Syria latest stumbling block on farm bill path

Sep 10, 2013

Farmers will soon begin harvesting crops, and making decisions about next year, without a farm bill.
Farmers will soon begin harvesting crops, and making decisions about next year, without a farm bill.
Credit Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Farmers may now have to wait until Congress makes its decisions about Syria before the farm bill gets any more attention.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said a farm bill conference committee could meet without disrupting the debate on Syria, but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Syria’s going to put the farm bill on the back burner,” Grassley said. “I don’t think that’s justified, but that’s what we’ve been told. And how far—on how many back burners back—I don’t know.”

The Senate has a panel ready to hash out the differences between its comprehensive farm bill and the House’s ag-only version. The House leadership has not called for a floor vote on nutrition policy, but Grassley said that doesn’t have to hold up the conference committee.

“The House could go to conference today with just the farm bill without the food stamp bill,” Grassley said, “and we’re ready to go to conference and [we’ve] got conferees appointed in the Senate.”

But if the House doesn’t bring its own nutrition proposal to the table, it may not be in as strong a position, some observers say. That’s why the Republican-controlled House may pass a proposal to cut $40 billion from the food stamp budget (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), ten times the cut the Senate proposed.

Senate agriculture committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has said she won’t support another one-year extension.

“We’ve got 21 days left before Sept. 30.,” she told farmers at a recent Washington, D.C. rally, according to Roll Call. “We will not see an extension passed, and if we did, we’d be leaving livestock producers in a lurch, and a whole lot of other people in a lurch.”

When the 2008 farm bill expired last year on Sept. 30, Congress eventually put in place the extension that is now running out. Grassley said Stabenow’s opposition to another extension should light a fire in the House.

“If you do nothing, the law of the land is the 1949 farm bill,” Grassley said. “That’s not very practical. But because that isn’t very practical, and based on what Chairwoman Stabenow said, that puts a lot of pressure on the House to get something done.”

Unfortunately, there’s little hope farmers will have answers before they plunge into the harvest. And for many, that means making decisions now that will affect their planting come spring—without knowing what the government’s programs are. Val Wagner and her husband farm in Monango, N.D., and she’s one of many anxious farmers who want to know what the new farm bill’s crop insurance provisions will be.

“So much of what we do relies on being eligible for insurance,” she said, “and [that] those premiums and things are affordable and make sense within our business structure.”

More: Congress still playing the farm bill game