers with the economy the way it is.

As an AP article on the Farm Bill stated,

The extension Stabenow and Lucas crafted cost around $1 billion – an amount too high and too risky for House and Senate leaders negotiating the broader fiscal cliff deal. According to aides familiar with the talks, the White House and congressional leaders wanted a farm bill extension with no major policy changes or new spending that could subject the entire fiscal cliff bill to opposition.

I’m not certain that this is a sign that Congress cares less about rural America, or just that the economy and workings on Capitol Hill are just in a major hole.

Either way, the ag committees will have to start from scratch to compose a new Farm Bill. The Farm Bureau Director of National Legislation said they’ve spent the last two years creating legislation that would have saved taxpayers $23 to $35 million over ten years.

Congress may have stopped us from going over the fiscal cliff, but a lot of work for rural Americans went down the drain.

What’s your opinion? Do you like the ag committee’s original proposals, or do you think the added spending is too much to ask of a broken-down economy?

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Posted in: Economy, Politics