Having again failed to schedule floor time for a new farm bill despite expiration of current law on Sept. 30, House leadership is unlikely to be moved to action by a fellow lawmaker’s scathing critique. But that didn’t stop Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, from making such a harsh assessment during a Tuesday press call.
“We need to get (a new farm bill) done,” said Stabenow. “If we aren’t able to get this done we’re looking at a Depression-era farm policy that’s obviously extremely outdated: antiquated subsidies, price controls and so on, and market confusion that (would) come from that.”
The current impasse, she said, “is absolutely unacceptable. We passed a bipartisan (farm) bill in the Senate in June. The House Agriculture Committee passed a bipartisan (farm) bill in July.
“In my time here – this is my fourth farm bill – I’ve never seen a situation where a bipartisan bill has come out of committee and wasn’t taken up on the floor. The House leadership, for whatever reason, has decided they won’t bring this up on the floor.”
While it is true there are only a few legislative days left before the looming deadline, Stabenow said that would be enough if the House would move. She also dismissed calls for an extension of current law.
The House “will pass their continuing resolution this week. My question is: what’s more important to do next than the farm bill? I don’t think they have anything else substantive on their agenda for September.
“In my judgment those who don’t want reform would just as soon kick the can down the road and do some kind of long-term extension. That is something I do not support. … This isn’t about an extension (of current law). We need to pass a farm bill and they have plenty of time to do it.
“I don’t care if there’s eight (legislative) days left. We only need a couple in the House to get this done. I can’t imagine that creating economic certainty for rural America and comprehensive disaster assistance within that farm bill isn’t a priority for the House.”
Stabenow characterized the House’s disaster package -- which aims to help drought-struck ranchers and was passed just prior to Congress’ August recess – as inadequate.
“At this point, we need a farm bill that includes comprehensive disaster assistance, which we have. Ours is paid for within our farm bill. … (The House’s) disaster bill doesn’t help every farmer who has had a loss. It does nothing for dairy in terms of changing policy. It doesn’t address fruit losses we’ve seen from freezes. It’s not acceptable.”
The Senate farm bill “has more disaster relief. We have long-term certainty in our bill…
“At this time, it doesn’t appear they’re even interested in doing a comprehensive disaster bill. We’re hearing from (agriculture and commodity) groups that they want (disaster assistance) in the context of a farm bill. … It’s very, very clear that where we need to focus is getting a farm bill done as soon as possible.”
One of the reasons Stabenow is so sure a new farm bill is within reach is her continuing interaction with Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, House Agriculture Committee chairman, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member.
“Whenever you can sit down and talk about policy, it’s a good thing. You always benefit by doing that. Those discussions were very productive and important to lay the framework. We really know, right now, what the choices are, what the differences are. That’s why I believe we could conference the bill quickly…
“We’re certainly willing to negotiate with our colleagues. I know that’s where (Lucas and Peterson) would like to be right now – sitting with us negotiating a final farm bill. But they need House leadership’s support and action to get it done…
“If the House acts now, I believe we could quickly resolve differences and pass a bill. Even if it’s the last thing they do, we can negotiate over October and quickly pass it when we come back in November. That’s what we need to do.
“And that’s what we’re hearing from all the agricultural groups across the country.”
If the House passes a farm bill just prior to the September 30 deadline, would it be possible to conference the bill in October and have the House and Senate vote on it in November?
“Absolutely,” said Stabenow. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re close enough.
“Other than the Commodity Title where there is some policy differences and the Nutrition with the difference in cuts (to funding), the structure of (the House’s) Conservation Title is exactly the same as (the Senate’s). The Specialty Crop Title is very similar (as is) the rest of the bill…
“But I have to have something to conference. We’re stuck at the moment because the House Republican (leaders) have chosen not to do anything on the farm bill and give us the opportunity to complete the process. All we need is a bill from the House and I’m confident we can do the rest.”
What about passing a farm bill during the lame duck session?
“The first choice is to get this done now, before September 30. That’s been my first choice all the way. That’s why we moved quickly in the Senate. We moved quickly when it came out of committee to pass it (by the full Senate) so the House would have plenty of time, would have the entire month of July and the first few days of August to act. (That way) we could negotiate over August.
“I’m going to continue to push relentlessly until we get this done. Period. If it’s September, if it’s October, if it’s November, we’re going to get a farm bill…
“Frankly, what’s the difference between September and November? (The House) has a bill, bipartisan, that came out of committee.”
Stabenow insisted the House could rally votes for the passage of a new farm bill. “I’ve been talking to people in the House. I’m confident the votes are there if they’re willing to do this on a bipartisan vote. So why go through all the uncertainty, the chaos for farmers, the disruptions in the marketplace? Just pass it.”