WASHINGTON — At a farm bill forum last September, when OSU ag economist Carl Zulauf said, “This is going to be an extremely difficult bill to conference,” he probably didn’t realize just how prophetic he would be.
Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents hitting Capitol Hill March 12-14 asked everyone they met about progress on the farm bill. What they heard were opinions and scenarios, but nothing definitive.
“I don’t believe they’re going to get a farm bill done any time soon,” Rep. John Boehner told the group.
Rep. Charlie Wilson said his opinion was the farm bill was “stuck.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown blamed the administration for the stalled bill. “The president needs to negotiate with us.”
But House ag committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., was more blunt: “We have to get this done by the Easter recess.”
Another extension. It didn’t happen
As it turns out, both the Senate and House agreed last week to another 30-day extension on the existing farm bill, putting the next big deadline at April 18.
Congress adjourned March 14 for its Easter recess and lawmakers won’t return until March 31, unless called back for a special session.
President Bush agreed to the extension, but repeated “any farm bill that includes a tax increase or does not include reform will be met with a veto.”
If no agreement is met by April 18, Bush said he will ask Congress to extend the 2002 farm bill for at least one year.
The farm bill progress changes daily, but here’s what Peterson told the Ohio farm group March 12: Expect a “baseline farm bill” — one with the same level of funding as the 2002 farm bill.
The farm bill process was bogged down by the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, charged with finding out how Congress would pay for the farm bill. House and Senate leadership told the committees to find $10 billion in additional funding for the bill, but at the same time, come up with $10 billion in cuts.
Peterson said it would be easier to forget the extra $10 billion and just use the baseline numbers to draft the bill.
“We don’t need all these other people mucking up our situation,” Peterson said.
Ohio’s Boehner, who served on the House ag committee before being named House Republican Leader, said opening up the farm bill to the tax-writing committee was a mistake, one he doesn’t see being resolved any time soon.
With that hurdle, in addition to other House and Senate differences, Boehner said it could still be a long wait for the next farm bill.
“I can go down a long list of problem areas,” Boehner said. “To say I’m not optimistic is an understatement.”
House ag committee chairman Peterson also gave a glimpse as to how frustrated lawmakers are.
Negotiators almost had a bill Saturday, March 8, but it slipped away. Some leaders, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wanted to throw in the towel and let the current extension expire, hoping “the Senate and the White House would come to their senses,” Peterson said.
“They’ve [Bush administration] just been stringing us out.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown also placed blame for the farm bill stall with the current administration.
“The president needs to negotiate with us,” Brown told the Ohioans, explaining that Bush has threatened to veto the farm bill, when he needs to be working out differences.
“We know we need to do a farm bill.”
The closer to the start of planting season we get, the higher the frustration of farmers and legislators. It’s little solace to hear this from Rep. John Boehner: “We do public policy and we do it in a political setting.”
At their opening day briefing, Ohio Farm Bureau President John Peterson told the county leaders to push their legislators on the farm bill. His message? Get it passed, and get it passed right.
It looks like neither wish will happen any time soon.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at email@example.com.)
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