Speak Your Piece: No Sowers in the House?
[imgbelt img=protectframe530.jpg]You’re hired to draft bills, pass them, reach compromise with the
Senate, send bills to the president. The U.S. House seems to have
forgotten how to plow.
The current Farm Bill took effect five years ago, in 2007. Disaster coverage in the bill expired with the 2011 crop year. Now a 1930s-magnitude drought is plaguing farm country. Livestock and dairy farmers are especially hard hit.
While many hard working family farmers are in peril, a new Farm Bill is held up in the House of Representatives by politics.
Earlier this year the U.S. Senate considered and passed thoughtful legislation. Members of the House Agriculture Committee have written their own bill, too. The two versions have differences. Ordinarily, the way those differences would be resolved is by passing each bill in each legislative body, combining and sending the bills to committee where final language would be written, and sending the compromise to the President for his signature.
That process has always worked before. Problem is, Republican leadership refuses to bring the House bill to a vote.
The amount of money allocated to USDA amounts to about 2% of the entire Federal budget (hardly a budget-buster). House members and staff whom Farmers Union spoke with in Washington told us that’s not the problem; in fact, just 20% of USDA spending is for actual farm programs like crop insurance and conservation.
If only 20% of Farm Bill spending goes directly to farms, where does the rest go? About 64% is for food and nutrition programs for four groups: elderly people whose retirement (Social Security) income is inadequate, low-wage workers, children, and the disabled.
Critics point to fraud and misappropriation as reasons why the food program should be curtailed, but according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA has reduced fraud and mistakes to below 1% for food programs known as SNAP (formerly the food stamp program). That compares to fraud and mistaken payments in farm programs amounting to about 7%.
Is the need for food assistance real? Having served on a local rural school board where many students qualified for free and reduced meals, I believe it is. Could that spending be trimmed? That is not an issue; it will be trimmed. The Senate cut $4 billion from food programs in its bill. The House Ag Committee cut $16 billion.
But the House bill must be voted on and passed before anything can happen.
On September 12th a broad coalition of over eighty farm groups supported a rally beside the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., to support enactment of a 5-year farm bill. Many titles in the current bill expire this month. The House has managed to pass a very small band-aid disaster bill that would be paid for with deep cuts to farm conservation programs. The coalition, besides asking for a Farm Bill, asked the Senate not to accept stand alone disaster aid because U.S. family farms stood to lose even more by accepting it.