Farm bill stalled in Senate

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SALEM, Ohio – Specifics of a new farm bill may drag into the new year, after Senate members left the legislation lifeless and went home for Thanksgiving recess Nov. 16.
That morning, by a vote of 55-42, the Senators failed to invoke cloture on the farm bill. The cloture motion, which required 60 votes to pass, would have allowed the bill to move in the Senate after almost two weeks on the floor without action.
Dragging on. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate ag committee, called the vote to block the bill “a deliberate and orchestrated attempt to derail the farm bill.”
“Indeed, the farm bill is just one car on a much longer train …. Between Republican filibusters here in the Senate, and President Bush’s barrage of vetoes and veto threats, they seem to be setting up a giant train wreck at the end of this session of Congress,” Harkin said.
Pointing fingers. Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner chided legislators for the repeated delays, noting the administration unveiled its farm bill proposal nearly 11 months ago to allow time for changes, yet still deliver farm bill programming before farmers had to make decisions for the 2008 crop year.
Ranking Senate Republican Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., blamed delays on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who rejected multiple compromises from the Republicans and created days of lost opportunity.
The delays didn’t go unnoticed.
A joint letter drafted Nov. 13 by several farm and commodity groups, including the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union, asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to get moving on the farm bill.
The letter also urged senators from both sides of the aisle to compromise and work together, just as the organizations had.
“While each of our organizations may have differing opinions on policy provisions in the legislation, we agree it is critically important for the full Senate to approve a bill expeditiously so a conference committee can be appointed and a final bill approved before the end of the year,” they wrote.
Another approach. In the wake of gridlock in the Senate, House Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, introduced a bill Nov. 15 to extend current farm policy for one year.
Currently, 22 Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of the new extension legislation.
“The Senate’s inability to move forward with their bill is starting to take a real, potentially devastating toll on American agriculture,” Goodlatte said.
“Without stable farm policy, our farmers and ranchers cannot make planning decisions, finalize land-lease contracts or negotiate lending agreements. This inaction is putting our producers between a rock and a hard place and that is unacceptable.”
He said the extension gives producers with “a little certainty” until a long-term farm bill is finished.
Feeling the pinch. Farmers and ranchers throughout the nation are already feeling the negative effects of the bill’s expiration and more severe consequences will soon be realized, Goodlatte and Moran said.
Without reauthorization, farm policy will revert to permanent statutes established in 1938 and 1949 laws, which are drastically different from current programs.
The permanent statues exclude many commodities, such as rice, soybeans and peanuts; set support prices much higher than current levels; and prevent new enrollment in various conservation programs.
Old ways. Permanent agriculture law established by the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938 and the Agriculture Act of 1949 are superseded by subsequent legislation, such as the 2002 farm bill, and remain dormant until the newer legislation expires.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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