Drought and its Effects on the Farm Bill

31 July 2012

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This blog was written last night before the House Majority’s plans fell apart   –Editor

By Igor Geyn, CFJC Policy and Outreach Intern

After over a week of frantic deliberations and scrambling, it appears that a floor vote on the House Rules Committee’s proposed one-year extension of the current Farm Bill is imminent. Some predict the vote will take place as early as this Wednesday. With immense pressure coming from the upcoming five-week Summer Recess as well as the growing uncertainty resulting from widespread drought, Frank Lucas (Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee that voted on a final draft of a revised Farm Bill earlier this month) has decided to discard that draft and advocate for an extension of the 2008 Bill instead.

Rep. Lucas directly references “the devastating drought conditions” as the primary rationale behind “supporting and advancing this legislation [meaning the one-year extension]” which he hopes will “provide certainty to… producers”. With the November elections only three short months away, leaders among the House Republicans (a group which includes Lucas) are hoping to create some political cushion for rural representatives by extending assistance programs like the Livestock Indemnity Program. To compensate for the $621 million price tag, the Rules Committee’s extension will cut funding from conservation programs, direct payments to farmers, and funding for small programs like Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (“Section 2501”) that required immense efforts to secure during the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The decision to vote on a one-year extension follows several weeks of Speaker John Boehner failing to bring the Ag. Committee’s draft to a vote on the House floor—something congressional Dem’s are not ready to simply forgive and forget.

It’s just mystifying to me why these guys can’t take yes for an answer. We got a bipartisan bill, we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to do it and then they come up with this extension which they never even talked to us about.”

That quote, taken from Colin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag. Committee, represents the position expected from Democrats in both the House and Senate. Additionally, Peterson is uncertain that Republicans are committed to working toward a five-year plan—leading many to believe that Boehner and Lucas simply don’t have the votes needed to approve the extension. Others, such as Democratic Sen. Al Franken see the extension as a political maneuver around a problem more deeply-rooted than a congressional time crunch:

There’s kind of some ideology going on here, unfortunately; I think that Speaker Boehner…is having problems with certain elements of his caucus and that’s what is holding things up.

This notion, that conservative Republicans are not following Boehner’s leadership on this and other votes, is grounded in what seems to be an overarching dissatisfaction with the Committee’s draft of the Farm Bill—Democrats oppose the $16B in cuts to SNAP (food stamps) as draconian, while many Republicans argue that the cuts don’t go far enough. Clearly, the seemingly bipartisan compromise does not hold much weight with the majority of Congress.

The push for disaster relief from producers of many crops and livestock, caused by the current nationwide drought conditions, has magnified the Hill’s dysfunctional handling of the Farm Bill reauthorization process. While some are seizing the opportunity to provide services like spray-painting dehydrated lawns, America’s farmers face a threat that is nearing the catastrophe that was seen in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which contributed to the Great Depression and caused a westward exodus of several million people. Not only are the livelihoods of our producers at stake, but consumers face resulting price hikes that could alter the diets of millions of Americans. The need for action is now at a critical peak, and it is imperative that measures are taken to avoid a preventable, man-made addition to a natural disaster.

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