Politics & Elections: Agriculture and the Speaker’s Race

Rep. Paul Ryan's previous opposition to the farm bill and emphasis on limiting spending would likely make him bad news for agriculture, if he decided to run for Speaker of the House.

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U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, R, Wisconsin’s first district

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After a long and laborious passage, the Agriculture Act of 2014 otherwise known as the Farm Bill provides funding for everything from day-to-day operations at USDA to food stamps, aka SNAP. Historically, farm bills themselves are usually a snap to pass with bipartisan support from Congress. But contentious divisions within the House made the current farm law anything-but when ultraconservative lawmakers challenged USDA spending on many levels.

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin made a name for himself partly through his opposition to farm-bill spending. Later in 2014 Ryan flipped his position voting in favor with a qualification that more cuts should be made.

Now Ryan is being pursued as House Speaker, though he so far has denied he’s interested in the post.

That’s why this current stalemate in Congress could bode ill for agriculture.

A majority of farm producer groups have become more conservative right along with their rural districts. Even though the Obama Administration championed cornerstone bio and renewable energy programs and the farm bill, most large farm groups with the exception of National Farmers Union found it difficult to embrace the administration for long.

Now with lower farm-gate prices and sky-high costs, farms need a friend more than ever. The trouble is Washington politics could turn a deaf ear to farm woes with the Tea Party stirring the pot to cut all spending, and Democrats aware that even when they support strong farm policies, the people they benefit most just keep on leaning further to the right.

Most recently it’s been talk about the sequester, mandatory across-the-board spending cuts that will reduce payouts in Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage commodity support program checks expected to hit farm operator mailboxes sometime in October. Farmers are crying foul over sequester cuts because of those reductions, and because some areas of the country will receive greater reductions than others.

Farmers need a friend on Capitol Hill right now. But to have a friend you need to be a friend.

Would House Speaker Ryan or any other strong conservative in Congress save the farm bacon in an all-out fight on spending and the budget?

Not likely.

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