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Farm bill remains stalled in House

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/03/2012 10:12 AM

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Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill wants to be optimistic about the farm bill's chance of passage before Sept. 30, but he's finding it kinda hard.

"We haven't always passed a farm bill before it expired," he said, but today's climate combines the worst possible scenarios: Record high commodity prices, the worst federal budget climate in history and the worst political polarization ever going into an election.

Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Petersen, a Clear Lake farmer, is even less optimistic about farm bill passage.

"I don't have much confidence in these folks and that's got to change unless this country is headed for some real tough times," he said.

Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and other organizations have been working on the farm bill for three years. It's a lean bill, Hill said, consolidating or removing 100 programs and eliminating direct payments. It passed the Senate in June and the House Agriculture Committee in July, but yet it can't get a hearing on the House floor.

Some say Speaker John Boehner is holding the bill hostage by preventing it from coming to the House floor. Even if it passed the House, Hill said he hasn't heard if the president will sign the bill.

Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said Obama will sign the bill. That's the message he received from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Farm groups have differences about what's in the bill, but most have put aside those differences in urging passage of the bill.

"I think they could put this bill together and conference it in October," Doug Peterson said.

Stabenow said they could.

"All we need is a bill from the House," she said. "We're stuck at the moment because House Republicans have chosen not to do anything on the farm bill."

She said they could negotiate quickly as the bills are similar and pass a bill in November.

The food stamp discrepancies can be resolved in two hours, Collin Peterson said, but the commodity title will take longer.

The House favors a counter-cyclical program with target prices while the Senate passed a revenue average crop payment system. Collin Peterson favors the House approach.

"We shouldn't pay farmers if they've got a good crop and a good price," he said.

Congressional meetings

Several agricultural groups, including Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and Minnesota Pork sent delegations to Washington last week to lobby lawmakers.

Pam Johnson, a Floyd, Iowa, farmer and first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, said she met with several Iowa lawmakers Sept. 11, the day prior to the Farm Bill Now rally.

"We had great discussions with all of them," she said. "We told them why it's important we get a five-year farm bill done now."

It's important to get the bill done now as it won't get any easier as the federal budget situation is expected to worsen and 37 current farm bill programs have no baseline funding after 2012. Those programs include eight energy programs, five conservation programs, five nutrition programs, three rural development programs, one livestock program and three research programs.

The agriculture committee already made deep cuts, Doug Peterson said.

Stabenow said the Senate cut $23 billion in spending from the farm bill. With no baseline funding, the cuts will likely have to be deeper next year.

Brad Lanoue of Vernon Center, Minn., was part of the 24-member Minnesota Farm Bureau delegation that visited Washington last week. They met with eight of Minnesota's 10 congresspeople.

They pushed for the lawmakers to support the farm bill and Lanoue said everyone they talked to supported the bill.

Farm Bureau supports a five-year farm bill. They don't want to see a short-term extension, nor a one-year deal. A five-year bill lends certainty to a farming operation, he said.

If the bill isn't passed before Sept. 30, action could occur in lame duck session following the election in November.

It's up to House leadership to determine when the bill will be heard.