A prolonged drought across a wide swath of rural America has left farmers and ranchers in an increasingly precarious financial situation. And the need to ease pressure on bottom lines is providing lawmakers with the impetus to loudly call for the full House to debate a new farm bill.

Following the full Senate’s passage of its farm bill, on July 11 the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the farm bill out committee on a bipartisan vote.

For more, see here.

House leadership – Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Speaker, and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, Majority Leader -- has so far refused to schedule floor time for the farm bill. The bill will see no action this week and faces an unfavorable timeline for passage and conference. Following this week, only four legislative days will remain prior to Congress’ August recess. Current law expires on September 30.

For more, see here.

Warnings and complaints about the consequences of not passing a new farm bill have so far left Boehner and Cantor unmoved. Proponents of the legislation hope that bringing the current drought to the argument will goad more action.

Asked during a Monday morning briefing why the House hadn’t taken up the new farm bill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wasn’t charitable to House leadership. “That’s a question you should direct specifically to (Boehner and Cantor). The Majority Leader indicated he had his finger on the ‘pause button’ the moment the farm bill passed through the Senate. (Boehner) has indicated his belief that crop insurance is all that’s necessary in terms of drought assistance. But that leaves out all the livestock producers – literally hundreds of thousands of people – in the country.

“I don’t know what the motivation is, what the decision-making is. All I can tell you is there’s no more serious work to be done in the House between now and the August recess – or during or after the August recess – for rural America, for farmers, producers and ranchers who are struggling than getting a (farm bill) through the process…

“Whatever their reasons, they aren’t good enough to justify delay,” said Vilsack.

What would an extension of the 2008 farm bill mean to those hurt by the drought?

“Let’s be clear: extending the 2008 farm bill will not revive the disaster programs,” warned Vilsack. “Because they’ve expired, it would take affirmative action to revive them…

“There are budget implications connected to a continuation … of those disaster programs. That’s why it’s important to have it in the context of the overall (farm bill)…

“The concern and risk run as we delay every day is that the chances become greater that this gets wrapped up in a much larger conversation Congress is likely to have on tax policy and additional budget cuts. I fear agriculture will be asked to do more than its fair share.”

Meanwhile, the White House is touting new measures to deal with the drought fallout.

“We announced a series of steps last week to try and provide some help and assistance: expanding emergency haying and grazing to areas designated under the Drought Monitor of D2/D3/D4 counties; additional relief on repayment on CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) payments for use of CRP land for haying and grazing; and lowered the interest rate on emergency loans and created a streamlined disaster declaration process,” said Vilsack.

For an explanation of Drought Monitor designations, see here.