August 22, 2014

Farm bill moves slowly through Congress as time runs out (AUDIO)

A farm bill moves slowly through Congress, whether it will make it to the president’s desk before the November elections remains to be seen.

The Senate passed its version. The House Agriculture Committee has its draft. Time is running out before the August recess.

Both chambers stake out the same philosophy on agriculture policy. Direct payments end. Crop insurance will be promoted as a tool for farmers to use to manage risks.

It will be the details that will cause the biggest clash between the two chambers.

Congressman Adrian Smith is hopeful a compromise can be worked out and sent to President Obama prior to the November elections.

“I think we can get this done. Like I said, it’s a vigorous debate and we shouldn’t shy away from that. Hopefully, it won’t turn into bickering,” Smith says. “We know that all too often, there’s too much bickering here in Washington, rather than substantive debate.”

The bickering, or vigorous debate, likely will develop over the nutrition program. Though the Farm Bill sets out agriculture policy, the largest section of the bill deals with food stamps, school lunches and the like.

Objections have already been raised about a provision opponents say would slash $16 billion from the food stamps program. Smith insists it isn’t a cut, but rather an effort to tighten qualifications for the program and eliminate fraud.

Then, there is procedure. The House hasn’t scheduled the bill for floor debate, though it has passed the House Agriculture Committee. Some in Congress have speculated that the bill won’t go to the floor for debate, but will be sent directly to the Senate for a date with a conference committee.

Sen. Mike Johanns, a former Secretary of Agriculture, speculates that negotiators for the House and Senate could work out differences during the August recess to prepare a compromise for consideration in September. Johanns has expressed worries that if Congress doesn’t act on the Farm Bill prior to the November elections, it will get lost in the deluge of legislation awaiting the lame-duck Congress.

Johanns says Washington dawdles as drought spreads.

“This is turning out to be a much tougher year than we’ve seen the last couple of years. We’ve got drought back,” Johanns states. “I’m talking to producers around the state. Whether its pastureland or the corn crop, everything is suffering.”

The current Farm Bill expires September 30th.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]