Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 21 August 2012 13:17
“Congress, get back to work and pass a farm bill now!”
This message communicates the urgency and the need for the House to allow a vote to move their new farm bill forward. In a matter of weeks, farmers across the nation will be seeding their 2013 wheat crop and they are suffering from the worst drought in a half century.
Until now, political bickering and partisanship rarely entered the domain of farm bill negotiations. Until now, Republicans and Democrats were able to set aside their political wrangling and worked together to pass legislation that benefited their rural constituents back home.
Until now, as the nation struggled to address the national debt crisis and debate over how to bring federal spending under control, farm state representatives and senators led the way, with encouragement and insight from commodity groups. The agricultural community willingly offered to shoulder its share of the burden by cutting programs and challenging others to follow suit.
Reacting to that challenge, the Senate Agricultural Committee, led by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and leading Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, completed its work and announced to the world that it was ready and waiting for the House to do its work as well.
Unfortunately, agriculture’s leadership and challenge has fallen on deaf ears in the House. That sense of bipartisanship is over.
The end result is farmers are the unwitting pawns and victims in this political and philosophical struggle over the soul of the nation. The drought continues unabated, cattle and livestock producers struggle to maintain their herds as supplies of feed dwindle and their costs to acquire them continue to rise. Farmers are in the planning stages of another crop year without the certainty of knowing what will become law and how it will affect their financial decisions.
Held hostage, the farm bill contains legislation that would bring disaster relief to farmers not protected by crop insurance. However, the sense of urgency over the mounting disaster in the nation is lost by those refusing to sit down with their counterparts and hammer out a workable package of legislation.
One thing politicians forget is that this legislation not only provides economic stability and security to farmers, it is of great importance to the economic vitality of all farm states. It also is vital to the security of our nation. We are the nation’s and the world’s bread basket. In a time of global food insecurity and upheaval, we must remain a leading supplier of food as others rely on us for their needs.
Pleas by farmers are giving way to anger at their representatives on the Hill. Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham recently heard from some of them, as have Republican representatives in other farm states. (For a complete story on the debate, go to this link: nytimes.com/2012/08/13/us/politics/drought-driven-voters-vent-anger-over-farm-bill.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1&hp)
As an elected official of the National Association of Wheat Growers, my focus is to work in a bipartisan fashion and find solutions to move the farm bill forward. Nothing else matters.
Our leaders on the Hill have great working relationships with legislators and staff on both sides of the aisle. We are single-minded with one goal: to get the best possible legislative action passed and signed into law for the farmers who pay our bills.
With that in mind, other ways to move legislation forward through the House is possible, but remains blocked by the Republican leadership. Democrats offered a petition to force the House Ag Committee’s bill to the floor. It was blocked. Other efforts to move the bill without a vote in the House also were blocked as the House majority wanted to pass a one-year extension and delay farm-bill discussions for another year.
Wheat, corn and soybean commodity groups, along with other organizations, opposed this extension because the best solution for farmers was to get the House bill into the Joint Conference Committee and final revisions completed and signed into law.
So, here we sit.
If nothing more happens between now and Sept. 11, farm commodity groups are coming to Washington, D.C., along with their farmers who have the most to lose if this fails, to lobby Congress to move forward on this farm bill.
The time for delay and political bickering has ended. The time for action is now.