By TIM THORNBERRY
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Once again the completion of a farm bill seems to be in jeopardy as the U.S. House proposed steep cuts last week to a nutrition bill that has traditionally been included in the agriculture legislation. This prompted proponents of a comprehensive farm bill to blast House leadership for having “no interest in getting a farm bill done.”
In July the House passed H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act, but it did not include nutrition titles. Last Thursday, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said in a telephone press conference that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had placed a roadblock in the way of getting the bill to a conference committee.
“Now that he has come forward with a nutrition title that will cut $40 billion … we are in a situation where we can’t negotiate because we don’t know what the parameters of the bill are going to be, so it’s now put us in another situation where it’s going to make it harder to get a farm bill done,” she said.
“I know the Majority Floor Leader in the House does not want a farm bill. He’s made it clear from the beginning with everything he’s done.”
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) echoed the opinion the House Majority has no interest in compromise or actual legislating.
“Adding an additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, on top of the poison-pill nutrition amendments that brought down the Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill in June, effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year,” he said.
The House failed to pass a farm bill in June that contained funding cuts of about $20 billion to the nutrition programs. And, even though the chamber has since passed a separated bill, no House conferees have been named to hammer out an agreement between the House and Senate.
Peterson added, “I’ve repeatedly told these guys, we don’t have to do this. If the House would just name conferees, members can conference the House ‘farm only’ bill with the Senate’s farm bill during August and produce a compromise for both houses to pass.”
Senate Ag Committee spokesman Ben Becker, when asked if Stabenow would consider following the House in voting on a farm bill without nutrition programs included, in order to get a bill through a conference committee, said, “On background, no. She has been very clear that she wants a comprehensive, full, five-year farm bill.
Anything less is a non-starter.”
Mark Haney, president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB), said it was anticipated that the nutrition title would be the biggest hurdle to passing a farm bill, but the KFB continues to stay engaged with the state’s Congressional delegation to get a new bill passed before the current one expires Sept. 30.
“Should Congress not pass a farm bill prior to the end of September, then it has the option to offer an extension of the current legislation. We maintain that the best scenario for agriculture and rural Kentucky is that Congress pass a national farm bill as soon as possible,” he explained.
If another extension is passed as it was at the end of 2012, it will carry with it direct payments, something that was written out of both current versions of the bill. Congress is in recess for August and not scheduled to return in-session until after Labor Day.