A Farm Bill remains stuck in Congress with little to indicate it will get “unstuck” anytime soon.
Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, today blamed Republican leadership in the United States House, but Congressman Adrian Smith, a Republican, said the votes don’t seem to be there to pass the bill.
Both held conference calls with Nebraska reporters today.
The Senate has approved its version of a new Farm Bill with an estimated price tag of $969 billion over ten years, an overall cut of approximately $23 billion. The bill proposes the elimination of direct farm payments in favor of risk-management through crop insurance. The House Agriculture Committee agreed on farm philosophy, but cut deeper in the non-farm programs contained in the legislation, especially food stamps.
House leadership has declined to bring the bill to the floor for debate.
Nelson took director aim at House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio during his conference call with reporters.
“It came out of the House Ag Committee with a sizeable majority,” Nelson stated, “but a handful over there have commandeered the bill and somehow persuaded Speaker Boehner not to bring it up even though everybody understands if he brings it up, it will pass.”
Congressman Adrian Smith, during a conference call earlier in the day, said the Farm Bill hasn’t come to the floor for debate, because the votes aren’t there to pass it.
“That’s my understanding and, obviously, it’s hard to get everyone pinned down with 240-some votes, just on our side (Republicans), not to mention the other side as well,” Smith said.
Smith added that it will do no good to force the issue.
“I know some folks have said, ‘Let’s have a vote, even if it fails.’ That, I really urge caution, because I think that the message that that would send and the uncertainty that that would bring about in the ag economy I don’t think many of us would want to see,” Smith stated.
Nelson said failure to pass a new Farm Bill will hit farmers and ranchers in Nebraska.
“Nebraskans are not being told about the local consequences of not having a Farm Bill,” according to Nelson. “They don’t know, for example, how almost 40 programs would lose their financing and how if the current bill expires in a couple of weeks, the Farm Bill defaults to the 1949 law.”
The current five-year Farm Bill expires at the end of this month.
Smith said there isn’t enough time for Congress to approve new legislation and have it in place before the current legislation expires. Though Smith said he would like to see this Congress approve agriculture legislation, he conceded that a three-month extension might be the best outcome anyone can expect, leaving it up to the new Congress to approve a bill.
“I’m a bit perplexed as to how we came up with a committee version that we can’t get passed in the full House,” Smith said. “We’re working on that. We’ll probably need some amendments along the way, but we’re paying close attention to this and I appreciate the opportunity to communicate with Nebraskans and other farm-state colleagues as well.”