Farm Bill: Drought Puts Pressure on GOP

One in a continuing series of posts concerning the 2012 Farm Bill

Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor are responsible for the Farm Bill’s blockage in the House

Up to this point, the strategy of the GOP House leadership concerning the proposed 2012 Farm Bill has been one of apathy; afraid of showing splits in their party’s unity running up the crucial 2012 election, and still seeking more cuts to an already heavily-hit Food Stamps program, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have completely stalled the Farm Bill’s path through the House. However, the devastating national drought, for all the harm it has done to American crops this summer, may be providing the push the Farm Bill needs to secure an up-or-down vote.

Crops languishing and wilting in their fields; that’s what has agricultural groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation teaming up with a group of lawmakers consisting of, for all intents and purposes, the entire Democratic caucus and large swaths of Republican House members in demanding that House leadership take action on some sort of drought relief, which would be added as a rider to a Farm Bill. Hence, no Farm Bill equals no mechanism for lawmakers to provide farmers with any sort of drought relief. The problem is that the far-right wing of the Republican caucus, so often playing the role of ‘wrench in the machine’ in this Congress, are lukewarm about the bill, demanding more cuts be made, primarily to ‘community health’ programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as Food Stamps. The bill would most likely pass in its current form, even with a divided Republican party, but Boehner and Cantor have decided that to show such disunity within their ranks would be too much of a high-profile risk in a campaign year.

Instead, a new plan has surfaced in recent weeks; a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, with added monies for emergency drought relief. This plan is unfulfilling to nearly everyone in Congress, but it it increasingly being seen as perhaps the only solution. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee, which passed the bill through committee early this month, said of the one-year extension “I believe that adding one year to the present bill would add certainty, which is always good…Clearly (GOP leadership) understand the importance of the drought”. Democrats, however, see major problems in a one-year extension. It “doesn’t solve the problem”, says Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Collin Peterson (D-MN), ranking Democrat on the Ag. Committee, came out saying he would only support an extension if plans were made for an up-or-down vote on a final, five-year Farm Bill.

Indeed, there are fears, especially if Republicans capture the Senate in this year’s upcoming election, that the entire Farm Bill in its current form could be scratched or, worse for farmer stability, one-year extensions could become the new norm for the Farm Bill, with five-year comprehensive plans being seen as too difficult and divisive to get done. Leadership “could simply hold firm and reject any other path forward, thus killing any hope for a new farm bill, not only this year but quite possibly for years into the future”, says The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, voicing opponents of the one-year extensions greatest fears. Furthermore, there is no guarentee that the right-wing of the Republicans will support an extension, which does almost nothing ($399 million) in terms of cutting the national debt. If the debt ceiling drama of last year is any indicator, ultra-consertative House members are willing and able to take the Farm Bill to and over the September 30 brink if they do not see a bill with the appropriate amount of cuts.

As for now, the House is planning on advancing the idea of a one-year extension and scaled-back drought relief plan. However, just today a petition was started by Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) to force a vote on a five-year bill. The petition would need 218 signatures to advance. No matter what path the House chooses, time is running perilously short. Congressional recess is planned to begin at the end of this week and, if no extra session is called, will run till after Labor Day, giving House leaders precious little time to make a decision on the Farm Bill.

 

UpdateIn the face of widespread dassaproval and opposition to a one-year renewal of the 2008 Farm Bill, House leadership has withdrawn the proposal introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the original author of the 2012 Farm Bill. A relief bill is still in the works, with a vote possible as soon as tomorrow, but the Farm Bill’s fate – 2012, 2008 or otherwise, is more uncertain than ever.

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