Tragic, destructive politics are now ruling Washington
Congress can bail out the banks but won’t bail out the farmer?
That’s the message the 212th Congress sent the CornBelt on Tuesday after they adjourned without passing a comprehensive five-year farm bill.
Many of the disaster relief funds outlined in the previous Farm Bill have already expired. On Aug.2, lawmakers were able to agree on a $383 million relief package for livestock producers and tree farmers, but many in Washington don’t think it’s enough.
House Agricultural Committee member and veteran Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota said of the short-term fix, “This bill is a sad substitute for what is really needed, a long-term farm policy.”
The news that no such policy can be agreed upon hits the agricultural industry hard during the nation’s worst drought in 53 years. But there will be no comprehensive aid from Congress until September, if it ever comes. The 2008 to 2012 Farm Bill expires at the end of that month leaving Congress just over three weeks to agree on what they couldn’t in twice the time.
Lately, Congress has been reluctant to pass any form of significant legislation in a timely fashion. In 2011, lawmakers allowed the federal government to shut down after disagreeing on how to approach the budget deficit.
If past actions determine future possibilities, there will be no aid until fall. Some are surmising that the 212th plans to kick the can down the road and wait until the next congress convenes in January. Others claim the House is choosing to wait on passing a large spending bill until after November and the results for the coming presidential elections are in.
Included in the Farm Bill is the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012. This act would provide $383 million in drought relief by retroactively extending the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program and the Tree Assistance Program—all of which expired last year.
The bill also eliminated controversial programs like direct payments, streamlined efforts by consolidating 23 existing conservation programs into just 13 and re-enforced efforts to help farmers and ranchers sell produce locally.
What could be wrong with a seemingly bi-partisan bill?
Cutting costs. After clearing the senate in June, the House balked at the nearly $100 billion per year cost. The bulk of the spending, and the source of much of its contention, is the nearly $80 billion in food stamp program funding included in the bill. Food stamps aid nearly 46 million Americans each year and the House Republicans seek to reduce costs by eliminating some of this funding. Their plan would shave nearly $16 million from food assistance programs. House Democrats say that’s too much.
Without a doubt, the proposed 2012 Farm Bill is a formidable piece of legislation. Its costs must be considered as the nation tightens its belt, but there is no excuse for the House preventing a House vote. The House Agricultural Committee passed a bipartisan renewal of the Farm Bill earlier this month but Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring the bill before the House. This action denies our representatives their vote and in turn denies the voice of the people.
The obstruction of key lawmakers in the democratic process is likely just the most recent case of the tragically destructive partisan politics gripping Washington.
– Stuart Hughes –