Wednesday Roundup: Farm Bill Fail

Farm bill expiration doesn’t affect crop insurance, development programs (though, of course, the government shut down does) • OxyContin lawsuit to remain in Eastern Kentucky • Coverage of Affordable Care Act • Native organization reminds leaders about sequestration’s impact



Urban dwellers who want to raise chickens but have “commitment issues” can try it on for size through Rent the Chicken. The service offers laying hens and supplies to residents of Allegheny, Armstrong and Butler counties in Indiana. If the neighbors start complaining, or you tire of the rigors of feeding hens and collecting eggs, no problem. The service retrieves the chickens in November.

It’s hard to know where to start a news roundup these days. We’ve got the government shut-down and budget impasse. We’ve got the Affordable Care Act health-insurance marketplaces. And it seems like there was something else, too.

Oh, yeah, the farm bill expired.

Even though the law lapsed on Monday, Congress isn’t racing to extend or rewrite the farm bill. And that isn’t just because our legislators have other things on their minds, like coming up with a budget resolution to get the government reopened.

The farm bill debate was already likely to extend beyond September 30, when the most recent legislation expired. That’s because most farm bill programs will continue to operate, even without a new law or a renewal. (Well, they would have if Congress hadn’t shut the government down, anyway.)

Ag reporter Alan Guebert gives us an informal update in an email:

“The big programs that lack funding – or, in plain English, that will die on October 1 – are mostly in the export area: Market Access Program, Dairy Export Incentive Program, etc. These are programs whose funding is directly tied to farm bill annual funding. As such, no farm bill means no dollars.

“Most other programs – Rural Development, commodity titles, crop insurance, for example – are funded through end of fiscal 2014 because of a two-year deal done in the middle of the budget chaos last year. Most conservation programs like Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve and Grassland Reserve are funded but will not have any new enrollments that require payments after or until a Farm Bill is completed.

“As such, don’t look for any swift movement on any farm bill … Mostly likely [a bill] can – if the inmates so desire – be worked it out in October, but only after a specific series of parliamentary dance steps.

“Start the music? We’ll see.”

While the USDA programs that expired September 30 were a small part of the department’s overall responsibilities, that doesn’t mean they weren’t important to some constituencies. Midwestern Energy News reports on one program that is lapsing – the Rural Energy for America Program. This initiative supports alternative energy development, like solar, for farmers and ranchers.

OxyContin Manufacturers Could Face Eastern Kentucky Jury.  A Kentucky judge has refused a request from drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma to move the state’s lawsuit against the firm from a Pike County courtroom to one in Frankfort, the state capital.

Pike and other rural Eastern Kentucky counties were the epicenter of a prescription drug-abuse epidemic. In 2007 Purdue Pharma and three executives pled guilty to misbranding OxyContin, which was touted as a safe alternative to other narcotic pain relievers. Kentucky’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma seeks “reimbursement of money spent on law enforcement, drug treatment programs and Medicaid prescriptions” related to OxyContin, reports Jack Brammer in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Purdue Pharma had tried to move the lawsuit to federal court, then to southern New York. A federal judge sent the case back to Pike County early this year.

“Purdue used everything in the playbook to keep this case out of Pike County,” said Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. “I look forward to the day when Purdue faces a Pike County jury and answers for its conduct that helped fuel a pill epidemic in this state.”

Colorado Secession Movement. Secessionists in northeast Colorado is getting some consideration from the southern part of the state. The Pueblo Chieftan editorializes sympathetically with rural voters in the north who feel they aren’t getting enough attention from the state Legislature:

The most recent legislative session was an assault on rural parts of the state, with the seriously flawed voting law, expensive renewable energy mandates for rural electric providers and expanded gun restrictions raising the ire of many outside the urban centers. We, like those in Northeast Colorado, are fed up with the direction elected officials have taken the state.

“Obama Care” Coverage. Coverage of implementation of the Affordable Care Act in rural America seems to be taking two directions. One direction is the promise the program has to get affordable care and health insurance to rural residents (see the Southwest Farm Press). The other trend is concern that lack of computer access make it harder for rural residents to research and purchase insurance (see WMC-TV report from Covington,  Tennessee) .

The Budget Cuts and Tribal Communities. The National Congress of American Indians has released a statement on the government shutdown reminding us that even if Congress comes up with at 2014 budget resolution, the current drafts of that resolution continue the budget cuts that were enacted as part of the 2013 federal sequestration. Those cuts were especially tough in Indian Country, the NCAI release says:

Even if the shutdown is resolved soon, a greater crisis remains – both the House and Senate versions of the Continuing Resolution sustained the devastating FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The sequester has deeply affected tribal programs: the Indian Health Service, Indian education funding streams, law enforcement, infrastructure programs such as housing and road maintenance, Head Start, and others. These funding commitments serve some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens and are part of the federal government’s trust responsibility to tribal nations.

As Washington faces the threefold crisis of the shutdown, sequester, and debt limit, we call on the Congress to reach a long-term budget deal that meets the nation’s obligations to tribal nations and Native peoples. It is time to address the ongoing fiscal crisis caused by the sequester. The trust responsibility to tribal nations is not a line item and tribal programs must be exempt from budget cuts in any budget deal.