Agriculture policy: An urgent need for serious dialogue
When you have a majority of the votes rejecting a Farm Bill, some because it does not spend enough and some because it spends too much there is little room for compromise. That is where the House leaders are scrambling to determine their next move; and there is not much wiggle room.
The timetable for farm legislation is not friendly at all. There are only 17 more legislative days on the House calendar between now and the August recess. Once lawmakers break for their “district work period,” they will not return until September 9. At that point there will be only 9 legislative days prior to the expiration of the extended 2008 Farm Bill.
When the House members return home for the August recess, the Democrats will be praised by their metropolitan constituency for rejecting the proposed 3% cut to the SNAP program. Rural Republicans with an agricultural constituency generally voted for the bill and will be thanked and told to keep working hard. Both sides will feel energized.
On Monday the House leadership pulled from scheduled floor debate the annual appropriation bill for agriculture. Such legislation is approved annually to authorize funding for the policies in the Farm Bill. The action signals an attempt to re-write and use the annual appropriation bill to be a vehicle for funding a one year Farm Bill.
While that may chop the five year proposed House Farm Bill into 20% of its whole, it would prevent any long term policy planning at the USDA, and make all programs and services subject to annual review, when and if the Congress gets around to it.
Such a plan may be written to obtain enough Republican votes to pass in the House, but there would be few Democratic votes, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says such a plan would not be considered in the Senate.
All of this signals the need for a rational dialogue on the future of agricultural policy, an initiative offered by Dr. Neil Conklin of the Farm Foundation, a non-profit group “focused on informing the debate with comprehensive, objective information, rather than shaping the political landscape.” Conklin invited his leadership to comment on the failure of House to approve the legislation and received numerous reactions that reflect the weightiness of the times:
- Former NRCS Chief Bruce Knight: “We are now at a fork in the road—will leadership in the House of Representatives tack to the center or tack to the right to gain the votes for final passage of a farm bill? The farm /nutrition alliance that has successfully moved previous farm bills appears to be unraveling. I fear that if this continues neither meaningful reforms of nutrition programs or farm programs will be achieved.
- Kansas farmer Jay Armstrong says: “People are beginning to think more about their food, what they eat, and where does all that money the government spends on the farm bill go. This is good as it opens up the opportunity for conversations about food and agriculture. The sad part is the lack of objectivity in explaining issues to our lawmakers and decision makers.”
- Former USDA Agriculture Secretary John Block: “A failure like this will put more pressure on the Congress to do something. A lot of people will complain that [Congress needs] to get something done. This was not that hard. Once they come back from recess, they might have a different perspective.”
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