September 14, 2012
America’s farmers, ranchers and dairymen are used to the uncertainties that come with their professions. Weather and the ups and downs of the market have been at the center of that uncertainty producers deal with day in and day out. Historically, government groups have been there to help producers mitigate those uncertainties to some degree. This year, however, the Congress’ inability to pass a new five-year farm bill to replace the programs expiring at the end of September has only compounded the difficulties farmers and ranchers face.
Several hundred farmers, ranchers, dairymen and consumer and nutrient activists converged at the Congressional reflecting pool at the U.S. Capitol building on September 12 to urge passage of a new farm bill before Congress adjourns to campaign full-time for re-election. Signs exhorting the recalcitrant House Republican leadership to pass a farm bill included slogans like, “Farmers, Kids, Americans…Need a Farm Bill” and “Do You Eat? You Need a Farm Bill Now” peppered the crowd and greeted the bipartisan speakers from both the House and Senate.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, were among the Members addressing the crowd. Neither Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) nor Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, attended the event.
Peterson said that “there is no good reason why we [the House Republican Leadership] did not bring this bill to the floor,” but he also said that there was no groundswell of support from farmers and ranchers to force the Congress to act. Peterson added, “I’m here to tell you if you don’t do that we’re not going to get a farm bill,” Peterson said. “It’s that simple. We went through August and we really didn’t see the groundswell of support out there. We’ve got to make this happen. You’ve got to make this happen. It’s got to come from the grassroots.”
Previously, the Senate had approved its version of the next farm bill on a bipartisan vote and the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the bill after that. The breakdown in the legislative process occurred when the House Republican Leadership team decided not to bring the House version to the floor, worrying that the debate and subsequent vote on the bill would be too divisive before an election.
The day after the rally, the House of Representatives voted to extend government spending at current levels until March of next year, six months into the 2013 federal government fiscal year. That is as clear a signal as anything that there will not be a new farm bill before Congress adjourns in a few days.
Extending the present farm bill threatens conservation programs that safeguard the environment by protecting fragile land and encouraging sound farming practices. Because the health of the environment is so closely linked to the health of humans, that threat should concern both environmentalists and public health advocates. (For more on that link, read this post by Bob Lawrence.) These outcomes—human health and environmental health—are generally not the focus when discussing the farm bill, but they should be.
Photos: Robert Martin