November 1, 2014

Farmers will have to wait for Farm Bill assistance (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns speaks with reporters after a briefing at the National Drought Mitigation Center

Federal agriculture officials have released $30 million to help offset agricultural losses due to drought, but Sen. Mike Johanns says that won’t make up for the federal disaster assistance languishing in Congress.

The Obama Administration has taken a number of actions aimed to help farmers and livestock producers cope with the effects of the drought.

While admirable, the action cannot take the place of federal farm assistance programs that have run out of money, according to Johanns.

Johanns, a former Secretary of Agriculture, says that when Congress approved the current Farm Bill, it lowered its cost by not funding the final year of a number of agricultural disaster programs.

“Well, now we have this huge drought, we go back to those programs and the funding isn’t there,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “Well, the Senate Farm Bill fixed that problem. We took care of that. So, we’ve done what we need to do.”

Republicans and Democrats point fingers at each other for inaction by Congress. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, approved a Farm Bill. The House, controlled by Republicans, has yet to take up the Farm Bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee. The House approved an agricultural assistance package. The Senate has yet to take it up. Both chambers left Washington for the August break, leaving farm legislation undone.

Johanns, a Republican, says the inaction forces farmers to wait.

“So, here we go. Everybody has to wait a month or so,” Johanns says. “But, at the end of the day, we can go back and we can fund those programs and I believe we should.”

Temporary measures can be taken. Congress can approve disaster assistance without taking up the Farm Bill. It can extend current policy.

Johanns would prefer a new Farm Bill be approved and be approved before the November elections. Can that be done?

“The optimistic piece of me wants to answer that question, ‘Yes, it can be done before November,’” Johanns replies. “It can, but I’m pessimistic about whether it will, in fact, get done before November.”

Johanns expresses the worries others have expressed, that if Congress doesn’t act on agriculture legislation before the elections, the legislation will get lost in the avalanche of issues awaiting Congress after the elections.

AUDIO: Sen. Mike Johanns speaks with Brent Martin about drought assistance. [2:15]