It will be at least July 30 before the full House takes up the farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee 35-11 on July 12. On Friday, House Republican leadership declined to schedule floor time for the legislation the week of July 23.

If that decision holds, the House will have only four legislative days to deal with the bill prior to the August recess.

And, with a shrinking window prior to current law expiring in late September, the bill may never reach the House floor. With complaints from the right about the farm bill’s cost coupled with Democrat’s anger at $16.5 billion in nutrition program cuts, House leadership hasn’t been excited to allow debate on the bill.  

This is not a huge surprise as House Speaker, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, and Majority Leader, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, have both cast votes in recent years against farm bills.

Still, the decision comes despite vigorous encouragement to move the legislation from commodity/farm groups amid worsening drought and fear of failed crops in much of farm country. Boehner and Cantor were unmoved.

Just this week, the USDA designated 39 additional counties – in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming -- as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat. So far this year the USDA has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas.

“The excessive, widespread drought will eventually provide increased pressure to move the bill forward,” says Jeffery Hall, Arkansas Farm Bureau Associate Director of National Affairs. “That pressure continues to increase each day.

“Of course, the quicker the debate arrives, the better. Farmers will be making planting and crop rotation decisions soon.”

For more on the drought, see here and here.

A letter signed by 78 members of the House also failed to sway Boehner and Cantor. “The House Agriculture Committee has done its work and we now ask that you make time on the floor of the House to consider this legislation, so that it can be debated, conferenced, and ultimately passed into law, before the current bill expires,” reads the letter. “We need to continue to tell the American success story of agriculture and work to ensure we have strong policies in place so that producers can continue to provide an abundant, affordable and safe food supply.

“We all share the goal of giving small businesses certainty in these challenging economic times. Agriculture supports nearly 16 million jobs nationwideand over 45 million people are helped each year by the nutrition programs in the farm bill. We have a tremendous opportunity to set the course of farm and nutrition policy for another five years while continuing to maintain and support these jobs nationwide.

“The message from our constituents and rural America is clear: we need a farm bill now.”

Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, slammed House leaders over their intransigence. “There is no excuse not to bring the farm bill to the floor. We’ve wasted the last two weeks on political messaging bills that are going nowhere. If the House Republican Leadership were serious about creating jobs and growing our economy they would bring up this bill. There is no good reason to put one of our nation’s economic bright spots, the rural economy, at risk.

“The House Agriculture Committee passed a strong, bipartisan farm bill and we need to continue moving forward so we can resolve our differences with the Senate and get a bill to the President’s desk before the current bill expires September 30. I remain hopeful we’ll find a way to finish our work but time is running out.”

The House bill -- formally titled the Federal Agriculture Reform
and Risk Management (FARMM) Act -- would reduce government spending by $35 billion over 10 years.

Hall remains optimistic a farm bill “will pass this year. I’m not surprised that House leadership has delayed action before the August recess. However, I am a bit concerned when looking at the calendar. There will be only 16 legislative days before the November elections.

“But with continued pressure from (lawmakers), commodity organizations and others, the process will move before the end of the year.”

Hall is not keen on a one-year extension of current law as a fallback. “I don’t believe a one-year extension would maintain the programs in the current farm bill – things like direct payments. That extension would likely mean budget reductions. Then, when the farm bill is brought back up in 2013, we’d have loss of baseline plus those reductions. We need a new farm bill this year.”

For more on the farm bill, see here.