SALEM, Ohio — More than a year after the 2008 farm bill expired, a group of bipartisan House and Senate members finally sat down at the same table Oct. 30, to begin the process of conferencing a new five-year farm bill.
Members spent most of the opening session introducing themselves and praising each other for the opportunity to work across party lines for the good of farmers and the American people. And that’s the challenge at hand, as farmers and consumers demand action.
“It took us years to get here, but we are here,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is chairman of the conference. “We can do it, we have to do it,” he said, adding, “let’s not take years to get it done.”
The sense of urgency was conveyed by most of the conferees, with some going as far as to say their own credibility in Washington depends on getting the farm bill done by year’s end.
Farm and Dairy watched the conference live via C-SPAN. Watch the full video here.
“We’re hopefully at the beginning of the end of this process,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. “This has been going on too long.”
The “process” has taken some confusing twists and turns, but basically, the 2008 farm bill was set to expire in October, 2012. The Senate passed a new farm bill in June, 2012 while the House failed to put their farm bill to a vote.
After the 2008 farm bill expired, and faced with price programs that could have reverted back to the 1940s, Congress approved a last-minute extension of the 2008 farm bill in the last days of 2012, to run through October of 2013.
The Senate passed its second full five-year farm bill in June of 2013, while the House farm bill failed later the same month. In July, the House took an unprecedented move and voted to split the farm bill from the nutrition title, ultimately approving farm and food bills in separate pieces.
And now, the conference committee is charged with one giant task: Bring it altogether.
Something that works
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he’s looking for “tangible and workable solutions,” for farmers as well as the hungry.
Brown issued a joint statement with U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, prior to the conference, in which the two shared bipartisan views on risk management and market fundamentals.
“We believe the farm bill conference must produce a bill that provides common sense, market-based resources that ensure economic stability for farmers and savings for taxpayers,” Gibbs and Brown both wrote.
Brown said he’s been across the state listening to farmers, and that he’s tried to make sure the farm bill reflects what they want.
For instance, many have told him they don’t want direct payments, and in the new bill, those are gone. The new bill also places more emphasis on farmers buying crop insurance and making it the primary crop protection program.
Hurdles to climb
But while there is much optimism on the committee, there are some tall hurdles. A big issue is how much to cut from food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The House legislation could cut as much as $40 billion, and Senate Democrats say that’s too much.
Brown said the House’s cuts to SNAP would harm everyone, including children, working parents, the disabled and veterans.
“Our farmers feed the world,” he said. “They are proud to do that, but the House is seeking to break a decades old bond between farmers and those Americans who are going hungry.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, said she’s “very concerned” about the proposed cuts to SNAP.
“We do not turn our backs on farmers seeking help with crop insurance, and we certainly should
not turn our backs on hungry Americans,” she said.
Other issues include language related to the Dairy Security Act — which would create a margin protection program and market stabilization program designed to help reduce milk price volatility. Although voluntary, some say the program amounts to supply management and fear it would hinder growth.
Additional issues include eligibility requirements for crop insurance and disaster assistance, and the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would prevent states from enacting laws that limit what they sell, based on how those goods were raised or grown in other states.
The issue stems from new animal-rights laws enacted in California, that established a new standard of how egg-laying hens in that state must be raised.
King said the U.S. constitution prohibits “trade protectionism” between states, and he intends to defend that position.
“The bottom line of it is that no state should be allowed to regulate the production in other states,” he said. “Any state, including California, is free to regulate and even over-regulate their producers, but not to regulate the other 49 states.”
(Our coverage of the farm bill conference will continue, as the conference itself continues)