Supporters of new, long-term farm and food policy continued this week to press the issue politically and procedurally in the face of House Leadership that is intransigent in its unwillingness to take up the House Agriculture Committee-approved bill.
More than a dozen Members of Congress joined the Farm Bill Now rally held on the Capitol grounds Wednesday, with many encouraging farmers and stakeholders to call all Congressional offices, every day, pressing a new farm bill.
Thursday, Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), a member of the House Leadership herself, and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) circulated a Dear Colleague letter asking House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to meet and discuss the farm bill. It was sent Friday with 40 signatories.
Also Thursday, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) filed a discharge petition, which is something of a political Hail Mary pass, aiming to bring the legislation to the full House.
If the petition gains 218 signatures, it will force floor consideration of the bill under an open rule. As of Friday afternoon, 53 Members of Congress had signed on, with a full list available at http://clerk.house.gov/112/lrc/pd/petitions/DisPet0005.xml.
House Republican Leaders continue to say there are not the needed votes available to pass new, long-term legislation to replace the 2008 Farm Bill, which expires Sept. 30. This contention is heavily debated by House Democrats, Senators and agriculture stakeholders who see the blockage as primarily political.
House leaders seem somewhat more open to further consideration of a disaster assistance package, though the body already passed one disaster bill before leaving for the August recess. The Senate has declined to take that package up, a position supported by NAWG and other grower groups in a letter sent to Senate leaders last week.
Leadership is also reportedly determining support for a three-month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, which would at least prevent current law from expiring wholesale on Sept. 30.
Congress’ time at work before the November elections can now be more easily counted in hours than days. Both chambers will take a long weekend for Rosh Hashanah, returning for work next Wednesday through Friday. After that, they will be out of session until mid-November.
Meanwhile, the 2008 Farm Bill expires in just 16 days. If nothing is passed to replace it before that time, some programs will continue on, including the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Most others will lose funding or authorization over the next three months until permanent law, written in 1949, takes over.
NAWG is watching closely the impact to vital trade promotion and research programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill that are due to expire Oct. 1.
USDA, which will be hard pressed to operate without current authorization, is preparing for what happens in the event of a complete expiration. NAWG leaders in town for the Farm Bill Now rally and Hill visits this week also visited officials at the Department to discuss possible impacts on farmers under that scenario.
NAWG strongly supports Congressional approval of a new, five-year bill this year. NAWG is urging Members of Congress to sign on to the discharge petition and voice support for new legislation publicly and to House leaders directly.
NAWG also encourages all farmers and other readers to contact their local House Member and House leaders to encourage consideration of the farm bill. All House Members can be reached through the House switchboard at (202) 225-3121.